I want to take a moment to update you on where I am today in my story of Before and After.  Just over two years ago my doctor and his team brought forward the suggestion of a bone marrow transplant as one of my treatment options to consider.  Leukemia is a cancer with treatment options but no cure.  At that time I had lived with leukemia for 11 years and had gone through a variety of chemotherapy treatments with varied success.  The only option for a cure was through a bone marrow transplant.  Without going into too many details, this procedure requires that my own bone marrow (where my blood cells are created) is killed off and a new healthy bone marrow (in my case from an anonymous donor who was a match to me) is transfused into my body and begins to create new cells.  The goal of this procedure is a cure.  Many people survive a bone marrow transplant and are cured.  That being said, there are risks involved and not everyone survives the transplant.  In fact, others survive the transplant without change to their diagnosis.

When Jeff and I were first confronted with the possibility of a bone marrow transplant we decided it was not the right decision for us.  For some patients, a bmt is their only option, but for us, a bmt was just one of the many options available to us.  After months of meetings with the doctors, much prayer and conversations with family and friends, Jeff and I decided to go ahead with the bmt.  There were, of course no guarantees that this procedure would be successful and we knew for certain that the transplant and road to recovery would be terrible.  But the one thing that we knew with certainty is that this was the direction that God was leading us in, and that by choosing the option of a bmt we were following in obedience to Him. We knew, with certainty that our decision to move ahead with the bmt was based on our obedience to God, not on the outcome of the procedure.  Making the decision to move forward with the bmt did not guarantee a cure for me, in fact, we believed that even if the bmt had been unsuccessful, if I had died or the transplant made no difference to my health, it was still the right decision.

 My bmt took place just 17 months ago (November 2009) and I am still on the long road to recovery.  The doctors are happy with how the new bone marrow has taken over.  They are also quick to take care of me when my old cells try to take over the new and treat the infections as they arise.  Even this week I have seen my doctor regarding a chest infection that has been lingering for a long time and I am scheduled for a bronchoscopy next Tuesday to begin to answer some of the questions about how to best treat the infection.  When difficulties like this surface it is easy to think, “why on earth did we choose the bmt option?” or “was there not an easier way?” but I am quickly brought back to the decision that we made, that REGARDLESS of the outcome of the bmt, regardless of whether I live or die, whether I am cured or remain fighting the rest of my life, that Jeff and I acted in obedience in making this choice.

Health and Healing, Wholeness and Holiness

I want to share with you the most significant thing that I learned in isolation throughout my transplant.  Each night I would pray for healing, along with so many others. I prayed that the transplant would lead to a cure, either by medical intervention or by supernatural healing.  I prayed for relief from the pain and the discomfort that I was feeling.  And then one night as I was praying and listening to God I heard his Voice silently whispering to my heart.  He spoke these words: Heather, I am not only concerned with your Health and Healing but with your Wholeness and Holiness. I am concerned about your health and healing, but I am also concerned about your wholeness, your character and your attitudes, in making you more like Jesus.

So there I was, lying there in my hospital bed, all alone and I couldn’t believe it.  God wanted more of me than I had bargained for.  I was prepared to do all that I needed to in order to have physical healing but I had never imagined that God also wanted to work on my heart at the same time.

It was too much to ask.  I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t do both. I cried. I pleaded with God.  Please, let’s just take care of the physical healing first and then, when I’m better, then we can concentrate on my character, on becoming more like Jesus.  In fact, when I told Jeff what God had said to me I told him that I wasn’t talking to Jesus anymore because I didn’t like what He was saying.  Jesus and I have of course had many more conversations about this and we’re on good speaking terms again.

 Clothe Yourself

So where does that leave me now?  I am no longer a cancer patient and I am not yet cured.  I am Inbetween.  I know that there are things that God has and is calling me to but I have not arrived yet.  I am a work in progress.  And if we each take an honest look at our lives I think that we will all realize that we are in some ways, living Inbetween, in the land of Not Yet.  In order to illustrate this God has given me a picture that I would like to share with you.  I think that, regardless of what you are facing today, that there will be something for all of us.  If you’ll bear with me, I’d like for us to take a look at our closets, both the closets where we hang up our clothes and our spiritual closets made up of our hearts, behaviours, attitudes and behaviours.

When was the last time you took a good look at the clothes in your closet?  If you’re anything like me, you’ve got some favourites, some not so favourites, outfits for special occasions, some things that require some attention (a hem, or a button), some things are too big or too small and some things that haven’t been worn in ages.  Every so often, I look through my closet to reevaluate what is taking up space.  I choose to keep some things, pass other things along and add new items into the mix.

For a while now I’ve been thinking about the clothes in my “spiritual closet”, the character of my heart.  The Bible is filled with verses that tell us how to dress, how to “clothe ourselves” and I’ve been looking at ways to add these “clothes”, these characteristics, attitudes, behaviours, actions and thoughts into my life.

Consider the words that Paul writes in Colossians 3:12-14.  Since God chose you to be holy people whom he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you.  Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.  And the most important piece of clothing you must wear is love.

Listen to this list again: Tenderhearted mercy. Kindness. Humility. Gentleness. Patience. Forgiveness. And most important: Love.

When I look at these pieces of clothing in my life I can say that are times when these clothes fit really well, they are comfortable staples in my wardrobe. I wear them all the time.  But if I take a hard honest look, there are times when these clothes are hidden in the back of my closet, the back of my heart and mind. They are too tight, too big or require too much work and they get tucked away in favour of other things.

Love: Bra, Underwear and Spanx

Paul says that love is the most important piece of clothing we can wear.  That love itself binds everything else together in perfect harmony.  If that’s the case, then I’d like for us to consider love as the first clothes that we put on in the morning, the foundation of our outfit, our bra and underwear, perhaps a pair of spanx to smooth out the lumps and bumps.  These articles of clothing help make everything else fit well.

Think about it.  If the first clothes you put on in the morning are rooted in anger, rage, unforgiveness, hatred and selfishness then everything else, your behaviour, thoughts, actions and speech will all follow in that manner as well.

In the same way, when we first clothe ourselves in love, everything else fits better.  It’s hard to lash out in anger, to spread lies or speak unkind words when your foundation is love.  It’s hard to cheat on your spouse, have greedy thoughts or use filthy language when your foundation is love.  When your motives, behaviours, thoughts, speech and actions are rooted in love everything else falls nicely into place.  When we dress ourselves first with love it is easier to be kind, to show forgiveness, to have patience, to serve others, to be humble and to practice peace.  These characteristics become a natural extension of who we are.  In fact, I believe that even if wearing kindness, forgiveness, patience and humility are difficult or uncomfortable, if they are not a part of those characteristics and behaviours that come naturally to you, that if they are worn over the foundation of love, that over time, they will become easier to wear and will become our first natural response.

Hot Water Heater Salesman

Let me give you two examples from my own life.  Jeff and I had spent the day downtown in some pretty difficult meetings with the doctors at PMH talking about the upcoming realities of the treatment leading up to the bone marrow transplant.  It was determined that I would be starting chemotherapy in the next week in preparation for the transplant.  This reality weighed heavily on me.  We returned home from a long day and I was tired, both emotionally and physically.  While I was preparing dinner the doorbell rang and when I opened it there was a salesman offering us a new hot water tank.  I politely answered that this was not a good time and that no we weren’t interested.  The salesman persisted in his presentation, I listened and then referred back to Jeff to make sure that we didn’t need a new water tank and assured the salesman a second time that, no, we didn’t need a new water tank.  I began to close the door when he launched into his presentation a third time.  By that time I had had enough.  I had been polite.  I had been patient.  I had been kind, but I was going to lose it.  Without thinking much of the outcome I interrupted his presentation and I spoke these words, “to be honest, I’m more concerned about my upcoming chemotherapy treatments and bone marrow transplant than I am about a new hot water tank.”  The salesman was surprised to say the least, embarrassed, apologetic and walked away.

Now understand, in my head I had rehearsed this type of response many times, but I had always had the self control to keep those words leashed, knowing that they were unkind, ungracious and hurtful, never to be spoken out loud.  As I spoke those words that night, they were the taste of poison on my lips.  I have never forgotten the taste of those words.  I wonder though, if I had been wearing love that day, if love had been the most important part of my outfit, would it not have been easier to be self controlled, kind and patient, even in the face of his rude persistence.  Would there not have been a different outcome to that story? I’d like to think yes.

Dad and Maggie

Another example: I’ve already spoken about when my mom died a few years ago.  I remember one day a conversation that I had with my sister.  She told me that she had decided that if Dad was to ever meet another woman that she was going to welcome that woman with open arms into our family.  I agreed with her and we decided that there would be no room for the drama that can accompany blending two families together.  I mean really, how would it be helpful in our relationship to our father, and what type of example would we be setting for our children if we were to say “if she’s going to be there, then we’re not coming…” I’ll never forget the day that Dad called to let me know that he had been spending a bit of time with a woman that he had met at his church.  You could tell from his voice that he was a bit nervous, understandably, about sharing this news and how my sister and I would react.  It was with joy that I was able to tell him about the decision that Pam and I had made, that we were happy for him and that we would do all that we could to welcome her into our lives, not as our mother, but as a friend.  I am happy to say that Dad and Maggie were married just over two years ago and that myself, my sister and our families are thrilled that she has joined our family.  This is an example of how choosing to wear love as a foundation has paved the way for great relationships.  I believe that things would be much different today if my sister and I had instead chosen to be angry, bitter or unloving.

Favourite Outfits

I want to take a moment to look at some of the types of outfits that we keep in our closets and how we can relate these to our spiritual closets, our attitudes, behaviours, language and character.

Let’s start off with our favourite outfits. If you think for just a moment, I’m sure that you’ll be able to think of one or two things that you just can’t do without.  My favourite, comfy, cozy go-to outfits include a good pair of jeans and a long sleeve t-shirt and a pair of crazy socks. It’s nothing fancy but I’m comfortable, confident and feel ready to face the day.  Perhaps for you it’s a favourite skirt, a great pair of black pants or a fitted jacket.  Whatever it is, I’m sure that it is an item that fits you well, is comfortable, makes you looks great and feel confident.

I think that if we take a look at the clothes in our spiritual closet, we will also find some favourite outfits that are equally comfortable and are centered around areas of strength.  These qualities, attitudes and behaviours will be different for everyone based on our God-given giftings and talents.  These “clothes” are a natural extension of who we are based on who God has designed us to be.

If I look into my closet, one of the clothes that I wear well is that of hospitality.  I was raised in a home where my parents practiced hospitality by inviting others into our home for meals, we had people live in our home for extended periods of time and we often made meals for others who were in need. In fact, if I look back further into my family history, my parents were also both raised in this way.  For me, hospitality is both a learned gift passed down through my family heritage and a spiritual act of obedience.  My husband and I often look around to see how we can show hospitality to those around us, opening our home to friends and family, to those who need a place to stay or an invitation to dinner for those who may feel left out or forgotten. Hospitality is one of my favourite outfits to wear because it fits well, it’s comfortable, and it’s easy.

Clothes that Need to be Thrown Away

Before we start to look at some more of the good outfits in our closet, let’s take a minute to look at some of the things that need to be thrown away.  In our clothes closets this can be anything, an old sweatshirt that has rips in it, clothes that we just don’t love, clothes that are out of date, don’t fit well or haven’t been worn in ages.  They might be comfortable to wear but they look sloppy and they are taking up valuable space.  And if we look at the closets of our hearts we probably have things there that need to be thrown out as well.

In Colossians 3:3-11, Paul tells us “to put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual sin, impurity, lust, and shameful desires. Don’t be greedy for the good things of this life, for that is idolatry.  God’s terrible anger will come upon those who do such things. You used to do them when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behaviour, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds.  

This is not an exhaustive list of the things that hide in our spiritual closets.  And really, these clothes, anger, rage, malice, unforgiveness, lying, lust… these clothes just need to be thrown out, not given away.  As we put on love as our foundation, as the most important part of our outfit and as we act out of who God has designed us to be then these clothes will become more uncomfortable to wear.  Each of us will struggle with different things, lying, cheating, lust, anger… the list goes on. But understand that whatever it is, as you surrender these things to God and as you begin to claim victory over these things it will be easier to get rid of than you think.

Paul continues, “In its place you have clothed yourselves with a brand-new nature that is continually being renewed as you learn more and more about Christ, who created this new nature within you. In this new life… Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.”

Clothes that are Too Small/Need Fixing

Let’s take a look at some more clothes in our closets.  What about those clothes that need a bit of attention or hard work?  A pair of pants that are really nice but that are a wee bit too tight, or a sweater that is missing a button or a skirt that just needs to be hemmed.  There is nothing wrong with these clothes themselves but they require some work on our part to make them useful, losing a few pounds, pulling out the needle and thread or taking something to get fixed.  Once the hard work is done, these clothes can once again be worn and enjoyed.

I’d like to think of these items as clothes in our spiritual closets that are separate from our natural giftings but are a part of what God has called us to be as we become more like him. If we take an honest look in our closets I think that we will all find some items that are still in really good shape, but may feel uncomfortable today.  For example, think about patience, words of encouragement and forgiveness.  There they are, hanging in your closet but they may feel uncomfortable.  As you practice patience, words of encouragement and forgiveness they will begin to fit better.  This is the process of becoming more like Jesus.

When we look into the closets of our heart, I’d like to think of these qualities, behaviours, actions and thoughts that God is calling us to but require a bit more work or discipline.  Maybe you hear God asking you to help out in a children’s program at church but you lack patience or feel unqualified for the job.  Perhaps you’ve been asked to plan an event, to restore a broken relationship, to serve others in a way that is beyond what you think you can handle.  Please know, that if God is asking you to do something, then He is the One that equips you with all that you need to complete the task.  When you make the decision to clothe yourself with love, mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, when you trust in God’s plan and that He will see you through all that He has called you to, then slowly, you will change.  Your heart will change, your attitudes will change, your thoughts will change, your behaviours will change.  The patience that was always wearing thin will overflow in you.  The unkind words that were once so easy will change to words that encourage, build up and speak truth in a way that is covered by love.

Special Occasion Outfits

There is one more type of outfit that I want to talk about in our closets.  These are clothes for special occasions like a wedding, a funeral, sports equipment or a special event.  These clothes are in good condition and are an important part of our wardrobe but don’t get worn every day.  They are worn for a special purpose, for a specific time.

If we compare this to our hearts, our spiritual closets, then these are the areas where God is giving us a special gift for a specific task that is a stretch from who we are in our natural and spiritual giftings.  On our part this requires surrender and acting out in obedience, trusting that God, through his Holy Spirit has chosen us and will equip us for the task. Without going into any details, I can assure that I am learning to wear a special occasion outfit right now.  There is a situation that I am in that does not come natural to me, but is required of me.  God has called me to it and while I don’t feel qualified for the job, I am confident that God is equipping me for the task at hand.  In order to better understand what is required of me I am choosing to partner with others who, for them, this is a comfortable outfit to wear.

 Designer Clothes

In Romans 13:14, after listing a number of unbecoming items of clothing, drunkenness, jealousy, sexual immorality to name a few, Paul says, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh. The reality is all my clothes should be designer wear, designed by Jesus, specifically for me, specifically for you.

 Washing Instructions

Now that we’ve taken some time to look at the types of clothes in our spiritual closets, how do we take care of them all?  How do we make sure that they are always ready to wear? How do we protect our hearts, our behaviours, our attitudes and our minds?  And what happens when mess up? When we forget to dress in love, in patience, kindness and the other clothing that have been designed for us by Christ Jesus himself?  What happens when we tell a lie, lash out in anger, covet our neighbours’ belongings, when we choose to wear the poorly fitting clothes of our sinful nature?  Let me tell you that there is hope for all of us today.  These clothes all come with easy care washing instructions.

There is a favourite old hymn that we sang at church a few weeks ago and I think that it is fitting to close off with this reminder today.  The chorus goes like this:

Jesus paid it all

All to Him I owe

Sin had left a crimson stain

He washed it white as snow

This is the hope that we have. Jesus paid it all. Sin had left a crimson stain. He washed it white as snow.

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