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Epitaph (Part 2)

This is what I want engraved on my tombstone…SHE LOVED WELL. But it’s got to be true! It’s not that I have death on my mind right now as I face two surgeries in the next three weeks (one on the tumor in my breast and one on my bad appendix). I have utter confidence that they will be successful. What’s been occupying my mind is the hopeful idea that transformation of my character is not only possible but probable. I believe that we are in this life to come to know God through Jesus Christ and the subsequent filling of the Holy Spirit and that as we get to know Him better and better, we are compelled to be like Him because He is so beautiful. The way He loves us, with patience and kindness, never irritable or rude, never selfish or prideful, never keeping a record of our wrongs, always trusting, hopeful, protecting and persevering, is so magnificent that it motivates us to want to love like that too.

Something I’ve learned during this cancer season is that me loving God and others well will never come true without some deep soul changes. And I can’t force those. They can only be wrought by the God who loves me, never gives up on me, sanctifies me…body, soul and spirit. But I need to cooperate with Him! It’s like gardening. I can’t get in the ground and force plants to grow and bear their fruit. God causes things to grow. But it is my job to chop up the hard soil, plant seeds, weed out the harmful junk, and water well. Give all those little seeds the best possible environment that perhaps they’ll grow and produce luscious, beautiful fruit.

Two weeks ago I finished 16 rounds of chemotherapy which delights me to no end. I can’t say I was ever thankful for the awfulness of poison being poured into my body but in retrospect I can “consider it all joy” because I think that the months of chemotherapy did a good job of chopping at the hard soil of my heart and preparing it for some seeds of truth that hadn’t yet been planted down deep.

For example, the truth that loving others well starts with loving God with all my heart, mind, soul and strength. And loving Him starts with believing and receiving how much He loves me. I knew this on one level. I thought I’d come a long way in believing and receiving His love. It started many years ago at a Christian Women’s conference in the Mighty Ducks Stadium out in Anaheim, CA. I remember worshipping with thousands of women and singing something about God’s love for us. As I sang, I very clearly heard in my spirit “you don’t really believe this. You teach it to others but don’t believe it for yourself. It hurts us.” I felt like God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit was speaking for the Trinity and wanted to be very clear with me. “This is fundamental to living the kind of life I’m calling you to.” I sobbed and apologized and asked for wisdom! I learned: It’s very shallow and hurtful and non-productive to hang on to our own unworthiness to be loved by Him. We are unworthy in the sense that we don’t earn His love, but scripture says, “While we were yet enemies, Christ died for us.” How much more could He show His unconditional love than to give His life for us before we even thought twice about loving Him back! By not embracing His love for me fully, I was demeaning what He did for me on the cross. I thought I was being humble and mindful of my awfulness. I had done some pretty bad things in my teen and young adult years. I was embarrassed and ashamed when memories would flood me and I’d think, “How can you love me Jesus?” I could understand why He might love other people. I wasn’t being hypocritical when I taught others of His love. But I knew myself and all the things I’d done. I knew the ugly, mean thoughts I had. I was self-centered and was trying to change but it wasn’t going well. He corrected my faulty thinking at that conference. The truth that I was still trying to earn His love and that I needed to understand grace (getting what we don’t deserve or unmerited favor) was planted in my soul way back then. But, all these years later, the season of chemotherapy I went through, took that seed of truth and pushed it deeper into the soil of my soul. Being stripped of anything I could possibly do to earn His favor and yet having rich times of being held by Him showed me His unconditional love in such a real way. Something I’d believed for years theoretically became so experientially real to me. I couldn’t do ministry, I had no energy to interact in an evangelistic way with people, my brain was foggy so my prayers were vague and rambly. My quiet times were all over the place with different books and nothing orderly or sequential. Yet, I sensed His love in a constant and beautiful way. I soaked it in.

If loving well starts with loving Him, which starts with receiving His love, then I now think it is very probable that my epitaph will ring true. I love Him because He first loved me! I can love others because He began a good work in me long ago and He will be faithful to complete it. He’s used this cancer season to continue to transform me by deepening my understanding of being loved by Him, loving Him back, and then loving others.

Maybe a truer statement on my headstone would be:
“She loved well because He conformed her into His image.”

This blog was written prior to the first of Katie’s two mentioned surgeries, which took place on October 23, 2019.

Katie Hawkins is the co-host of the podcast, She Speaks Stories, which shares exploits of our extraordinary God to bring hope, joy, and courage to their listeners. Katie is also a member of Mount Ararat Baptist Church with her husband Mike, former moderator of NorthStar Church Network, and an Alpha teacher. Follow along with Katie at her podcast (linked above) or through her blogs which will be posted here periodically, under the category "Stories."

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Epitaph (Part One)

I took a Bible study once that urged us to live life backwards. Decide what you want written on your tombstone and then live your life in a way that would fulfill that statement. “She loved well,” is what I came up with. Jesus said the most important thing is to love God and love others. When I picture myself dying to this life and meeting Him face to face in the next, I ache for Him to be able to throw His arms wide open to me and say, “Well done good and faithful servant.” If he says loving is most important, then I want to learn to love well and spend my time on Earth doing just that.

Looking back on my years since I wrote that epitaph, I would say I’ve fallen far short in the real, unconditional loving department. It has taken the “valley of the shadow of death” I’m walking in right now to be able to see that clearly. I don’t fear that the outcome of this cancer will be my physical death, although both my sister and dad died fairly young of the disease (42 and 59 respectively). My mom was completely healed of it and I think I’ll follow her path because I believe God will give me time to live out what He is teaching me about love. I’m convinced He is mining my soul and bringing out the dross so I’ll be as silver refined – a clearer reflection of Him. As diamonds are forged out of great heat, so too can a soul start to sparkle and reflect the Light in new ways, if we can let our trials teach us instead of defeat us.

The first eight weeks of the cancer treatments were such a shakeup to the core of who I thought myself to be. Every other week I was given a cocktail of chemo drugs that included something nicknamed the Red Devil. I was told it is the harshest, most powerful chemo drug, effective and yet wicked. Oh my, I have never experienced such inner darkness. It took me down to a whiny, anxious, confused, depressed state. I was truly helpless to do or even be anything in my own strength. I was like this blob of a person lying in bed that needed help. In the meantime, the word was being spread by family, friends, the podcast audience and my church, that I was in need of prayer. Gifts, cards, texts, meals, flowers and even cross-country visits from my family poured in. And I mean poured! I’m not saying that like a Facebook brag. I’m saying that because never, ever in my life have I been more actively loved by so many people and truthfully, it was humbling. I felt embarrassed. I felt so unworthy. I like to be the one giving, not the one receiving. I don’t like to bother people. It felt like people were going to so much trouble, being inconvenienced, for my sake. I wanted to tell them that I wasn’t worth it, didn’t deserve any of this, that there would be better ways for them to use their resources.

My thinking changed the day my brother said something profound to me. “Live loved in order to live love.” I had to play that over and over in my mind to let it sink in. If I wanted to truly love others well, I had to be able to receive their love, their acts of service. Now, I know it has to start with receiving the lavish love God wants to pour out on us. I’ll talk about that more extensively in the next blog.

But simply put, how does God pour out love on His people today? Mostly through other people. If we push that away because of embarrassment or a deep sense of unworthiness, aren’t we rejecting His love? If I wanted to truly love others well, I needed to be able to receive their love. But I had a guard up. A wall that I’d erected unknowingly that kept me from believing anyone could love me just for me. I knew people loved what I could do for them, what I could bring to their life. If I stopped being a benefit to them, they’d stop loving me. I thought I saw this played out in life to prove my point. When I stopped working for certain pastors, they stopped talking to me. When I left jobs, coworkers I thought were family became nothing more then acquaintances. As we moved from duty stations, I’d completely lose touch with friends I adored. As the kids moved out, my boys marrying, they didn’t need much from me anymore and of course we stayed in touch but not like when I could daily serve them. Even my husband seemed happiest when the house was clean, dinner was served, and I looked my best and wanted his arms around me at night. So, I equated my worthiness for love based on what I could do for others.

It’s all such a lie and it took this season of cancer for Him to reveal it clearly to me. I love the song with lyrics that say “there’s no lie He won’t tear down, wall He won’t break down coming after me.” The truth will set you free. He did this in two ways for me. First, He allowed me to have absolutely nothing to offer anyone. No looks, no energy, no ability to teach or comfort or serve…anyone! And yet people loved me anyway.

Secondly, He taught me beautiful pearls of truth. Through His Word, through authors of books He sent my way, through sermons I was listening too, through conversations with Spirit-filled people we interviewed on our podcast. Stay tuned for specifics on what He taught me and how I’m hoping when I do die, the epitaph I have in mind will ring true.

Katie Hawkins is the co-host of the podcast, She Speaks Stories, which shares exploits of our extraordinary God to bring hope, joy, and courage to their listeners. Katie is also a member of Mount Ararat Baptist Church with her husband Mike, former moderator of NorthStar Church Network, and an Alpha teacher. Follow along with Katie at her podcast (linked above) or through her blogs which will be posted here periodically, under the category "Stories."

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Resting in the Father's Arms? Really?

I chose a theme song for this next season of my life. Well, actually I feel like the song chose me. Prior to my doctor spelling out what the next nine months or so of my life would look like as we aggressively fight this breast cancer with chemo, surgery, and radiation, I was immersed in a new song by Sean Curran of Passion, called “Bigger Than I thought.” Some of the powerful lyrics…

Come to me in the valley of the unknown.
God, You understand me.
I throw all my cares before you
My doubts and fears don’t scare you.

You’re bigger than I thought you were.
I stop all negotiations with the God of all Creation.
I believe but help my unbelief. You understand me.
Help me reach the faith that’s underneath.

I will rest in the Father’s hands.
Leave the rest in the Father’s hands. (repeat & repeat & repeat)

Learning this new song along with a huge group of friends from my home church and hundreds of other ministry leaders from all around the country was moving and inspiring on the first days of the conference I was attending. As I belted it out, swaying a bit, lifting my hands, I felt like I was proclaiming something significant but in a vague way. Immediately after my doctor told me my life was about to radically change with this serious diagnosis, I found myself back in a worship service singing it once more. The timeliness of these lines hit me hard. The Spirit brought into focus the necessity of not just singing these sentiments but embracing them, ready to live them.

I truly wanted to rest in His hands. It sounded so good, so right, so reassuring. The problem was I had no idea how to actually do that.

If you read my first blog in this series you probably noticed a lot of “I” statements. I was going to sail through this season with my rock solid faith. I was going to be the hero and glorify God with how unshaken I was going to be about the whole thing. I thought I knew enough already to be able to consider this trial joy because I knew He was going to take me deeper. I was going to be strong and courageous.

After all, my ministry right now is co-hosting a podcast called “She Speaks Stories” and week after week our goal is to share stories of people that offer courage and hope and inspiration to others because of what God is doing in their lives. Most often, the stories include severe trials that are life-changing but also faith-building. Women are changed as the plotline of their story includes God as the hero, faith in Him as the catalyst for change, and then some kind of victorious resolution…not usually a neat tidy bow as growth is continuous, but some kind of peace made with the chaos the trial started. How could I sit for these past 52 episodes focusing on women who have thrived through horrible adversity by turning fully to Jesus and not thrive myself through my own trial?

Well, God lovingly and without condemnation showed me clearly. “If you DON’T learn to rest in me, stop negotiating, and open up your mind to how big I am, and truly how weak you are, you will succumb to fear and self-pity and block any good this suffering could do.”

Bottom line: I had to get rid of any and all self-reliance! Even reliance on my faith, which sounds odd to say, but what I mean is faith in my faith instead of faith in HIM…the object of my faith. I don’t know enough to be guarded against faltering in fearful times because my own knowledge is not what He wants me to trust in. It’s so limited! He’s bigger than I thought I understood Him to be. Always bigger! If I think I can do anything eternal apart from Him, I’m deluded and setting myself up for a fall. One of my favorite guests on our podcast, Donna Tyson (check out episode #4 and you will be greatly blessed!), says that EGO stands for Edging God Out and that we inadvertently do that when we consider our plans, our purposes, our motives to be preeminent and not humbly surrender our lives to what He desires for us. My initial response to this diagnosis was egocentric and not centered in Christ’s desire for me to be more like Him.

This season I’m in is almost like (and forgive me if this sounds weird) being back in the womb. It’s supposedly going to last nine months. Hmmmmm…who made up that timetable? It’s a very sheltered time and dark and warm. (Why warm? Lots of flushes, lots of time huddled under blankets, lots of sweat when I do try and get outside and walk.) It’s reduced me to not being able to do anything much but receive love and nourishment and care from others. My brain is functioning and yet foggy. Scripture says that we are fearfully and wonderfully made in the womb and we are birthed into the world with such potential. I’m wondering what God is knitting together in my soul right now that might be fearful and wonderful? What new potential could be birthed in my character during this formative season?

Could He be weaning me off a lifetime of trying to do enough to be loved and accepted by Him and others and showing me how to truly rest in what He’s done for me? Could He be helping me merely receive His lavish grace and be transformed inwardly into something so beyond myself? Maybe I’ll be born again, again…not unto salvation as that was sealed for me years ago and I know it but onto a new level of sanctification, purification from the idols I’d unknowingly set up.

Instead of wanting to be the James Bond of the Spiritual world, my desire now is to simply rest and receive whatever the Father has for me. He understands me better than I understand myself. He knows my doubts and fears and the faith I have or don’t have. He’s big! His hands are kind! I don’t need to make Him proud of me, I just need to let Him make me transparent so He can shine through me. He is the hero of this cancer season because His hands will be evident in all I go through.

I’m humming that song right now with a smile on my face. I hope these words have given you one, too.

Katie Hawkins is the co-host of the podcast, She Speaks Stories, which shares exploits of our extraordinary God to bring hope, joy, and courage to their listeners. Katie is also a member of Mount Ararat Baptist Church with her husband Mike, former moderator of NorthStar Church Network, and an Alpha teacher. Follow along with Katie at her podcast (linked above) or through her blogs which will be posted here periodically, under the category "Stories."

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