What’s Faith Got to Do with It?

When I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, the only question I had for my oncologist was, “Can I keep playing agility with my dogs?” He was dumbfounded. He had just delivered the news that I had late-stage cancer and was expected to die within four months, even with treatment.

I guess I didn’t want to know about dying. I wanted to know about living.

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Five Things I Learned about Lung Cancer

I’ve been trying to think of different topics that might be of interest to others who have some connection to lung cancer. I started thinking about some of the things I didn’t know when I was first diagnosed. There are just so many misconceptions that surround cancer, especially lung cancer. Here are a few of the things I learned soon after I was diagnosed:

1. Nonsmokers get lung cancer too

I guess I really never thought much about it one way or the other, but if someone had told me I would know more people with lung cancer who have never smoked than who do or did, I would have thought they were crazy.

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Journey to Israel … Nazareth … Part 7

We visited Nazareth, the place where Jesus was raised, on the first day of our Gate1 tour. That day dawned and stayed cold and wet! What an interesting start to my very first ever international tour!

Viewing Nazareth from atop Mount Precipice. (As you may be able to tell from the picture, it was very foggy and cold the day we visited.)

Nazareth lies in the center of Galilee in Northern Israel. It is a picturesque, hilly setting. The current city was built on top of the old village. Only a few archaeological remains from the time of Jesus have been discovered.

As of 2017, the population of Nazareth, known as the “Arab capital of Israel,” was over 75,000 people. Nearly 70% of those living in lower Nazareth today are Muslim; about 30% are Christian. The Jewish population lives in Upper Nazareth, known as Natzeret-Illitl.

In Jesus’ day, Nazareth was much smaller. The strongly Jewish population was estimated by American archaeologist James F. Strange as less than 500.

Nazareth is home to a number of Arab-owned high-tech companies, mostly in the field of software development. It is sometimes called the “Silicon Valley of the Arab community.” Another large employer is Israel Military Industries. About 300 people work there manufacturing munitions.

Christmas in Nazareth
Tourist info here. We didn’t stop in.
Souvenir shop. We didn’t take time to shop.
There are a lot of McDonald’s restaurants in Israel. Some are kosher, some are not.
There were times when I wasn’t sure I had ever really left America! McDonalds and Microsoft seemed much the same as here.
Shops like this lined the streets of Nazareth. Vendors called out to tourists, hawking everything from umbrellas to olive wood.

In Biblical Days

Mary, the young virgin betrothed to marry Joseph, of the House of David, lived in Nazareth when the angel Gabriel appeared to her, bringing her the news that God had chosen her to give birth to His Son. Can you imagine her shock?

The Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth, Israel

Luke 1: 26-33

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

King Herod was very jealous when he heard that the King of the Jews had been born in Bethlehem. He sought to kill Jesus, but God had directed Joseph to take Mary and the baby to Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous plan.

The little family resided in Egypt until it was safe to return home to Nazareth. While not a lot was written about Jesus’ childhood, we know that He spent most of His childhood in the town of Nazareth.

Matthew 2:19-23

The Return to Nazareth

19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.

Basilica of the Annunciation

While we were in Nazareth, we visited the Basilica of the Annunciation, aka Church of the Annunciation. It was quite remarkable.

I apparently didn’t get a picture of the main doors through which you enter the church. They are worth a look. I did get some close-ups of some of the door.

The Church of the Annunciation has an interesting history. It was first built by Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, in the mid 4th century. It might interest you to know that Helena also built the first Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

The original church was destroyed during an Arab invasion in 638 AD. In 1109, Crusaders arrive in Nazareth. They built the second church to honor the hometown of Jesus. Sometime between 1229 and 1263 AD, the church was destroyed again, this time by Mamluks (Azzahir Baibars).

In 1620 AD, the Franciscans purchased the ruins of the Basilica of the Annunciation and built the third church.  In 1730, the church was rebuilt for the fourth time. In 1877, the church was enlarged.

Finally, the church that stands today was built during 1955-1969. Designed by Giovanni Muzio, it is a beautiful structure that features two levels, the Upper Church, which is decorated with mosaics and artwork gifted to the church by nations across the world, and the Lower Church.

The Lower Church enshrines a sunken grotto that contains what is believed to be the home of the Virgin Mary. It is said that it was here that the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, announcing that she would be the mother of the Messiah.

Upper Church

Rainy day at the Basilica of the Annunciation. The concrete dome stands 55 meters high. It is in the shape of a Madonna lily, a symbol of the Virgin Mary.
Magnificent upper church. This is the parish church for the Catholic community of Nazareth.
The walls are covered with mosaics given to the church by nations from around the world. At the center is one of the largest murals in the world, depicting the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church”.

 

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Spiral staircase leading to the Lower Church

Lower Church

Lower Church
View of the Lower Church
In the background is the home (cave) where it is believed that Mary lived and where Gabriel is said to have announced that she would be the mother of Jesus. The grotto is found on the lower level of the Church of the Annunciation. Flanking the cave are remains from the earlier Byzantine and Crusader churches. The altar inside the cave is inscribed, “Here the Word was made flesh,” in Latin.
Simple altar in front of the cave home of Mary. Tiers of seats surround it on three sides.
The small altar in the Lower Church is situated directly under the Madonna lily-shaped cupola of the church.
Statue of Mary as the young girl to whom the angel Gabriel appeared and announced to her that she was chosen by God to be the mother of the Messiah.

 

Links to the Hope and Survive pages related to my 2019 trip to Israel:
Journey to Israel – The Beginning … Part 1
Journey to Israel – Getting There … and Getting Home … Part 2
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Part 3
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Church of the Nativity … Part 4
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Church of Saint Catherine … Part 5
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Shepherds’ Field … Part 6
Journey to Israel … Nazareth … Part 7
Journey to Israel … Caesarea Maritima
Journey to Israel … Mount Carmel

 

Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Church of the Nativity … Part 4

Church of the Nativity – an Incredible Structure

A highlight of the tour through Israel (and Bethlehem, which is in the West Bank and under Palestinian rule) was a visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The church, thought to be the oldest operating church in the world, was originally built by Helena, the mother of the first Christian emperor, Constantine the Great. The first church was dedicated in AD 339.

The original church was destroyed. It was rebuilt in the 6th century by Emporer Justinian (who reigned 527–565) and is largely the same today. The church that covers the cave where Jesus was born is magnificent in size and decor.

The Church of the Nativity is interesting in that it is home to three different religions: Greek Orthodox, Catholic, and Armenian Orthodox. A Muslim holds the black wrought iron key to the church. Originally, Muslims were commissioned to hold the key to keep the peace among the three Christian religions using the church.

Getting ready for the procession. When we arrived, one church service was ending and another was beginning. We had to wait reverently for the services to end before we were allowed to enter the Nativity Grotto.
Notice the Crusader paintings of saints at the top of many of the columns. The red limestone columns were quarried locally all those centuries ago. Trap doors in the floor give glimpses of the mosaic floor of Constantine’s basilica.

As you can see, the Church today features no pews; its interior is mostly dark and cold and huge. You feel quite small when you stand there waiting your turn to go through the 1.2 meters high door that takes you into the cave where Jesus was born. Except for the front of the church, which is quite ornate, the only decorations are Crusader-era paintings on the massive columns, wall mosaics near the ceiling of the massive structure, and the chandeliers that hang along the columns.


The picture above, hopefully, gives you an idea of just how massive the church really is. You can see how tall the pillars are compared to an average human’s size.

I really didn’t notice it while visiting the Church of the Nativity, but it is said that the church has fallen into some disrepair over the years. Apparently, politics from way back during the Ottoman Empire have prevented significant renovations from occurring for over five centuries.

Fortunately, beginning in 2013, $15 million (US) has been invested into fixing the church’s roof to keep it from falling in and to make other needed repairs to the walls and mosaics. Among the repairs is the restoration of the intricate mosaics in the church. The 12th-century mosaics, made of gold and silver leaf with mother of pearl, had been covered with soot and grime accumulated over the centuries. An Italian team was commissioned to painstakingly restore their grandeur a few years ago.

I found it quite sad that some visitors to the Church of the Nativity feel it is appropriate to desecrate it. There is graffiti on many of the stately columns lining the church. I honestly don’t know what is wrong with people.

How sad is it that the church is desecrated by graffiti?

Entering the Grotto of the Nativity

To get to the Grotto of the Nativity, you must descend steep and narrow stairs after bending to enter the doorway that is slightly less than 4 foot high. The only doorway to the Grotto is cut into a massive wall and is purposefully low. It was lowered around the year 1500 to keep looters from driving their carts into the holy spot.

Unfortunately, I did not get many pictures while in the cave. It is only about 39 feet x 10 feet and was very crowded. We were rushed to look and get out. If I ever take another Holy Land tour, I will spend more time celebrating the birth of my Savior while in the Grotto of the Nativity, regardless of how crowded or rushed we are.

Mural over the spot where Jesus is believed to have been born
My friend Sherry is touching the spot where it is said that Mary gave birth to Jesus.
The spot where tradition says Jesus was born is memorialized by the 14-point silver star.
After a serious fire in 1869, the walls of the cave where Jesus was born were covered with heavy leather drapes that are backed with asbestos. On Feast Days, the cave is lit by 48 hanging lamps.

 

Luke 2:4-7

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

We descended a few more steep steps to see where it is believed Jesus was laid in his manger bed. This tiny spot was even more crowded. The pictures below were hastily taken of where the manger where the baby Jesus slept is believed to have been.

I looked so quickly that I don’t even remember much about the manger except that I had to climb down several steep stairs that had no railing and it was very, very crowded.


I found it interesting that a statue of the crucifixion was featured in the manger.

I have read that the rock in the Grotto of the Manger is the original rock from when Jesus was born. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of it and don’t even remember seeing it.

The manger in the Grotto is built to match the dimensions of feeding troughs that were cut into the rock by Bedouins back in Jesus’ day. If you want to see a picture, there is one here.

Last Words about the Grotto fo the Nativity

I have to qualify some of my statements. I believe Jesus may have been born in this cave that we saw beneath the Church of the Nativity. I believe he slept in a manger bed, just as the Bible says He did. I do not personally believe that any of us know exactly where Mary gave birth to Him or exactly where the manger stood. I have a little difficulty honoring exact spots that humans have decided are THE spots where historical events occurred over 2000 years ago.

With that said, it does not matter to me if the spots I saw in Bethlehem are the exact spots where my Savior was born. I’ve even seen some reports that say the Palestinian Bethlehem isn’t even the Bethlehem where Jesus was born. I don’t care. What matters to me is that He was born, He lived, He died on the cross for me and you, and He was resurrected three days later.

Links to the Hope and Survive pages related to my 2019 trip to Israel:
Journey to Israel – The Beginning … Part 1
Journey to Israel – Getting There … and Getting Home … Part 2
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Part 3
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Church of the Nativity … Part 4
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Church of Saint Catherine … Part 5
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Shepherds’ Field … Part 6
Journey to Israel … Nazareth … Part 7
Journey to Israel … Caesarea Maritima
Journey to Israel … Mount Carmel
Journey to Israel … Sea of Galilee
Journey to Israel … Ginosar and the “Jesus Boat”
Journey to Israel … St. Peter’s Restaurant

 

Journey to Israel – Getting There … and Getting Home … Part 2

When I decided to make the pilgrimage to Israel, I had never visited any country outside of the United States besides Mexico. And my forays into Mexico were just to border towns like Juarez, back many years ago when you could visit there without worrying about being murdered.

I had always imagined that airlines catered to passengers who were flying long distances, across oceans, to lands far-away.

Oh! How wrong I was.

I met my friend and travel mate (and fellow 6-year lung cancer survivor) in New York City. She was coming from the DC area and I am from the Dallas metroplex. My trip on Delta to JFK International in NYC was an easy one. It was roomier than I remembered Delta being, even though the jet was relatively small.

Packed in like sardines

Unfortunately, the same was not true for the Poland Airlines LOT flight to Warsaw from JFK. If you can afford to fly first class, you have plenty of room, but those of us who are on a more limited budget get packed in like sardines.

 

Seats right on top of seats … nearly

I have never been so surprised in my life! I had always assumed that international flights were quite roomy and luxurious. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I sat in the window seat on the 8+ hour flight to Warsaw. Once the person in front of me leaned their seat all the way back, I felt completely claustrophobic and panicked. I could not move, I could not even bring my purse up off of the floor to get chapstick. It was a horrible feeling.

Counting the minutes to touch down and a chance to stretch.

I dreaded the flight back to America the whole time we were in Israel. I didn’t dwell on it, but the occasional thought of coming home filled me with dread. Fortunately, on the way home, I was lucky enough to sit in an aisle seat.

Get an aisle seat!

Suddenly, I felt that I had much more room because I could lean into the aisle and use that extra space when I needed to get my purse or stretch my legs just a bit. If I ever fly internationally again, I will always try to get in an aisle seat.

We flew the red-eye flight to Warsaw. I think that really helped prevent jet lag. We slept – not much, but a little – on the plane. By the time we finally arrived in Tel Aviv and got to our hotel, it was after 10 PM, their time. So, we went to bed and got up on Tel Aviv time. I never felt jet lag while in Israel.

The same was true for the excursion home. We arrived at JFK at around 9 PM. By the time we got to our hotel, it was 10. We ate dinner and went to bed and got up on USA time. Now, I did sleep more than usual the following day. Whether that was jet lag or just exhaustion from being away from home for 12 days, I am not certain.

On the way to Israel, I packed a lot of things in my backpack. I had several changes of clothes, important soaps and lotions and inhalers, blankets and travel pillows, pills, pajamas, shoes, underwear … I also had my purse and a big travel bag into which my purse fit.

Don’t overpack!

My backpack was heavy. My purse was heavy. And because I felt like I needed to take everything I owned to Israel with me (I am being fictitious, but only slightly), my checked bag was heavy. I took too much. I won’t do that again!

On the way back home, I stuffed my checked bag full and lightened the load in my backpack. It was quite the relief not to be carrying 30 or more pounds on my back!

So, here are the takeaways. Don’t expect to have much room on your international flights. It won’t happen unless you can afford to fly first class, or at least, business class. If you have the money to choose one of these options, do it! I will have to make do with passenger class (is that what it is called?) but I will always try to get an aisle seat. It makes all of the difference in the world as to how cramped you feel.

Secondly, try to pack light!!! It is unnecessary to take everything and the bathroom sink! You will thank yourself for being frugal with regard to baggage weight as you move from plane to plane and hotel to hotel.

Trust me! I learned this the hard way!

Links to the Hope and Survive pages related to my 2019 trip to Israel:
Journey to Israel – The Beginning … Part 1
Journey to Israel – Getting There … and Getting Home … Part 2
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Part 3
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Church of the Nativity … Part 4
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Church of Saint Catherine … Part 5
Journey to Israel … Bethlehem … Shepherds’ Field … Part 6
Journey to Israel … Nazareth … Part 7
Journey to Israel … Caesarea Maritima
Journey to Israel … Mount Carmel
Journey to Israel … Sea of Galilee

 

 

The Empty Chair at Holidays

We are entering the time of year that joins families far and wide together. We celebrate Thanksgiving and then come Hanukah and Christmas celebrations. It is a blessed and sacred time for many of us.

Remembering my son this season

It is also a time of reflection and sorrow, especially if you, like me, have an empty chair at the table this season. The holidays take on a whole different dimension when we’re celebrating all that is good in the world when it doesn’t necessarily feel like anything is.

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Going to Israel, Part 1

You know, I have such a short memory that it occurs to me that I should be writing down my experiences as they occur. That way, I can remember this trip of a lifetime!

The Beginning

It all started when my friend Karen, also a lung cancer survivor, wrote on one of her medical updates that she was hoping to go to Israel early next year (2019). I replied to her message, saying I was looking forward to living vicariously through her pictures. (She is a great tour guide, even if you are not along with her! She posts pictures with lots of information accompanying them.)

My journey began when I got an email from Karen inviting me to actually join her for the trip. Upon reading the email, I yelled upstairs to my husband, “Hey! Do you care if I go to Israel?”

In a matter of moments, it was decided I could go! Wow! I never, ever dreamed I would ever go on a trip like this!! I am still not sure I believe it.

Oh Man! Where Do I Start?

Within just a few days, we had talked to our travel agency and paid the deposit. This is becoming real!

Since I have never been out of the country before, I have no passport. So, I called about getting an appointment so I could get that process started. Well. No. If you live in Texas, you need a special birth certificate … and that’s not the one I had, of course.

It takes up to a month to get one from the office in Austin, the only Vital Statistics office in Texas that has the birth certificate I need (long form). Okay. I have time.

But, the online ordering system crashes every time I try to place the order. I call their tech support. They can’t figure out what’s wrong. My case gets escalated.

I never heard back from Tech Support, but decided after a couple of days to try it and see if I could place the order. I was starting to get worried! Fortunately, even though Tech Support failed to inform me that they had corrected the problem (gee, thanks!), the problem was remedied and I was able to place the order.

I settled in to wait. God was on my side. I got my certificate in only a few weeks. Yes!!

Scans Good!

Karen and I bought trip insurance. Since we never know when or if our cancer is going to return with a vengeance, we felt it was prudent to do so. She’d recently had a scan showing that her tumor is stable; I was waiting on mine. I had it last week.

I admit I was holding my breath a little. I didn’t have any reason to think it wouldn’t show that my tumors are stable, the same as they have been for the last five years, but I still can’t quite believe this trip is really going to happen. I keep thinking something is going to cause it not to work out.

I was gratified to learn that my scan shows all is still well. Tumors are stable, no growth, no new tumors. Yes!! I won’t have another scan until the week after we return from our trip, so even if there is growth or spreading between now and then (I have no reason to expect there will be except that I am still expecting something to cause me not to get to go) I won’t know it.

Bible Study at the Passport Office

I’m not quite sure why, but I was nervous about going to the Passport Office. I guess that makes no sense. Well, really, there’s no “guess” to it. It makes no sense. But, I was nervous all the same.

A nice man came in, took my picture, and looked over all of the information I brought (driver’s license, new birth certificate, application), and we started talking about the fact that I am 65 years old and have never been out of the country before. He asked where I was going.

“Israel,” I said. He looked at me, probably noted the cross I wear around my neck, and said, “Your life will never the be same.” When he talked about walking where Jesus did, I got chills up and down my arms!

I’m sure that the Post Office probably wouldn’t condone our visiting for 30 minutes about God’s goodness and His mighty power and about how powerful it is to go to the place where Jesus was born, taught, died, and rose again. But, I left almost floating on air! It was as good as any church service would have been. And, I am even more excited than ever to make the trip.

Now, I just have to wait about 3 weeks for that passport to arrive. Then, I’ll really feel like this trip is going to happen!!

Looking at the Positives of Having Lung Cancer – Am I Crazy?

Okay, this post is probably going to have a lot of people looking at me and thinking I have gone stark-raving crazy. But, here goes anyway!

What would life without cancer be like?

I participate in a forum whose participants have all kinds of different cancers. Today, a post was made that asked, “Do you get wrapped up in thinking about what might have been if cancer hadn’t come?” The person who asked the question is livid that she has cancer.

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Anxiety…An Unwelcome Visitor

I recently saw a study that found that lung cancer patients who do not have anxiety or depression live longer than those who do.1 I was surprised to find this information because I have always been told that attitude might make your remaining life happier, but it has no impact on how long you live.

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Everyone Needs Support Sometimes

When I was diagnosed with lung cancer, I didn’t know anyone else who was still alive and fighting the disease. I started searching around and ultimately landed on a group where I feel totally at home – it is called WhatNext.

I am going to post two links below that will help you know if you think WhatNext will be a good fit for you. I go to a lot of different lung-cancer related forums, but I spend most of my time on WhatNext. It feels like home to me.

On WhatNext, there are caregivers and loved ones, survivors, and people from the medical field for all kinds of cancer from skin cancer to liver, lung, or lymphoma cancers. Take a look at the information below and please join, if it sounds like a place you’d like to be a part of!

This link tells you a lot of the benefits of the group in an advertising way:  https://www.whatnext.com/ilp/lungcancer/?campaign=AMLC

SandiA is a Stage 4 Melanoma survivor who is active on the site. She tells you why she loves WhatNext so much!

Let me know if you joined the group because you saw this post! I look forward to seeing you! I think you’ll love it there as much as I do!

https://www.whatnext.com/ilp/lungcancer/?campaign=AMLC