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

 

Balancing our Focus

One piece of advice I have heard from doctors, nurses, and even patients who have been through cancer is: “just focus on today”.

Looking at the amount of appointments, treatments, medications, and all the things that could possibly go wrong in-between, can tend to be overwhelming. Focusing only on “today” helps to block out unnecessary worry. 

However, I can’t help those days that I stop and look back, remembering what it was like before we heard the word “cancer” in our family. Long summer days by the pool, or a family picnic at a park. Long weekends camping, or trips to visit out-of-state family. Days when I worried about what was for dinner more than I worried if my husband was going to feel sick that night. 

Then there are the times I look ahead and wonder how will I ever be able to go back to normal life when we are through with this journey? Or, depending on the day, having so much hope for a cancer free tomorrow, that I become impatient today.

As a Christian, how do I balance my focus?
“Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.” – Matthew 6:34a

TODAY – If you are focusing on today, you can’t worry about tomorrow. If you find yourself in an endless cycle of worry, it’s time to narrow your focus to today. What do you need to accomplish today? What has been a blessing today? How can you be a blessing to someone else today?

“…forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before…” – Philippians 3:13

TOMORROW – When you find yourself not able to move beyond what your life used to be, and how it may never be the same again, it’s time to leave that pity party. Change your focus by reaching for a goal. Look at the hope that is waiting at the end of your journey. That mountain top of victory! 

“Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me.” – Isaiah 46:9

YESTERDAY – On days when the future seems bleak, and today is too dark to see any ray of sunshine, then look back at all God has done for you. List each way He has ever blessed you. I guarantee you the list will grow until you have something to smile about. 

If you focus too much on today, you can easily lose sight of yesterday’s blessings. If you spend too much time living in yesterday, you miss out on tomorrows joy. If you dwell on the “what-ifs” of tomorrow, you miss out on today’s opportunities.

“A false balance is abomination to the Lord : but a just weight is his delight.” – Proverbs 11:1

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

5 Ways to Keep Your House Together When Life Gets Crazy

Before I had kids, I would scrub my house down every Saturday, just because that’s what I was taught to do.  I never went to bed with a messy house. I never once left the house with dirty dishes in the sink, or the floors unswept. Even dirty laundry had its proper place, and that was never the floor.

Over the years, children changed my routine to some degree, but I was still able to manage control over the condition of my home.

However, in January of 2016, we began my husband’s journey with his health. Our lives exploded with doctor’s visits, tests, surgeries, and treatments. This, of course, was in addition to the already crazy schedule we had.

My house began to suffer. For the first time in my life, I left dirty dishes in the sink, floors unswept, and dirty laundry stayed wherever it landed. There were days when I felt so overwhelmed by my house that I determined I was going to call Molly Maid.

A few months ago, I realized I had a day with no appointments scheduled.  I began to focus on all the cleaning that needed to be caught up. I was very overwhelmed by my to-do list. While sipping my coffee (still in my pajamas), I added a few more things to my list, when my husband came out of his office.

“Pastor Jon and Jess just called. They will be in our area and want to stop by. They should be here in 15 minutes.”

My heart stopped. I began to panic.

“What???!! Look at this house! I can’t have our pastor over with it like this!”

The dishwasher was stuffed with clean dishes and the sink was piled with dirty ones. Mountains of laundry sat in my living room, waiting to be folded. I needed to vacuum badly. I wasn’t even dressed!!

Somehow, I managed to drag the laundry to my bedroom, where I promptly shut the door. I was able to vacuum, and instead of doing the dishes, I put them in hot soapy water.  I hoped my pastor and his wife wouldn’t notice I hadn’t polished in over a week or that the kitchen floor needed to be mopped. Somehow I managed to get dressed, and do my hair, too!

After that day, I realized the only person that really cared about my house being perfectly clean, was me. I began to change the way I thought about my house, and change how I kept up with it, too. Yes, I still like a clean house, and if I have a day I can devote to cleaning, I gladly clean (it’s actually good therapy)! But if I have a week of crazy schedules, and no time to devote to my weekly cleaning, then I don’t sweat it. It’s not important enough to stress about!

Five ways to keep your house together when life gets crazy:

#1 – Relax! If seeing your to-do list hanging on the fridge stresses you out, throw it away. Realize that the laundry will still be around tomorrow, and the carpet will need to be vacuumed tomorrow, too. You are doing the most important thing right now – taking care of your family! Your house is lived in, so it’s going to look like it sometimes!

#2 – “Surface” cleaning is still cleaning. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to get out a bucket and scrub brush every Saturday to keep your house clean. If all you can do is sweep the kitchen and grab a damp paper towel to wipe up spills, then that’s still cleaning!

#3 – Set small goals. If you have a super tight schedule this week, then it is not the time to dig out the bucket and scrub brush. Making beds, vacuuming carpets, and washing dishes are small goals you can focus on.

Keeping up on smaller tasks on a daily basis can make your home appear clean no matter who drops by unexpectedly. 

#4 – Let the kids help. I have older kids who are easily inspired by a little cash. If it’s been over a month since my floors have been mopped, then it’s time for me to call in reinforcements. My 13 year old son and 15 year old daughter can get my house scrubbed and sparkling in just a couple hours, and they are not only happy to have accomplished something, they are thrilled to have money to spend at the mall! Don’t feel bad when delegating large cleaning tasks to your children. Parents today who don’t teach their children to complete large tasks are doing their children a great disservice. Not only does it prepare them for a real job someday, it builds character and confidence!

#5 – Don’t put your house before your relationship with God. In years past, I would allow sleepless nights with babies, crazy early mornings with toddlers, and my cleaning routine to keep me from having daily devotions with God. Once I began to make it a priority​, I realized I didn’t handle life as well without it. I was more irritable and impatient with my husband, kids, and even house chores. When I become more irritable, I started getting clumbsy, and when I was clumbsy, it took me longer to accomplish a task. Not worth it! I need my time with God every morning!

 If you are going through an exceptionally crazy time in your life and you don’t already spend mornings with the Lord, I strongly encourage you to make this your first goal!

I am in no way an expert when it comes to cleaning the house, and I am certainly no expert when it comes to keeping calm. But over the last few months, the Lord has taught me how to change my thinking about my house cleaning. He’s taught me how to do better at little goals, and to not go crazy over the things I just don’t have time for. My house might not be scrubbed, but it is still “together”. My life might still be crazy, but I am much calmer and happier.

“Let all things be done decently and in order.” – 1 Corinthians 14:40

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

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!