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

Our Special Summer

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June, 2017 Brilliant sunset while sitting on my back porch.

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

 

The Shepherd’s Voice

Tugging my mother’s sleeve, I whispered, “what are those people doing?” I pointed to the many weeping adults who were flooding the isle, making their way to the alter.

“They heard God’s voice. He wants them to come and talk with Him”.

I pondered that a few minutes. How did they hear God’s voice? Did they actually hear Him talk?

I listened as the evangelist played the piano with soothing confidence, his deep voice booming through the auditorium. My tummy felt funny. My heart was racing. The palms of my hands were sweaty. I could hear sobbing, as people continued to flood the alter. The preacher paced the platform, waving his hanky every now and then, shouting, “glory!”

Tugging my mom’s sleeve again, I asked, “how do you know when God is talking to you?”

My Mom smiled at me. “It’s different for everyone. Some people feel it in their hearts. Some people get nervous. You will know if He’s talking to you.”

At eight years of age, I realized that God was speaking to me, urging me to come talk to Him. I shakily left the pew and joined the dozens of others at the alter.


“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:” – John 10:27

Listening to the Shepherd’s voice that day is something I will never forget. It is also something I will never regret. I have told this story to each of my kids, and they each have asked me the same question:

“What does the Shepherd tell you?”

There are times when He speaks conviction to me, and points out my pride or lack of self-control. It is hard for me to obey His voice sometimes, like when He tells me to witness to someone, or take a stand when I’m the only Christian around. When I confess my sin to Him, God is right there, extending forgiveness.

On the day’s I feel like I can’t keep going, that this path He has asked me to walk is too hard, He encourages me and offers reassurance. I feel my strength begin to come back, and I’m able to keep going.

Sometimes, I have to ask God the same question over and over again. He has always been patient with me, and proves His love for me over and over again!

When life gets tough, and I don’t know how things will turn out and I become fearful, the Shepherd whispers words of comfort and peace. He knows exactly what to say to me, to chase away my fears and replace them with hope. 

Then, there are days when I don’t need encouragement or chastisement. I don’t need comfort or peace. The Shepherd just fellowships with me! He reveals Himself to me through the beauty of a sunset or in a rainbow after a storm. When I watch birds flittering about, moving from tree to tree, I marvel at His Creation. It is in these moments I hear my Shepherd’s voice whisper His love to me, and I feel His hand on my shoulder. Worship wells inside of me, and I have to sing praises to my Father or I will burst!

If you have never heard The Shepherd’s voice, I strongly urge you to carefully listen for it. If you ask him to speak to you, and you take the time to stop and listen, He WILL reveal Himself to you, and you will never be the same!

“Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.” – Psalms 46:10

Abundant Little Blessings

Summer is here! And despite a few minor setbacks due to my reaction to stress (anyone else allergic to stress?) and Gabe’s port failing, our family has been able to enjoy the first official week of no school. This week marks the end of phase 1 in Gabe’s treatment. Radiation and chemo begins on Monday.

Although it was hard to deal with the setbacks, I am very grateful that we experienced them.

For it was through the difficult moments that God decided to show Himself to me in abundant little ways.

“Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think….” – Ephesians 3:20a

From gifts handed to us at church on Sunday, packages sent in the mail stuffed with gift cards on Tuesday, texts and email messages from friends near and far all week long, and the extraordinary kindness of neighbors, God was pretty busy this week.  Not to mention bumping into friends at parks, and hour-long phone conversations with family and friends offering hope and prayers. All of these little blessings added up to be one extraordinary message from God. He was thinking of us.

We kicked off the summer last night with the family getting ice cream after church. Since Gabe is not having any of the side effects of his chemo right now, he thought it would be a good idea to get a taste of ice cream before the chemo starts again. (I don’t know why he’s making this face, but he did it on all five pictures we took!)

Don’t underestimate God’s thoughts of you. When life gets stressful, He’s thinking of you, and He really wants you to know it!

“How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!  If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee.” – Psalms 139:17‭-‬18

There IS HOPE! 

Have you found yourself in a place that you never thought you would be? Have you been told that there’s no hope of a future? Do you feel despair at the thought of how to even deal with this news? Are you fearful of what the following weeks and months will hold? Are you struggling with decisions that need to be made and don’t know where turn?

If you are truly desperate for real answers, please continue to read this post. Even if it begins to feel a little awkward, just keep reading. What I am about to share with you is something that changed my life, and my husband’s life, as well. There IS HOPE!

My husband and I have been married for 17 years. I am 38, he is 46. We have four beautiful children, ages 7, 8, 13, and 15.  My husband is a software engineer, in a career that has been full-speed ahead our entire marriage.

In January of 2016, my husband had a stroke. It effected his balance and he had to take two months off work. One of the imaging tests he had done for the stroke came back showing my husband had a tumor on his thyroid. A few months later we learned it was cancer. He quickly had surgery and then the radioactive iodine treatment.

He was beginning to heal and by December was feeling much better. Except, he was starting to have bowl discomfort. He had a colonoscopy in December, right before Christmas. In January of 2017, it was revealed to us that he had colon cancer. After his surgery in February, we were told stage III rectal Cancer.  My husband is in the beginning of his chemo treatments, and soon will be starting radiation. He is only able to work 25 hours a week from home, going in to the office one day a week.

Many people have asked my husband “how can you be so positive? How are you not afraid of your future?” My husband has a peace that no one really understands.

He tells those who ask, that it is because he knows that if the worst thing happens, and he dies, it still would be the best thing. He will spend eternity in Heaven with Jesus Christ.

You see, my husband believes the Bible to actually be God’s love letter to mankind. He believes that God created us so we could fellowship with Him.

“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” – Revelation 3:20

However, because of sin, we have built a barrier between us and God.

“But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.” – Isaiah 59:2

God never intended for us to be alone. No matter how hard He tried to make it possible for mankind to follow His laws and to make atonement for our sins, we kept failing.

“For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” – James 2:10

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” – Romans

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Realizing there was only one final option to save us all from eternity in Hell, God made the ultimate sacrifice. He sacrificed His only Son, Jesus Christ. He allowed Jesus to become the only atonement ever again needed.

“Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:  Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” – Romans 3:24‭, ‬28

“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” – John

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How do we recieved atonement for our sins? How do we know we can go to Heaven? It’s so simple. You just need to ask God.

“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.  For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” – Romans 10:9‭-‬10

In your own words, ask God to use Jesus’ blood as an attonement your sins. Tell Him you believe Jesus died on the cross. Ask Jesus to come into your heart and life. Believe in Him!

No, doing this won’t change your diagnosis or life’s circumstances​ that has caused your desperate search for answers. However, you can have complete assurance of where you will go when you do die.

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,  Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38‭-‬39

You can claim Gods promise of peace, as you walk through this terrible journey. You have God’s promise to walk with you!

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” – Psalms

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Dear reader, if you have somehow stumbled upon this post and find you want more answers, please visit this website from my church (hopetoledo.org), or leave me a comment below!

You don’t have to be on this journey alone. There is a God and He loves you. He wants to walk with you and comfort you, give you peace.

“And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:7
He wants to recieved you into His arms once you have taken your final breath. He wants you to know that you are desperately loved!

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16

Up that Mountain

A light fog covered the mountain he trekked. The elders, along with his personal assistant, had come along to offer support. Yet the higher they climbed, the thicker the fog grew. The air was becoming harder to breathe. Coming to a point where they could go no further, Moses fell to his knees to catch his breath. It was then he noticed the blue, sapphire-like stone that seemed paved into the dirt. He followed the stunningly beautiful sight until his eyes reached a pair of perfct feet.  His heart burst into soaring joy and dreadful fear at the same time. 


It was God. 

In the clearing behind God, Moses could see the glorious bodies of constalations and galaxies. He felt swept up in the vision, almost as if he were floating towards the heavens. 

“Come up to me into the mount,” said God.

 Looking behind him, Moses saw many of the elders had fainted in fear. Others were flat on the ground, their faces buried in terror. He knew he had to leave them behind and finish the climb alone. After all, God had not called them to the top. 

The climb up the steep mountain was made more intense by the thick, white clouds that hung in the air. Each turn on the nonexistent path was made in apprehension for what he couldn’t see ahead. Scarpes and mud covered his legs from the stumbles he had blindly taken, yet he was not detered. He knew that God had called him and he must obey. 

The last few days have been rather lonely for me in this cold, dark hospital room. It has been cold because my husband has very hot blood and insists the thermostat stay below 65. It is dark because he has been very sleepy from the pain meds and it’s already hard enough to sleep with the beeping machines and wires and tubes everywhere. The least I can do is to leave the shades drawn and the lights off. 

I am bundled up under my soft, fluffy blanket, stretched out on a plastic couch that is pushed up against large windows. I was able to pull one shade up to just above the couch, giving me the ability to peek down from the seventh floor. Rows of evenly spaced houses peek out from among tree tops in the distance. The sun is shining brightly above, revealing tiny cars hurriedly driving down the busy street below. I can hear sirens in the distance as an ambulance pulls into view. A helicopter overhead vibrates the windows as it nears the landing pad nearby. 

Life is going on all around me. Moms are taking their kids to school and babies are crying. Employees are punching in their time cards, greeting each other after the long weekend off. I look on at the world below me in jealousy, wishing I was anywhere but here. 

Maybe we will hear today that the cancer did not spread into Gabe’s lymph nodes. Maybe he will not need treatment. Maybe we will just go home and Gabe will finish healing and life will return to normal. 

Or maybe life will get a little harder. 

I have been sitting in this hospital room feeling sorry for myself and fearful of our future. Until I read Exodus 24. God spoke to me in that chapter this morning, revealing to me in a passage I had read a hundred times, something I had never noticed before. 

God called Moses up that mountain. He tried to bring some friends along, but he ended up finishing that climb alone. We are not told how long that journey was.  He was probably scared and lonely. Once Moses reached the top, he hung out alone in the thick clouds for six days before he heard from God. Once God started to speak, He did not stop for 40 days. Moses communicated with God, saw God face to face for 40 days. 

When Moses returned to the bottom of the mountain, the children of Israel were afraid of Him. His face had changed while in the presence of God. Moses had to wear a veil over his face to hide its brightness from people. 

I may not have wanted to go up this mountain God has called my husband and I to. I may be feeling sorry for myself that we are having to climb alone. Yet, if it is at all possible to have close fellowship with God while up here and to walk away changed- well, then I think it will be worth it. Because, ” in Thy presence is fullness of joy, at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” – Psalm 16:11