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

When Your Kids Are Along For The Ride

When my husband found out he had colon cancer, he wasn’t sitting in a doctors office. There was no box of tissues nearby for him to grab. His wife wasn’t sitting next to him to take hold of his hand. No comforting words or hand on the shoulder from a doctor. He recieved the results coldly, over the phone by someone who had grown used to passing on bad test results. 

I found out the news in a more gentle way. In the privacy of our bedroom, with my husband’s arms around me. My husband’s shirt to dry my tears. My husband’s gentle words to calm my fears. 

 Our teenagers, however, learned of Daddy’s cancer in an unusual way. My son was listening outside our bedroom door. He, of course, ran down the stairs to share what he had heard with his older sister. 

The two of them, not understanding everything, but knowing it was making mom cry, began to finish making dinner and keeping their little brothers quiet.

Many people have asked me over the months how my kids are coping. The first time I was asked this question, I had to take pause. I was so wrapped up in my own feelings, I hadn’t taken the time to see how my kids were really doing. I began to pay close attention.

My fifteen year old daughter has a very laid back personality. Her way of handling daddy’s cancer has been to not think about it. Instead, she has focused on helping me out at home. Many times I have been at the cancer center with my husband and come home to a spotless house and happy little boys. My daughter’s main goal through this valley we are in, has been to make everyone as comfortable as possible. When asked what the hardest part of this journey has been for her, she will say being home all summer. She misses the family outings, having friends over, and our trips out of state.

My thirteen year old son has an A-type personality. He is the most determined person I know! He thinks very deeply, and has a lot of emotion to go along with his thoughts. His way of coping with dad’s cancer is to plan. I have had several conversations with him about the “what ifs” of our family’s future. When my husband and I come home from a long day at the hospital, we usually find that he has organized something. He will have mapped out evening plans for the entire family, and will take it upon himself to make everyone stick to his plan. When asked what has been the most difficult part of this journey, he will say seeing his dad so sick, and not having family outings this summer.

My youngest boys have, for the most part, been unphased by Dad’s cancer. As long as we have family movie nights, games of Battleship and UNO, pizza, and popsicles for the back porch, they are perfectly content. There have been a few moments of needing to ask questions about Daddy’s sickness, but when asked, the only difficulty they could think of is not getting to sleep in a tent this summer!

If you are in a hard place in your life, and have kids along for the ride, here are some truths my husband and I have learned. 

1. All kids react to stress differently. Every human being has different personalities, and this includes kids. Some will hold their thoughts and fears inside, others will talk to anyone who will listen. Then there are the kids who don’t seem to notice what’s going on, and are content in their own little world. Study your children and learn how they are coping. Open doors for conversation every now and then, and make sure your kids know they can talk to you at any time.

2. Kids take their cue from their parents. If a parent is afraid or angry about their circumstances, chances are their children will be, too. Little eyes are watching how you deal with stress every day, and will copy what they see. If you are able be joyful despite your circumstances, your kids will be, too. Parents need to be careful on how they talk about things in front of their kids. This doesn’t mean you should hide the truth from your kids. They know something is going on, even if you try to hide it. Be honest with them, but be positive. Always remind your child that God is on your side! 

3. Kids can get bitter, too. We learned early on, that our kids NEEDED a life outside the house. When there is a sick family member at home, it is often, that home becomes a dreary and depressing place.  We make it a point to do something special with them at least once a week. This can be accomplished by trips to the library, local parks, ice cream shop, and even the YMCA. Our family also has wonderful friends, and my kids have been invited to go along with other families for outings. 

4. They want to feel useful. My older son took charge of all outside chores since my husband had his stroke over a year ago. This has been a difficult task as we have a very steep hill in our yard. His determination, however, has helped him persevere in his tasks, and he is now getting attention from our neighbors, and job offers! My younger son’s are always “writing books” for their dad, or giving him “massages”. If your child is a “doer”, give him something that will make him feel that he is contributing to the family.

Lastly, here are some tips on helping your kids through difficult family trials.

1. Have a routine. Our family schedule has for the most part, been pure craziness. I have found, however, that my kids need some routine. I can’t always be there when they wake up, and there have been days I wasn’t there at bedtime. When I am home however, I make it a matter of importance to have our evenings together. I will read a couple of chapters from a book before prayers each night to my little ones. The older ones feel privileged to watch an episode of Start Treck with us before bed. Every child needs some order in their day, even during the hardest valley.

2. Pray with them often. Kids need to hear their parents talk to God. They need to hear the emotions and fears that are daily laid at the feet of Jesus. They need to feel God’s presence in their family and home.

3. Use scripture.  My younger son has always struggled with fear, for as long as I can remember. He doesn’t like to be alone in any room of our house, and he is easily frightened by many things. My husband’s poor health the last two years seems to have slightly intensifed his fears. After many talks, and times of prayer with him, I recently discovered that scripture gives him the most comfort. He has a favorite verse we memorized together, and he recently asked if we could hang it up in his room. 

4. Focus on making memories more than having fun. The biggest lesson I have learned with my kids, is that even fun can be forgotten. They are not going to remember every movie, every ice cream cone, or even every trip to the park. This realization has changed my planning to some extent. Now, every outing is all of us together. No one has opportunity to be home alone- there are plenty of other times for that. Also, to my entire families dismay, I take a LOT more pictures.  

There is no perfect answer or laid-out plan on helping your kids walk through a valley with you. As a parent, the best thing that you can do for your kids is to be right with God. Your kids will see the comfort and the peace that God gives you in the valley, and you will be able to show them the way to God even in the midst of trials.

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

 

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

3 Things Cancer Has Taught Me

Before you read this post, I have two disclaimers that I need to get out of the way. First of all, this is not about what my husband, the​ patient, has learned. This post is about what I, the caregiver, has learned. Secondly, we are only 1/3 of the way through our journey. I am certain I have a lot more to learn!

My husband did not volunteer to have cancer, and I did not volunteer to become a caregiver. Yet here we both are on this journey together. Along the way I have learned a few things that I thought I would share with you.

#1 – Everyone’s cancer story is different. I don’t need to do a Google search on every possible outcome for stage 3 colon cancer. If I do, I’m going to read hundreds of different stories, and for some reason, only the worst case scenarios are found on Google searches.

The acquaintance at church, the stranger in the grocery store, or your well-meaning second cousin whom you’ve never met, all have a story to share.

But those stories are not your story. This is your journey, not theirs. Don’t allow well-meaning voices to tell you how you are supposed to be feeling, or what tests or blood work you should ask for. That’s between you and your doctor. If you choose to get an opinion from someone else, that’s perfectly fine. It is also perfectly fine to let the story of your great Aunt Martha’s best friend’s husband’s terrible battle with cancer, roll right over your head!

#2 – Everyone means well when expressing their concern. In other words, some people are going to say stupid stuff, and rather than get offended, realize they only care about you and are doing the best they can to comfort and relate with you.

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear you have colon cancer. My dad died of that years ago. It was a terrible death!

Honestly, my husband and I often find ourselves in stitches over some of the “well-meaning” things we have heard!

 I have chosen however, to accept each comment that is sent my way, regardless of how it is presented, as a blessing.

Because at least people care enough to try and comfort us, and for that, I am truly humbled. Besides, I know I used to be one of the well-meaning Great Aunt Martha’s!

#3 – Looking for Comfort outside of God is always a bad idea. When I start feeling afraid, or sorrowful of the circumstances I am in, I tend to have some of the following thoughts:

I just need some of that Double Fudge Brownie dessert to take away my blues!

Or,

Just keep calm and call my sister! 

And,

I just need a break! One day of Netflix is all I need, and I’ll be back to my old self tomorrow!

Not true! While none of those things are wrong, if I had just gone to the right Source for comfort in the first place, I could have saved myself at least 5lbs!

 Besides, after I was done with each of those things, I still felt empty inside.

They only brought me temporary comfort. It’s not until I get on my knees and bring my fears before my Father that I find true peace.

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

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Have you learned something from your own journey through cancer? If you have, please leave a comment, I sure would like to read it!