Leaving the Valley

“I’m a little nervous to leave the valley”, I told my friend. 

“Why?”

“We’ve been under God’s protective hand for the last year, I’m afraid to leave! How will we be able to get back to normal life again?

That day, I allowed a tiny seed of doubt to be planted in my heart. That tiny seed then began to grow, until it bloomed into an ugly blossom of worry.

“What if the cancer comes back?”

“What if Gabe can’t handle full-time work?”

Soon, that ugly plant of doubt and worry began to grow thorns and vines that were cutting and choking me. I had given in to my fears. 

Suddenly, I was having panic attacks. I couldn’t drive, and I had unreasonable fear each time Gabe went into the office. 
Instead of leaving the valley feeling victorious over what God had done for my husband, I was a miserable mess over a future I could not control. 

“Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” – Isaiah 41:10

Friends, God is good! He graciously reminded me that leaving the valley doesn’t mean I am leaving His protection. My journey will continue on, weather in a valley or on a mountain, with God holding me in His protective hand!

I confessed my fear to God. I told God I trusted Him with the future. I asked Him to help me no longer give place to fear in my life. I thanked Him for the victory He gave me over my sin of fear. 

I began to drive again. I didn’t have a panic attack when my husband went into the office. The anxiety left.

If you have been in a long valley, and find you are about to leave, don’t allow seeds of doubt, worry, or fear to enter your mind. These seeds will grow into ugly plants. They will steal away the peace and victory God gave you in the valley.

Instead, leave the valley with praise on your lips, and a song in your heart. Remember, you will never leave the Father’s hand!

“The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord : and he delighteth in his way.  Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand.” – Psalms 37:23‭-‬24

For those who have been following my husband’s journey with cancer, he recieved fantastic news a few weeks ago! He was declared NED, and given a clear bill of health! We couldn’t be happier with this news, and are currently getting back to “normal” life. 

What Cancer Taught Us

It is early morning, and as I write this, my house is gloriously quiet.  My older children are still sleeping, but I hear whispers from my younger boys room.  Gabe is still sound asleep, the effects of chemo having drained his body.  Sipping my steaming mug of coffee, words are beginning to form in my heart, and the urgency to write becomes too strong for me to avoid any longer.

This past Wednesday was Gabe’s last chemo treatment.  We walked into the cancer clinic with high spirits and big smiles.  We are praying that a scan he had Monday will declare my husband NED (no evidence detected), and then this chapter in our lives can be over.  The story won’t be over, however.

Once cancer has touched your life so closely, it never completely leaves your life.

There will always be tests and blood work.  The knowledge that a recurrence could happen at any time will always linger in the back of our minds.

However, we won’t be consumed by our story, because we will be too busy living it.

Before the chemo was able to get it’s gripping arms around my husbands body, we celebrated by going out for lunch.  As we ate, we talked of all God had done for us in the last chapter of our lives.  What did we learn?  How would our lives be different? What advice would we give others?

This morning, I realized I HAD to share just a few things we learned in the last two years.  I hope that maybe it can help someone else going through a difficult time in their life.

What Cancer Taught Us

1 – The most important thing we learned from cancer is that “there is no pit that is so deep, that God is not deeper still”.  I  had grown up hearing that phrase quoted from the pulpit of my church, but I never really understood the meaning until I found myself in a pit.  Those first weeks after my husband was diagnosed with colon cancer were the most emotional I had ever experienced in my life.  Those were days I would come home from taking my kids to school and just cry.  Not just a few tears, but gut-wrenching cries, where I was on my knees, sobbing, begging God to heal my husband.  Where the fear that I would become a single mother was so real, I was in full-blown panic mode.  I remember during those days, watching my husband sit on the couch, immune to the chaos and noise of our children around him.  Watching him stare off into space, I wasn’t sure if he was thinking, or in shock, but I would see tears slipping down his cheeks.  Those days were hard.  Those days, we were most certainly in a deep, dark pit.  Yet, just when we thought we couldn’t get any deeper, God would reveal Himself to us in some small way.  Whether it was comforting scripture that would come to mind, or a text from a dear friend, God was certainly there in the pit with us.  Cards, gifts, phone calls, hugs, and hundreds of christian brothers and sisters in Christ, some we didn’t even know, offering to pray for us, were all gifts from our loving God.  Gifts that brought us such comfort, that gave us such strength, we eventually found we were no longer in that pit.  How wonderful our God is!

2 – We also learned that you should never waste time questioning God.  It’s hard to see what purpose could come from difficult trials in our lives, but be assured, God has a plan!  And while you are stuck on trying to understand why God would allow this trial into your life, you are wasting precious time that God wants to use to bless you, and bring you closer to Him!  He loves you so deeply, and doesn’t want you to go through your trial alone.  He wants to bring you close to Himself, to hide you under His wings, to comfort you.  God can’t do those things if you are too busy wondering what His thoughts and plans are.  You have to just let go, and trust Him completely. Once you let go, you will be flooded with peace that you won’t be able to explain!

3- Lastly, My husband and I learned that you just can’t go through something as difficult as cancer without God.  Don’t wait until you are facing a trial in your life to build a relationship with God.  Read your Bible and speak to God in prayer every day.  Go to church.  Fellowship as much as you can with your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Don’t allow your trial to keep you from doing the things God wants you to do.  Just don’t!  I have seen people, suffering from life’s hard blows, remove themselves from God and His people, because they were too overwhelmed by their circumstances.  Instead of making life easier for themselves, they only made their circumstances harder to bear.  God never intended us to go through hard times alone.  He wants to envelope us in His love and grace.  He wants to reveal Himself to us in such personal ways, we could never again doubt His love and care for us.  Yet how can God do that if we are backing away from Him?  Don’t leave God in a trial, and don’t wait until your are in the middle of one to build a relationship with Him.  Draw close to Him now.  Remain faithful to God now.  Allow Him to bless you in your trials.

So here we are, at the end of this long journey.  Yet, now that we are at the end, it seems as though maybe it wasn’t that long after all.  The valley was hard, but the fellowship with God along the way was very sweet!

The Unseen Hand

In January of 2015, my husband began rubbing his chest.

My heart won’t stop racing!”

“Was it a stressful day at work,” I asked?

We had been talking for the last couple of months about how something had to give with Gabe’s job.  Not only was he driving an hour to work, he was working 10 to 12 hour days before driving another hour home.  It was starting to wear on him, and our entire family was effected by the high demands of his career.

A few days later, Gabe started to have chest pain.  It was enough to make him question if he was having a heart attack.  It was time to go to the hospital.

In the emergency room, Gabe’s heart rate was crazy.  One minute it was 70 and the next it was over one hundred!

“Atrial tachycardia“, the doctor had said.  “We will keep you until the medication begins to regulate your heart.”

After two days, the medications were not helping.  They sent him home with a scheduled procedure for the next week.  He would be having a heart ablation, a seemingly simple procedure where they pricked a tiny hole between the heart chambers and burned away excess tissue surrounding the heart.

The procedure, though uncomfortable, was a complete success!  We went through the rest of 2015 with no other health struggles or emergency room trips.  Until, exactly a year later, in January of 2016.

I’m taking you to the ER”, I insisted as I drove my family home from church.

“Just let me go home to bed”, Gabe argued.

“You have had a headache, dizziness, nausea and now vomiting for the last week!  You couldn’t even sit in your chair tonight, and I have stopped twice on the way home now, so you could throw up!”

After finding a babysitter and getting my kids off to bed, I practically dragged my husband to the car.  It didn’t take long to get him registered in the hospitals emergency room. After several hours of tests, two doctors came into the tiny room.

“Unfortunately, the test results show that you had a stroke in your cerebellum.  We need to keep you here to run more tests.”

My husband and I looked at each other in shock.  He was only 45, after all.  We were not expecting this kind of news until we were at least in our 70’s!

The next day we learned that the stroke was more than likely the result of a blood clot that was thrown from the tiny pin-prick hole between his heart chambers.  While they couldn’t prove it, it was the only theory that made sense.

As my husband was being released with strict instructions for “no work, no stress, no noise”, we were visited by an endocrinologist.

“Before you leave, you need to know that the MRA revealed a large mass on your thyroid.  In a couple of months, after you have had some healing time from your stroke, you need to see a surgeon.”

We were so focused on healing from the stroke, that we found we weren’t too worried about the mass on Gabe’s thyroid.  A few months later, a biopsy revealed cancer.

“It’s actually a blessing you had the stoke.  Since you were not having any symptoms, we would have more than likely caught this cancer when it was much worse”, the endocrinologist explained.

In July of 2016, Gabe had surgery to remove his thyroid.  Cancer was found in three places.  By September, he was finished with his  radioactive iodine treatments.  Gabe was back to healing from his stroke, and his surgery.

By Thanksgiving Gabe was starting to feel pretty good.  He had begun to return to the office a few days a week, and we were making some exciting plans for 2017.  Only, Gabe had began to notice a lot of blood in the toilet.  Realizing it could possibly be from the blood thinners he now had to take, he felt God was urging him to mention it to his doctor.

In January of 2017, Gabe received a phone call from the gastroenterology.

“The biopsy from your colonoscopy came in today.  I’m sorry, but you have colon cancer.”

For the next two weeks, my husband and I struggled with our emotions.  One minute we felt peace and complete trust in God and the next minute, fear and despair would overwhelm us.  Hadn’t we been through enough?  A heart procedure,  stroke, thyroid cancer, and now colon cancer?

After two weeks of grieving, the fog began to lift from our emotions, and we began to think more clearly about our situation.

“Gabe, do you realize you wouldn’t have had the stroke if you hadn’t had the heart ablation?”

“Yes,” he replied.

“And you wouldn’t have learned about the thyroid cancer if you hadn’t had the stroke.”

The worry wrinkle on my husbands face began to smooth away, as he began to understand my meaning.

“If I hadn’t been on the blood thinners, they never would have discovered the colon cancer.”

We sat together in awesome wonder.

We really could trust God!  He really DID know what He was doing! It was pointless to question Him!  Not only had God allowed all of this struggle into our lives the last two years, but His hand was there the whole time, leading us.  Excitement began to replace our wonder, and thankfulness.

Yes, thankfulness.  For the stroke, the thyroid cancer, and even this colon cancer. For all the time off work my husband had to take, the millions of doctors appointments and the growing pile of medical bills.  For the stress of juggling crazy schedules, and the fearful thoughts of “what if”.  We have witnessed God’s perfect timing, His perfect thoughts, and His perfect ways.  We have received blessings from His hand through the giving hands of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are thankful for all of it, because while it was difficult (I would be lying if I said it wasn’t), we have been able to experience God’s unseen hand in our life.

There is an unseen hand to me
That leads through ways I can not see
While going through this world of woe
This hand still leads me as I go.”

– Bill Gaither

 

 

The End of Summer and a New Beginning

This week marks the end of summer for our family. Monday beings the craziness of school, sports, and music lessons. While I’m sad to see lazy summer days go, I’m looking forward to getting back to a routine.

This summer was more laid back than usual for our family. Because Gabe needed to be close to the cancer center, and because the treatments were making him feel sick, any overnight trips were difficult to plan.

We did manage to get away for one night at Port Crescent State Park in Michigan! Their cabin that sleeps six had an opening at the last minute, and since Gabe had just finished his radiation treatments, we decided to go. It was wonderful! We had our own private beach right outside the cabin. I’m so thankful we were able to go!

Our beach scene from the front door of our cabin at Port Crescent State Park.

I also was able to make it to Lexington, Kentucky for a quick weekend to meet my brand new, great-niece! Kennedy Diane Calhoun is so precious, and I can’t wait to see her again soon!

Welcome to the world, Kennedy Diane!

Finally, I was able to take the kids to the Toledo Zoo. If you have never been there, you should go. The Toledo Zoo has been voted one of the top ten zoos in the United States. It had been a few years since we were there last , so it was fun to get to spend that time with the kids.

Six more weeks and Gabe’s treatments will be over! Gabe will get a final scan to confirm the cancer is gone, and then declared NED (no evidence detected). After five years of being NED, he will officially be in remission! 

As I look forward to life returning to normal for our family, I also feel a little timid in leaving this valley behind. You see, God has been here with us. 

We’ve seen Him work miracles. He has provided every single need, and blessed us above what we ever imagined He would! The close fellowship I have had with Him, and the peace that I have experienced while walking through this valley with Him, has been life-changing. I’m thankful for how He led me through the most difficult time of my life! 

For me, this is not just the end of another summer. It is a beginning of a new normal. I don’t know what our new normal will look like. I do know I don’t need to worry. If I can trust God to get us through a difficult year-and-a-half, I can most definitely trust Him with normal!

“Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.” – Psalms 34:19

What a Cancer Patient Won’t Tell You (but his wife will)


I have debated writing this post for a few months now. It is not my intent to whine, complain, or cause discouragement! God has been SO GOOD to us while on this journey! However, many have asked me how Gabe is “really” doing? So I thought I’d share with you, what he probably won’t tell you himself.
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Often I’ve listened to my husband talk to someone inquiring after his health. He will lightly smooth his struggles over with a butter knife, making it seem as though everything was as sweet as jam. It takes every ounce of self control within me to not enter those conversations mouth first, revealing what he’s REALLY going through!

“Gabe, why do you glaze over everything? Why aren’t you sharing what you are really going through?”

“Care, if I’m not positive when I talk to people, I won’t think positive when I’m alone.”

So here I am, sharing to a world of readers (all 30 of you) what a cancer patient (at least mine) won’t tell you. 

1. They feel sick more than they feel normal. Despite being on two different anti-nausea medications, my husband feels sick a lot. Thankfully, he’s been able to eat, and the steroids have made him even gain a few pounds. He is not thrilled by that, but doctor’s reassure him this is fantastic!

2. They. Are. Tired. All. The. Time. I’m not even kidding. Gabe sleeps about 9-10 hours a night, plus an hour nap every day, sometimes 2 naps! If he does any kind of physical labor, it literally takes hours of energy away from his body. Every day feels like he just ran a marathon.

3. Chemo really, really, really stinks. Think tingling and numbness in your hands, fingers, and toes. Freezing cold sensation when eating or drinking room temperature foods. Muscle pain and weakness when walking or chewing food. Think having to know what your blood counts are every week, having people stick you with needles nearly every day! 

4. Radiation really IS as difficult as they say. Burned skin, mucusy discharge, and bleeding are just a few side effects. Because my husband recieved radiation in a delicate area, he has even more difficulties I can’t mention on a public blog. The symptoms last for weeks after the last treatment.

5. They worry about the future. No matter how good their prognosis is, IT’S STILL CANCER. That means there is still fear of cancer spreading, or recurance of cancer, or serious illness from cancer treatments. They wonder if they will be able to return to work as they once did, and how they will pay the mounting medical bills. 

6. They miss what their life used to be. They miss the freedom to go away for a few days vacation instead of being “chained” to the cancer center. They miss feeling good, playing with their kids, food tasting good, working full time, sleeping soundly…there are so many more things my husband and I miss, we couldn’t possibly list them all!

7. They feel lonely. When friends and family first find out you have cancer, you will feel overwhelmed by their support and love! In time, however, some will get used to the idea you have cancer. For them, life is still going on as normally as can be, and you feel a little left behind. Many times loneliness is there, despite continued love and support, merrily because friends can’t go to your appointments with you, feel your pain, or hook up to your IV’s with you. Loneliness, to some extent, is unavoidable for a cancer patient.

8. It’s hard for their families. A spouse is going to worry more about the future than the cancer patient will worry. The added stress of caring for a loved one who is suffering through treatments along with average daily stresses can easily overwhelm. The fear of losing their loved one is never far from their thoughts. Older kids may struggle with extra responsibilities and having to back out of social activities in order to help their parents. 

9. Preventative treatments don’t feel any less painful or any less scary than treatments given in desperation. Many times I’ve heard, “but aren’t his treatments preventative?” Well, yes, but he’s going to feel the chemo and radiation just as if it were not a preventative measure. 

10. Lastly, a cancer patient won’t tell you that his entire outlook on life has changed. Things that were important yesterday, are no longer on the “to-do” list today. A cancer patient sees more clearly what is truly important in life. 

There are several other truths my husband will GLADLY tell anyone who wants to listen. God has been good to us through this cancer trial! He has provided every single need. We have been overwhelmed by friends and family who love and support us. We all have enjoyed Gabe being home more. Gabe is loving his guitar more every day. And lastly, this jourey is nearly over!

Really, I think Gabe believes that everything has been truly wonderful. He chooses to look at the positives and the blessings, and to cast the negatives behind him. This healthy perspective has been because of God’s Grace. The next time I hear him smoothing over how he’s really doing, I’m going to just keep my mouth closed.

Our Special Summer

Swaying with the swings smooth motion, I welcome the gentle breeze on my warm face. The setting sun spreads it’s glorious color across the sky, putting on a show of God’s amazing handiwork. My mind drifts to last summer and our family trip to Michigan’s thumb area.

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July, 2016 View of Lake Huron from our tent door.

How I longed to be on the beach at Port Crescent, chasing the waves with my bare feet. The sunsets at Port Crescent were amazing every night. The nightly bonfires represented family closeness and spiritual bonding. Sleeping in a tent meant scary stories and midnight bathroom trips. Coffee tasted best when slowly made over an open flame. I could hear my kids laughter as I invisioned them playing in the sand, and feel my husband’s embrace as we sat and watched the sunset together.

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July 2016, Port Crescent State Park, after a storm.

 

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July, 2016 Sunset over Lake Huron after a storm.

But no, we will not be visiting our favorite place this year. This summer has had fewer library trips and park visits. No lazy days spent picnicking at a local beach, or even day trips to the zoo. There will be no days set aside for America’s most loved roller coaster park, no out-of-state visits to see family, and no, there will be no camping.

This summer has been one of struggle in watching my husband suffer through radiation. It has been a summer of loneliness (your friends can’t walk each mile of your valley with you). It has been a summer of crazy schedules, a messy house, and many carry-out dinners and family movie nights.

As I sway in the cooling breeze, watching the last rays of sunlight dip below the horizon, I realize I no longer want to think back to last summer, or of this summers disappointments.

Instead, I begin to think of our church family’s generosity that has allowed us to get carry-out from restaurants we never would consider with four kids. The Clear Play DVD player a friend gave us has allowed family movie nights to include all the Avenger movies. Friends have helped pick up our kids from practices when we have schedule conflicts, and neighbors and family have come over to fix our falling-apart yard.

Lazy days at home have included slip-n-slide fun, gardening, trampoline wars, front-yard ninja battles, and Star Wars recipe cooking. Let’s not forget homemade popsicles, ice cream, smores, and popcorn balls. Reading aloud of adventures found in books written decades ago, have helped take us some place else, where we can explore caves or ride a rocket to Mars, right from our very own living room. Everyone has had a chance to improve in their guitar and ukulele playing skills. And endless rounds of Battleship and Zingo have kept all our competitive spirits alive.

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Playing a game of Battleship with my son, Bryce.

This summer has not been one we would have purposely planned, and it has for sure been filled with emotional struggle. However, it has also been a summer of opportunity as we grow closer as a family, and of continual thankfulness. Thankfulness that Gabe is alive, that there is hope for healing, and of God’s grace through this all.

As the stars (and mosquitos) begin to come out, lightening bugs begin to flicker above the grass. Bullfrogs begin their territorial calls while crickets start to chirp in unison, creating a chorus of nightly music. My heart joins in with their melody, praising God for giving our family this special summer.

“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Summer of 2015, watching the sunset with Gabe, before his stroke and before thyroid and colon cancer.

He Overwhelms My Days with Good

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Peeking down through the old, grated ceiling vent, I could see my dad sitting in his recliner. He was watching the eleven o’clock news, his cigarette sending puffs of smoke into the air. He yelled to my mother, who responded in turn with a heated tone. Realizing that a fight was brewing, I got up from the floor and tip-toed back to my bed. 

In my young, seven-year-old mind, I remember life before Jesus as a life filled with uncertainty. My parents were fighting a lot. I had a school friend whose parents had recently divorced, and I feared that would become my story.

One day, someone knocked on our front door and told my mom about Jesus. I remember she cried, then bowed her head to pray. A few weeks later, those same people came back and told my dad about Jesus. He cried, and bowed his head and prayed, too. Our family would never be the same!

Shortly after getting saved, my parents were invited to Hope Baptist Church. My dad never heard anyone speak with authority as he had that morning. When Pastor Sowell lifted his King James Bible into the air and declared, “don’t take my word for it”, my dad knew we were in the right place.

No longer were my days filled with fear over my parents fighting. Our family’s days now revolved around the changes we were making for God.

We went to a Christian book store and bought King James Bibles. We packed away our imodest clothing and worldly music.  My dad even gave up smoking and drinking. I didn’t hear swearing in the house anymore, and yes, my parents were filled with such zeal in their new-found faith, they no longer fought as they used to.

My family threw themselves into ministry wherever there was an opportunity. If the church doors were open, we were there. I remember cleaning bathrooms and vacuuming between pews. I worked in the nursery and helped wash dishes during Bible Conference. Once, I even did the worst job ever- scraping gum from the bottom of the pews! We sang in nursing homes, and even helped out in a ministry that focused on inner-city kids. As I got older, I had the opportunity to be involved in our tiny orchestra, and girls ensemble.

Life was good, and we were too busy to think about it! We were growing in the Lord as a family, and it was an amazing journey! Soon, I was in the singles group at church, where I met my husband. It wasn’t long before we were married and started our own family, beginning our own journey with the Lord. We have continued to throw ourselves into ministry, trying to raise our own children to have a deep love and desire for the Lord.

Life hasn’t always been easy. We’ve had our bumps along the way, just like any other normal family. We’ve had heart-breaks and sicknesses, frustrations and fears. Yet, each step of our bumpy journey, we have seen our days overwhelmed by Gods goodness!

We have watched other families, who don’t know Jesus, struggle with a diagnosis they’ve just recieved. They find themselves desperate, crying out for some kind of hope. They post on social media of their depression and despair, searching for answers that will help them cope with their grief.

And then, there’s my husband and I, sitting in treatment rooms, surgery waiting rooms, and appointment rooms, smiling, and sometimes laughing! How? Why? Even if our worst fears come to pass, there is joy at the end of our journey, and God’s grace for along the way. Because, He has overwhelmed our days with good!

“O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.” – Psalms 34:8

“And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.  Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,  Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” – Ephesians 3:19‭-‬21