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

 

 

My Story with Anxiety

Hello, my name is Carrie.  I’m a mother of 4 crazy kids between the ages of 7 and 15.  I’m also married to a wonderful man who has battled a stroke, thyroid cancer, and now stage 3 colorectal cancer, in just the last two years. The last couple years have been very stressful to be sure.  God has been with me each step of each day.  The times I want to fall apart and throw a huge temper tantrum, God’s overwhelming peace floods over me.

I never would have been able to get through these difficult times without God’s precious promise of peace.  And I never would have claimed God’s promise of peace without the journey through anxiety He brought me through several years ago.  I want to share my story with you, because I want you to know that I understand what you may be going through.

One beautiful spring morning I woke up feeling as though I had the stomach flu.  Adrenaline rushes knocked me off my feet. My heart was palpitating, and I thought I was going to vomit.  I felt better in bed, so I went back to bed.  My husband stayed home to help with our kids getting to school and to take care of our toddler boys. For several days I struggled.  I would get up each day, try to eat, then wind up back in bed.  Finally, after five days of this, I went to the doctor, thinking maybe it was my gallbladder or something.

“It sounds like you might have anxiety.”

“No, I’m a stay-at-home mom.  I don’t have that much stress in my life.  Besides, I’m a Christian.  I don’t believe in anxiety.”

“Even stay-at-home moms can have stress in their lives.  Even if you don’t believe in anxiety, I really believe this is what you have.”

Later that day, my husband took the kids to the park.  I came along, even though I felt as though I was in a fog.  I felt like I wasn’t even really there.  Watching my kids play, I called my sister and sobbed on the phone.  My sisters are my rock.  Not only do they listen well, but I often glean from their wisdom. I was surprised when she confided something to me that I had never known.  She too, had struggled with anxiety.

The next day, I got out of bed.  I got dressed.  I did my hair. I dry-heaved.  I took my kids to school. I cried.  I had panic attacks.  I cried some more.  I prayed and begged God to take this feeling of anxiety away.

Over the next year, I literally fought a battle with anxiety. I was stubborn.  I wouldn’t take medication.  Instead, I went to a local herbal and vitamin store and talked to the owner who guided me to many supplements and vitamins.   I started exercising, and changed the way I was eating.  I began drinking healthy green smoothies and eliminated caffeine.  I had to take care of myself physically, so I could take care of my family. I realized, though, that healing from anxiety was not all physical.

Taking care of myself mentally was not something I even realized I was doing at the time.  I had a friend who knew what I was going through, who remained in contact with me through it all.  She didn’t judge me, she only encouraged me and gave helpful advice.  She told me I was strong enough to get through this, and reminded me of God’s promises of peace. Looking back, I could not have gotten through that time in my life without my friend. 

I also began to realize I had to stop focusing on what I was feeling and the only way I knew to do that was to focus on other people.  I began to write cards for sick church members, bake bread for neighbors.  I made it a goal to do at least one thing for someone else every day.

The most important and effective change I made in my life during this time was to strengthen my relationship with the Lord.  Being a second-generation Christian, I grew up memorizing the scripture and hearing it preached and taught from the pulpit.  All those precious promises spread throughout the Word of God were only words to me.  I had never had reason to claim these promises.  Promises of unconditional love, bountiful peace, and endless joy.

Most mornings I woke very early, and very suddenly, with my heart pounding a million miles a minute.  Reading my Bible was the only thing that could calm my heart, and it took on a different meaning in my life.  I LIVED to read my Bible, and the peace that would flood through me as I read.  In the beginning, I only read through Psalms.  I read them over and over.  I kept a notebook with my Bible and wrote out the verses that I felt God was giving me.

I would also take very early walks. This was my prayer time with God.  Before the sun was up, I would begin my walk around my neighborhood, talking to Him.  Usually crying and begging Him to heal me, or at least help me get through the day.

Physically, I was dealing with some serious symptoms of anxiety.  Heart palpitations, shaky legs, dry mouth, headaches, severe nausea.  I had lost 40 lbs in just a few months. I had separation anxiety issues.  I would cry and throw myself into my husbands arms when he would come home from work. (My poor husband!!)

One day, I reached a pivotal moment.  It had been 9 months, and I was still struggling.  I was on my morning walk, and had ended my walk by going to my back porch.  Our back yard is beautiful.  The city made a sanctuary out of a piece of land behind our house that has a large pond on it.  I can see it very clearly from my back porch, along with lots of tall grasses and beautiful trees.  As the sun came up, it’s rays filtering through the tree branches, tears streamed down my face.

“Lord, if You want me to have anxiety the rest of my life, I accept it.  Please just be with me to help me bear it.  You are Good, You are God, and You are Holy and Just.  I praise Your Name.  Thank You for giving me this anxiety.”

After that day, I slowly began to get better. Then, one morning I woke up and realized it had been a few days since I had felt the anxiety. Soon the days turned into months. 

I would like to say that my anxiety has never returned, but the truth is, there are still days it rears its ugly head head in my life. It’s different now, though.  Now I know that it’s going to be OK.  That God is on my side.  That there is HOPE.  I have PEACE.  JOY is always within reach.

I have a new life verse.

Philippians 4:7 says, “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

It is special to me because I learned through experience that God can and will “keep our minds” if we seek Him and trust Him.

The picture below was taken two summers ago when our family went camping at Lake Huron.  I am in no way a photographer, but this sunset was so gorgeous and so beautiful.  It is just an example to me of the great things God has done in my life, and how He has blessed my journey through anxiety.

The purpose of this blog is to help encourage other Christians who struggle with anxiety.  God can bring you through to the other side, and you too can have peace.

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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

Why I Stopped Questioning God

Looking at the brilliant rays of sun, splashing it’s morning colors across the sky, I swiped away the tears streaming down my face.

“God, why are you still allowing me to suffer with this anxiety!? What possible good could come from this kind of mental anguish?”

The sun sprayed it’s light across my face, warming my cheeks where tears still glistened. As I leaned against the railing of my back porch, I closed my eyes, allowing the early morning light to dry my tears.

A chorus I had learned as a teenager at Bible camp came to mind. A peace I didn’t have a moment before filled my heart. Suddenly, my tears of grief turned into tears of joy, for I knew the words were true, and they brought me comfort. I began to sing the simple words with a shaky voice.

“My Lord knows the way through the wilderness, all I have to do is follow. Strength for today is mine all the way and all I need for tomorrow.”

I’d like to say I walked away from that moment 4 years ago with an answer from God. But no, I did not recieve an answer. 

In fact, over the years I have only had more situations come up in my life that I could question God about. Yet, since that day on my back porch, I no longer question God.

WHY I STOPPED QUESTIONING GOD

1. If I can trust God with my eternity, I can trust Him with my life.  Seriously though, I can’t get to Heaven on my own! That’s the biggest reason I became a Christian, my inability to save myself. If I am trusting God with my ETERNITY, shouldn’t I be able to trust Him with my life?

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” – Proverbs 3:5‭-‬6

2. God can see the whole picture. God doesn’t think the way I do. As a human, I am only able to focus on the immediate and how it effects me now. God is able to see how it will effect me now, tomorrow, and a year from now.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord .  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8‭-‬9

3. I can glorify God through my hardships. Instead of looking for relief in my trials, I needed to focus on rejoicing in my trials. Sharing with others the blessings God has given me and continuing in my service to Him through a trial are just a few ways I can glorify Him!

“That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” – 1 Peter 1:7

4. God works everything for my good. Looking back to 4 years ago, I know the anxiety I suffered was God’s way of preparing me for the trial I face today, with my husband’s health. I can say with confidence, the anxiety God has allowed in my life is for my own good! 

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28

5. God promised peace and comfort. “There is never a trial too big that God is not already there.” I’m not sure where I heard this, but I found it to be true. If I am in the deepest valley, God is there. I can never be seperated from Him!

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” – Psalms 30:5b

Asking God “why?” doesn’t make your trial shorter or easier to understand. The sooner you accept your trial, and trust God, the more quickly you can find peace!

“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” – 

2 Corinthians 4:17


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

Getting Through the Crazy

I should have seen the warning signs. The increased headaches, sleepless nights, and loss of appetite were all classic signs. But for some reason I ignored the signs and continued on, without thought, with my crazy life. 

It wasn’t until I was sitting in my van yesterday, trying to breathe through severe heart palpitations, that I realized ignoring those signs was a bad choice. That realization came too late, however. 

The palpitations turned into a panic attack, and I just sat there in my van, breathing deeply, fighting the urge to get out and run. Adrenaline rushed through my body, making me feel weak and shaky. 

Oh brother, who has time for this? 

To say that I was feeling overwhelmed this week would be an understatement. I have woken up everyday feeling as though a truck ran over me during the night. Monday I began wondering if it was Friday yet. I even looked at my calendar for the following two months and begin to cry.
Being as this is something I am working through still today, I thought I would open myself up completely to you, dear readers. I can’t give advice on how to ignore stress, or reveal three new steps to avoiding panic attacks. If I had the wisdom to do so, there wouldn’t be a need for me to share these very personal details of my life with you. 

I do know one thing, however. I know where to go when my body betrays me and I am in the midst of fighting anxiety. I know where I can run to find peace again. I don’t need to stop and analyze why I had a panic attack yesterday. I don’t even need to try and change this crazy life of mine. I just need to slow down enough to remember God is there, waiting for me to turn to Him.

“When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then thou knewest my path.” – Psalms 142:3a

Even in the midst of a panic attack, I can feel peace, because God knows the path I’m on, and He knows what is ahead. 

“But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.   Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.” – Matthew 10:30‭-‬31

I know in the midst of a panic attack, God knows exactly what is going on in my body, and He cares. 

“Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?  If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.  If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;  Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.” – Psalms 139:7‭-‬10

In the midst of a panic attack, I know that God is with me. No matter how awful it feels, or how alone I may feel, God is there. 

“He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.” – Psalm 91:4

I know that I can always run to God. There is always peace to be found, no matter what circumstance we are in. I may not be able to change my circumstances that are causing the stress and anxiety. I can, however, find peace in just knowing I’m not alone. God promised to be my shield in my crazy life. 

So, although I felt pretty terrible yesterday for a few moments, these verses brought comfort to my very being. I was able to breathe normally again, and walk into my kids school. I even smiled, and chatted with teachers, hugged my boys, and laughed with other moms. This morning, I am thanking the Lord for the panic attack I had yesterday. It put my mind where it needed to be, in order to get through the crazy!