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.

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

Gabe and I celebrating his last day of radiation!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Special Summer

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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.

Pits of Despair

Opening my front door, I paused, surveying the mess before me. Sighing, I walked pass the massive pile of coats and shoes, a sure sign we were running late for school this morning. Dropping my keys on the kitchen counter, I pushed aside dirty bowls and mugs, searching for my half finished coffee. After I rinsed out the old coffee, I began to brew another cup. Eyeing the open box of Cheerios on the table, I decided, why not? Carrying my coffee and the cereal box to the couch, I kicked off my shoes. Unzipping my jean skirt, I let it fall to the floor, shaking my pajama pants lose. Wrapping myself up in a soft, fuzzy blanket, I sat down on the couch and turned on Netflix. I strategically kept my eyes from veering to the corner of my living room, where a tall stack of laundry baskets awaited my attention.

I stayed on that couch for 5 hours, and nearly got through an entire season of The Andy Griffith Show.

 I ignored my phone. I ignored my house. I ignored my husbands cancer. For an entire 5 hours, I was living in a small town called Mayberry, laughing at the antics of Barney and Andy.

At 2:00, I finally got off the couch. I spent the next 45 minutes quickly picking up my house, throwing dishes in the dishwasher, and washing the grease out of my hair. I got dressed, and found pizza coupons from yesterday’s mail. Tonight was going to be a pizza night. My kids would love me.

Arriving at the school at exactly 3:05, guilt began to fill my entire being. What a hypocrite I am. What a loser. An entire day wasted! And what a liar, because when the kids and I finally walked through the door, the house looked clean, like I had actually done something that day. Worse yet, I offered my kids a dollar for each basket of laundry they folded. By the time my husband came home from work, he wouldn’t have the slightest clue that I had visited Mayberry that day.

Looking back, I am able to say with confidence, I had fallen into a pit. Or as Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables would say, I was in “the depths of despair”.

“I am counted with them that go down into the pit: I am as a man that hath no strength:  Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps.” – Psalms 88:4‭ & 6

Here is what I learned about being in a pit.

#1 – It happens, and it’s OK. When we go through trying times in our lives, it is common to find ourselves having a “blue” day.  It has been scientifically proven that stress effects our bodies physically and mentally. Taking a day off from the stress of life can help rejuvenate our souls, giving us the strength to continue the journey we are facing. Don’t feel guilty for needing a day off from stress.

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

#2 – It’s easier to get into a pit than it is to get out. It’s not like we went looking for a dark hole in the ground and said, “hey, that looks fun”, and jumped in it. Yes, there are circumstances where we actually digged the pit we fell into.  Sometimes, however, we are just walking along, not paying attention, and we fall in. Getting out is going to require some work. Don’t be hard on yourself if you are struggling to get out of a pit.

“I waited patiently for the Lord ; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.” – Psalms 40:1

#3 – You can’t get out of a pit by yourself. Sometimes all it takes is meeting a friend for coffee or going to church and talking to your sisters and brothers in Christ. Strike up a conversation with someone you know will make you laugh! Maybe your pit is a little deeper and you need to consider counseling from your pastor.  If you have found yourself in a pit, you are going to need someone to throw you down a rope or a ladder. Don’t be too prideful to ask for help!

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another…” – Hebrews 10:25a

“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine..” –  Proverbs 17:22a

#4 – God promised He would bring you out of your pit. He has offered His Holy Word to anyone who will accept it, and it is full of amazing truths and promises of comfort and love. Reading through Psalms is a good way to soothe and encourage yourself in the Lord. Singing songs of Praise is also good way to begin your climb out of the pit. Praising God when we find it hard to do not only lifts your spirit, it pleases God, and glorifies Him! Don’t neglect God’s offer to pull you out of your pit!

“He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.” – Psalms 40:2

Dear reader, if you find yourself in a pit, don’t get discouraged. You won’t be there for ever! By the end of the week, the blue cloud that had been hanging around me finally lifted. I was able to get up and take better care of my crazy family. I was able to actually shower and dress for my day, shop for groceries, clean my house, and even take my husband to his doctor appointment. Oh, and I made a delicious dinner that night!

Stand Still

“And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord ,” – Exodus 14:13a

Sometimes I view my life as a swirling tornado. The wind is blowing everything around, sucking it up into it’s dark cloud. I am standing in the middle of it, my feet firmly planted to the ground, holding on to as much as I can, trying to keep everything from being swept away.

Lately I have felt a bit overwhelmed by our schedule. Nuerologist, cardiologist, PCP, oncologist, endocrinologist, chiropractor, orthodandist, dermatologist, dentist, chemotherapy, radiation – just to name a few things that have taken up my time in recent weeks. Let’s not forget laundry, house cleaning, library trips, grocery store trips, post office trips, trips to the school office, forgotten-lunch-runs, piano lessons, basketball, soccer, volleyball, school programs, baby showers, bridal showers, sports tryouts, field trips – please, someone stop me!

Those are the physical things that can tend to be overwhelming. Now let’s talk about the emotional stuff.

There is the fear that seems to rear it’s ugly head into my thoughts every so often. Fear that my husbands cancer will spread to stage 4, or show up in five years to surprise us again.

Another emotional drainer is the battle with being content. Remembering we are where God put us right now, and that He will continue to take care of us, is something I need to do daily.

I have two teenagers at home. That is also another emotional strain. They at times will bring me along for a drama-filled roller coaster ride! My two grade-school boys are still trying to understand “why can’t we go camping” and “why can’t daddy play basketball with us”?

I don’t believe any of these “objects” that I mentioned that are swirling around in my stormy life are much different from anyone elses.

Maybe your storm isn’t illness. Maybe it’s a struggling marriage or a wayward child. You may be struggling financially or have a big life-changing decision to make.

Sometimes when it all starts getting crazy, I find that I’m trying to hold on to as much as I can, hoping it doesn’t fly away into the storm. It is in some of those moments, when I feel that things are slipping from my grasp, that I  can’t help but ask, “is God really in my storm?” 

Yes, He’s here. In fact, He’s on top of the storm. He is in the whirlwind, directing it’s path.

“…the Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.” – Nahum 1:3

I have learned the hard way, that I can’t hold on to everything. I have to let some things get swept away into the storming clouds. I can’t keep my house as clean as I used to or have my perfect laundry schedule and get my husband to all his appointments. I mean, I could, and then I would go crazy! Sometimes, I have to tell my kids “sorry, but I just can’t take you to that thing you want to do”.  I mean, I could, but then I might go crazy!

Sometimes I just need to stand still in that storm, my feet planted firmly into the ground, and watch everything I am trying to hold onto, be swept away into those swirling clouds.

Standing still in a storm is not easy to do. Yet, if we make ourselves do it, and listen to God’s voice, we can see God riding the storm.

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

And then – when we have finally stopped trying to hold our lives together on our own, and we are standing there watching the storm destroy everything – only then, does God move in and bring peace.

“And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” – Mark 4:39