Wednesday, October 31, 2012

It'll Just Take 30 Minutes

As I looked behind me, I saw several piles of plant debris.


My piles are indicative of my thought pattern and the actions that ensue. I think to myself, "Oh, I need to dishes, but before I do that, I should go cut the plants before it gets too hot." But before I finish that thought, I looked at the bell pepper plants that are in need of transplanting. "Before I do anything else, I should go trim the roses so I can transplant the roses and put the bell peppers in their place," I decided internally.

Then,  I saw Talitha's ladybug costume on the washer and realized it's Halloween and I needed to do that today before it gets dark. This reminded me about the fact I haven't gotten any candy yet. But tomorrow is our 9 year wedding anniversary and I needed to clean the house because Ryan will be home all day.  And I only had a few hours until Ryan gets home from work!


So I got to work on all the plants and looked at my piles everywhere. I didn't want to do, what I consider, the least fun part of the job - cleaning up. And the thought struck me, just how much I do this in my life.

I make a big mess and expect everyone else to clean up after me. When there are dishes in the sink, sometimes I let them sit there long enough for Ryan to take care of it instead of me. Three years ago when I tore the backsplash off the kitchen counters with a crowbar, I expected Ryan to work in "just a quick weekend project" to fix it to be the way I wanted it. I learned that the HGTV channel is a bit misleading about the house projects they show because it really isn't fixed in 30 minutes and it starts a whole other conversation about all the other things you could do! Or how I continually drag my feet when I have to clean my bathrooms.

I tend to forget about how good it feels to get things done, to clean up a mess or maintain something well. I forget how reading my Bible regularly brings a peacefulness in my life that allows me to tackle my chores with confidence. I forget the calm I feel when I pray for people in my life and people I don't know who are going through a storm I could not imagine weathering.

I need to stop making piles of messes and expecting a clean up crew - or a behind-the-scenes 30 minute crew to fix everything the way I want. God has various obstacles and trials in my life so that I learn to be more patient and do my part while asking for help only when it's necessary.

Yes, I am learning to be more patient and do my part both for chemo and non-chemo weeks, which means cleaning up my piles on a regular basis. And I am learning that I need to be more focused on the things that matter all the time, like reading my Bible, spending quality time with my family, and watching my daughter grow up, rather than the things that don't, like mentally remodeling everything and wearing Ryan out with another pile/project.

Do you have piles behind you wherever you go? Write about it in a comment.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Baseboards and New Paint

Coming out of the fog of the worst week of my life, I can look around and see the sunshine again. People have surrounded us with love to give us gifts to make our lives a little easier. Ryan has always maintained a sense of dignity about the whole thing and has repeatedly told me, "If people want to help, let them pray about it and help us however they feel led to do so." I think God has opened the floodgates of Heaven to pour out blessing after blessing for us.

Just yesterday I was blessed by a conversation with a man who told me his wife lost her last husband to several strokes and how those eleven long months of caring for him while he was hospitalized were difficult but life-changing. So many nurses cared for her that she decided to become one herself! This blessed me because I realized just how rough we could have it and how strangers are able to talk to me about things that matter because of Ryan's Cancer.

I think of the ways that it could be harder... Ryan isn't in the hospital, he's at home. He isn't dead,  but alive. He isn't incapacitated, he's out working.  He hasn't given up - he feels like he's going to live and not need chemo anymore. We aren't alone, we are being prayed for by others. We have a roof over our head, clothes on our bodies, and food on the table; we are so very blessed.

Last night I was counting my blessings in my small prayer group that just started meeting every other Monday at our home. I served cupcakes and cinnamon bread, both made by others. We had an assortment of drinks and an abundance of laughter. It is the kind of group I have always wanted to be a part of - one where each woman feels like opening up their hearts to share because they know they will be prayed for and loved regardless of their struggles and strife. I used to be jealous hearing about the exciting opportunities for travel that my friends have, but after listening to them last night I realized that in hearing their stories, it's like I get to go on a trip when I talk to them! I learn so much from these women, especially their journeys of faith.

So then, what is my problem about the house projects being on hold? Why I am concerned with the baseboards not being changed when my heart is being changed?


The need for contentment still lingers. I am a work in progress, kind of like my house! When I find things that are undone, or not in our budget, I just need to be thankful to God for all He HAS given to us rather than focusing on the glass as half empty. It could be a lot worse.

What are you grateful for?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

I am Not Speechless

What do you say to someone who is so sick and you have no idea how to help them?

What do you say to someone who is going through something you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy?

What do you say to someone whose life is changed forever because of Cancer?

Without Jesus, we are left speechless. But God has given us the Holy Spirit, to guide our prayers and our thinking. If we look to our circumstances, we flounder. If we look to our Lord, we flourish.

Oftentimes I wonder what I should say or whether what I've said to encourage Ryan is the right thing. I know every time I've spoken the word of God to him, it's the right thing to say, even if it's hard for him to hear.

I don't pretend to have the answers, but instead look to the One who does.

And I will keep fighting the enemy who attempts to silence me into sorrow, and use my weakness to draw upon God's strength.

v14 Take Up Your Cross

"You know, everything will change once the baby comes," my Mom said to me when I got pregnant in June of last year. "The baby will come first in everything," she said as she finished her thoughts. Oh, we'll see about that! I argued in my mind. Yes, the old saying "Mother knows best" is still true most days because everything did change when the baby came. But it changed more drastically when Ryan got diagnosed with Cancer.

"Your life is very different now," my mother-in-law said to me tonight as I gave her an update on how Ryan was feeling. Yes, it really was dramatically different than it was when I was pregnant only a few short months ago.

I have given up a lot in order to be a Mom, and even more to take care of my sick husband. But look what I have gained -- a renewed relationship with Jesus Christ, my Lord. I was floundering in my faith. Or as I heard from a recent pastor's commentary, I was just dabbling rather than dwelling. I was aloof rather than abiding. I needed to change and that only happens in a crisis.

So here I am, in the midst of the worst trial of my life, enjoying myself for the first time in a long time. I have a lovely roof over my head, good food on the table, Ryan is still able to work, and the baby is growing up before our eyes. She is clothed and fed, very easy to make happy.

My life is very, very simple now and I am learning to relish what I have, even though it isn't an ideal situation by any means. I complained a year ago that Ryan was out of town on business more than half of the year. Now he is sick two weeks out of four, but I am so very grateful that he is still alive! It's funny how my perception of a very similar situation has changed drastically. I guess since I didn't learn it one way, God still wanted me to learn the lesson. Jesus tells me in the gospel of Matthew:

Take Up the Cross and Follow Him

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?27 For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. 28 “Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”

Although I used to have a life that included teaching at a local elementary school, now I am busy in a different way. I am learning how to juggle our new schedule with all of Ryan's doctor's appointments and medical issues, but after 7 months of doing it, we have fallen into a routine. Even though those major changes in our lives have taken place -  how sick the Cancer and the chemo both make him - I know it could be so much worse.

This is the cross Jesus has handed to me, and I gladly hold it as I walk alongside Him.

The vows I made to my husband were, "For better or worse, in sickness and in health, until death do us part" and I plan to honor those to the best of my ability. Ryan definitely has health issues now, which neither of us could have predicted, but I am not going anywhere and I hope he doesn't either.

Even though I am tempted to do so sometimes, I am not going to dwell on what we can't do together anymore, and focus instead upon what we can do - especially how we can follow Jesus in His ways. We were never able to point each other and others to God in such a real, deep and meaningful way before this trial and I'm glad we have God to see us through.

I pray that I continue to lose my life for His sake as I grow older, but still, as always pray for Ryan's complete healing. I know it took something of this magnitude to get my attention, yet I'm excited to see what lessons I'll learn and what else God is going to teach me throughout this trial. I am going to cling to the Rock, my Redeemer who gives me hope in all of this.

Things to think about: What cross has He handed to you recently? How have you lost your life and how do you feel about that loss?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

v14 Prayers Please

My heart is heavy today because my husband is sad. I don't have any stories to share, anything witty to say, or any humor right now. I am just asking for prayer.

I want you to see what it's like to be at the doctor's appointments that we attend fortnightly. These appointments only last about 10 minutes, but they are filled with warmth and care. We are so grateful for the people caring for Ryan right now. His tumors are stable, and we are grateful for this too. We just don't know what will happen, much like anyone in this world.

Ryan and Talitha
Eloise and Baby T

Shavone and Tayley
Dr. Lim and Ryan - talking about Ryan's hands

It is so hard to watch Ryan hooked up to his chemo pump, sleeping for days on end, unhappy when he is awake. I don't know what to say to him. I read him the Scriptures God has laid on my heart. It's easy for me to fall asleep because then we are both well for a time. But I wake up and then I hear his pump.

I try not to do too much because Ryan always feels bad that I'm running around doing stuff. So I have slowed down, and focused on the things that matter instead. And I'm praying a lot more - for him and the many other people I've learned who are touched by Cancer in their lives too.

All I am asking for is prayer for Ryan now. Thank you very much.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

v14 Missing It

"Oh, this is going to be good," I thought to myself as I settled into the middle seat on the Southwest Airlines flight to visit my parents a number of years before I met Ryan. The man next to me was clearly in distress and I had just taken a course on grief, thinking I knew everything because I read a few books and attended a grief seminar for a week.

"So what are you travelling for?" I asked politely to the man. "My best friend just died from a heart attack and I am going to help his wife and two small children deal with it." Clearly, the man was grieving and hurting, and all I could do was be full of pride at how much I thought I knew.

"Oh wow," I said softly. My heart hurt for him yet I was happy that he had shared with me and thought I knew what not to say. Boy, was I far from the mark. And that Scripture about pride coming before a fall was obviously written for me!

"Well, I just read the best book on grief and it will totally help you through it," I said. "I just met the authors and they have cornered the market on how to get through your grief effectively," I continued, as though I were marketing a sales pitch to a large company.

Two sentences separated us forever because as soon as I said what I did, the man shut the window, closed his eyes, crossed his arms and pretended to fall asleep the entire plane ride.

I sat in stunned silence. I thought for sure I had avoided the useless platitudes like "time healing all wounds" and "I totally know how you feel" in order to efficiently talk about a subject most other people wouldn't talk about. I could have gone the religious route and said something like "Let go and let God." (What do we need to let go of and what are we "letting" the Creator of the Universe do, anyway?) But I clearly didn't say useless things! Plus the guy totally opened up to me, which I thought was another major plus for the Grief Genius that I am. But I totally missed it.

I missed the opportunity to just listen. Just last night I was in a room full of hurting people and I just totally missed it. I missed hearing the Holy Spirit whisper to me to stop appearing to "have it all together" and talk too much. I missed the opportunity to minister to others in a way that would have meant something because my broken and bleeding heart, much like the man on the plane, is grieving too. I missed sharing at a level most people don't dare to go too often because it hurts too much.

Ryan had chemo today, Round 14, and we sat munching on our coffee cart items from Gabby while waiting for Ryan to be called by Shavone in the waiting area. We chatted about useless things, but I was still missing it. Every time we are at City of Hope, Ryan is so close to God, asking Him to keep me with a husband and Talitha with a Dad, fervently. But I push it away because the thought of losing my husband at such a young age makes me too sad for words.

I spoke with a nurse today, and she said something that I haven't really listened to in a while. She said, "You know, Gastric Cancer in someone so young is very rare, but I'm sure you've heard that from his doctor, right?" "Yes, yes, I have," she said. I wanted to hurry through the conversation because I didn't want to listen to what she said. But that was a conversation I needed to hear because it reminds me I am not here for child's play - my husband's life is at stake.

"You know, I've been a nurse for 37 years and I have learned that we are not the ones that decide who lives and who dies," she said. "We do the best we can with what we have learned up until October 23, 2012, but there is something beyond the knowledge of the doctors and nurses, and Someone else who decides what will happen." I know Him personally, I thought to myself. And I am praying to Him for a miracle.

"It's a good thing you have your strong faith because that is how you are going to make it through this," she continued. Yet I have recently felt so weak in my faith, so far from God, so stoic and fake. I should be sad, and clinging to my Savior. Instead I am shutting out my grief and clinging to my normalcy.

As Ryan left to go get chemo (Round 14) in Phase 1 while I sat with Baby T in the Spiritual Center, I thought back to a conversation we had earlier today.

Ryan asked me, "Why do people gamble?" I said, "Because they think that they're going to beat the odds, that they will be the 'special' one who can win." "But the odds are stacked against them," he said. Then he continued and asked, "How are they any different than me?" I searched silently for an answer. "With God all things are possible," I said. But God wants me to know Him more than that and not think of that as a hollow promise.

"Trust Me," the Holy Spirit whispers to me. It's so easy to come up with Scriptures to combat the creeping negativity, but it is so much harder to believe them when your heart is raw and your future could be drastically altered within a short period of time. Having God on our side means that even things that don't seem possible are, whether that is Ryan living another 40 years or me learning to live as a widow who trusts in God to be her Husband.

I don't want to miss it anymore. When Ryan or others share their heart with me, I want to be all ears. But I have learned (the hard way) that the only way it will happen is if I trust in the Lord with all my heart, leaning not on my own understanding, acknowledging Him in all my ways and knowing that He will direct my path (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Have you ever missed it? Please share your story in a comment below.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Close to the Lord

"Waaaaaah!" my seven month old baby screamed. "You have to learn to play independently," I reminded Talitha. It didn't matter how much talking I have done while putting her down to have play time without Mommy, she absolutely hates not being able to see me. During the entire five minute session there was nothing but screaming, crying, and protest. I just put in earplugs and dis something productive to distract myself by making a sandwich.

It kind of reminds me of how I act when I have to clean the house! I do anything else like call friends, complain to myself, or look at Facebook before finally getting to the point where I make a list, do two chores a day, and keep at it for the long term (just like Mom taught me while I was growing up).

Then I think about Martha in the Bible, running around like a chicken with its head cut off, doing everything to get things ready and not really being focused upon the Lord. It is written in Luke 10:

Mary and Martha Worship and Serve

38 Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’[k] feet and heard His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”
41 And Jesus[l] answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

I see Martha, much like myself and my baby, crying over the jobs that have to be done but are not pleasant when done alone, distracted by chores. None of us should be fretting about what we have in front of us and if we spent time with the Lord, we would not see the need for complaint or protest.

Sometimes I focus on the details of what needs to be done, rather than Who I am doing them for. If I do everything as though I am doing it for God, I am no longer worried about the outcome not being perfect. Although I am SO far from being at that point, it was heartwarming to see that Martha eventually learned how to be more focused on the Lord while she continued doing the things that mattered. This is evidenced through her response to Jesus after her brother Lazarus died in John 11:

20 Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house. 21 Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

I often wonder what my response to Jesus would be if I knew He was coming to my town and I was able to talk to Him about Ryan's Cancer. If I saw Him face-to-face, would I be as angry, sad or hurt as I sometimes feel in the privacy of my home? If I was able to talk to Him in person, would I be as blunt and honest as Martha was telling Him, "If You had been here, Ryan would not have gotten Cancer"? Or would I just be pleading for Him to heal Ryan and take the Cancer away? 

Would I glorify God in the midst of my grief, as Martha did? It's hard to imagine being in Martha's shoes at this point and talking to Jesus this way. But it appears that Jesus did not mind that Martha spoke to Him so openly about how she felt. 

So the next time you feel like crying to the Lord about your unfair situation - go for it! Let's learn from Martha, to take time to both continue in service, but also to draw close to Jesus.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Heavenly Reward

As I walked into the spare room, I was confronted by a pile of paperwork on the floor. "Oh, I am so many years behind in our paperwork," I lamented to a friend. "How can I catch up on all of it?" I asked her. She replied, "The advice that comes to mind is what they say about how to eat an elephant, one bite at a time." So, I fretted, complained, and found some other people to call about how overwhelmed I was about it. Amazingly, I have gotten pretty good at juggling my daily tasks of making meals, cleaning the house, doing laundry, and taking care of the baby while she is awake, but have not touched the paperwork. It's funny because I used to complain about those other things a lot too - but I have focused on the lesser of two evils.

In the midst of all my complaining, I have noticed a trend in what I've chosen to accomplish, however. I have picked the things to do that 1) have an immediate visual result, and 2) can be seen by Ryan and others, so they can compliment all my hard work.

Upon this revelation, I was immediately convicted. I've been focused upon praying effectively lately, and then see that my prayers, much like my housework - has been for the sake of others to take notice. "Look at me and how good I am!" they shout. I want to be noticed, so that in all of my outward work and prayers for him Ryan can be healed. But the Bible in Matthew 6, says otherwise:

“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.[b] And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do.For they think that they will be heard for their many words.
“Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. In this manner, therefore, pray:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
10 Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
13 And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.[c]
14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. 

God knows what I am asking for, He knows my heart and what I desire. He wants to reward me openly, but only after I pray to him privately. He does not want me to repeat myself in vain repetitions, just saying the same thing over and over again without thought of Him. He wants me to pour out my heart to him, fervently and earnestly.

Praying for Ryan's healing from Cancer in public will not bring me any rewards at all - it is the exact opposite of what I have seen in my life.

So now I have a new mission, to pray for Ryan to be completely healed while tackling all that paperwork!

What chores do you loathe that you could do while using it as time to pray? Share in a comment below.  

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Prayer Helps

"Don't you think God gets tired of hearing the same thing over and over again?" Ryan asked me last night. "I stopped praying for my healing as much," Ryan admitted. "I knew you had changed!" I exclaimed. And I'd noticed this sadness in his spirit and a decided decay in his demeanor.

Prayer is our avenue to God -- our pathway to speaking to Him. But He already knows what we are going to say. So I ask myself, as Ryan asked himself, why bother praying if He already knows? Why ask Him for the same thing over and over again, for Him to heal Ryan's Cancer completely so Ryan can be around to be my husband and be a Dad to Talitha, if He already knows what I want and He has heard it a million times.

God asks us to pray. In Matthew 7: 7-12 it says:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? 11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! 12 Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Now, it doesn't mean I will receive what I want because God is not some cosmic genie. I've heard in sermons time and again, God can answer one of three ways: yes, no, or wait. Even though we have had a few "yes" answers to slight decreases in the tumor sizes, the big "yes" of Ryan being completely healed has not come.

And this is certainly not the only passage in the Scriptures about prayers. There are many instances of people praying to God, and the caveat is always that He will give you what you want, provided it aligns with His will.

So then, knowing God's will is a whole other matter.

I've been scouring the internet, looking for others to pray. I feel bad about being sad about my situation with Ryan because of the terrible, awful tragedies that surround our lives daily. The prayer pages on Facebook about praying for little children with Cancer are astounding. I found a prayer page for a girl who was in a car accident that left her in a wheelchair. My heart breaks for these parents who just want their small, sick children to live - especially for those who have had to deal with their children dying. I just think of the kids' empty rooms and the parents' empty arms. And I cry, a lot.

I never saw these tragedies before because I was so blinded by my selfishness. And I didn't pray for them because it was too scary to get involved. But that was my old way of thinking.

Getting back to God's will - it must be God's will for all of these things to take place. Looking at it from my perspective and I am heartsick and I don't know what to think. The only way to deal with any of it without being overwhelmed is to look at it from God's perspective: "God works all things together for good, for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose."

I am not there yet because I don't understand why Ryan is so sick, losing weight, and facing this Cancer battle with an uncertain future. But I cling to God's truth and His promises. Otherwise there is no hope or purpose. And I couldn't live knowing that all of this was meaningless.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Rally the Troops

It has been a year since the beginning of our journey with Stage 4 Stomach Cancer. Ryan first told me in October 2011 about persistent back pain that wouldn't go away, burps that were disgusting and an unusual amount of tiredness that never stopped. We thought it was the daily drives to Taft (3 hours one way) for a month, all the daily Monster Energy drinks and sodas, or his '71 Datsun 510 Station Wagon with the broken driver's seat. But after the daily recommended dose of Tylenol, a hotel room in Taft during the weeks he had to work there, and never enough sleep within two months, we knew something else must be terribly wrong.

I would never, ever have imagined a year after the initial symptoms that I would be where I am, writing to an audience of thousands of people, passing out business cards to ask others to pray for Ryan's total healing and connecting with others who fight this deadly disease with amazing grace and resilience.

Since March, 2012, I have met countless others who walk the Cancer journey with a much more heartbreaking story than ours. When the diagnosis first happened and I was nine months pregnant, I was absolutely devastated. I felt as though my world was crashing down around me and I had severe anxiety about my uncertain future. I thought for sure we had THE worst situation and I felt very sorry for myself. When I lifted up my head from my weeping to look around, I realized just how bad it could be. And my perspective changed dramatically.

I decided I could either take Ryan's diagnosis as devastating or motivating. I chose the latter.

That motivation spurred me to start writing a blog in July, 2012. Initially, I wanted people to know about Ryan's illness and how it had affected our family. I also wanted to share what it was like to go through something so depressing that would make most people want to give up everything, especially hope. But then I realized that without knowing the Source of hope in such a dismal diagnosis, there would be nothing to write about - which is why I started to focus upon God the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ.

Just today I spoke to someone at a Non-Profit Organization that is exclusively in business to help people like Ryan become a thing of the past. The Website "Can't Stomach Cancer" (I am a sucker for puns, too) helps people connect all over the world, who have this life-threatening disease. The woman who founded it, Debbie Zelman also has Stage 4 Stomach Cancer and has been alive since her diagnosis in 2007. She is one of the 4% who has lived past five years.

Yes, the statistics are a downer, but sometimes the truth hurts. Much like hearing from those true friends who told us to get our lives in order "just in case." We are both 36 years old and we just had a new baby! How could we be thinking about putting together a trust and figuring out what would happen "if things went downhill?" Those same true friends asked us if we had our spiritual lives "in order" as well. And we did.

Through it all, I've realized that I would have given up if I did not know Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. Without Jesus, I think Ryan and I would have had a sadness that never went away. Likewise, I am not sure if he would have the fighting mentality he does if he did not know Jesus personally. Although he knows He wants to be in Heaven with Jesus someday, Ryan has reiterated time and again how much he wants to live to see Talitha grow up and be with me as my husband. This trial has deepened my faith, showed me my true friends, and helped me to know what is truly important in life.

October marks a year of living with an uncertainty about the future that is daunting at best, especially if you factor in the statistics. But God is bigger than that! If I have learned anything over the past year, it is that having faith in the one, true living God and trusting Him regardless of one's circumstances is so worth it.  There is hope found in the Lord! I've also learned to take each day at a time and dream big because my God is bigger than anything I could possibly come up with.

I am only a wife writing about my very sick husband who is fighting daily to continue his life. Regardless of our circumstances, I am certain about where he will go if he died tonight. Are you certain about your eternal destination?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

v13 Mission Possible

Target: You

Mission Date: October 10, 2012 - ?

Mission Commander: God

Mission Assignment: Should you choose to accept it, your mission is to capture your will and focus your heart, soul, mind, and strength on loving God, as well as loving your neighbor as yourself.

Narrative about the Assignment: Well, I am glad you are reading this - it means you've chosen to accept the mission! Well done, good and faithful servant! I have just finished listening to the Authentic series by Pastor James MacDonald and he spoke about how to be an authentic Christian and how to live for Jesus Christ. He stated that there are a few things that all Christians do in order to, as James says, show their love for God.

James 2:14-26

New King James Version (NKJV)

Faith Without Works Is Dead

14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your[a] works, and I will show you my faith by my[b] works. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?[c] 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”[d] And he was called the friend of God. 24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
25 Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?
26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

Pastor James states that in order to be authentic (that is, the opposite of a hypocrite) all Christians are commanded to: 1) read their Bible - a lot; 2)  regularly fast; 3)  pray to God the Father and acknowledge Jesus Christ, the Son in every prayer; 4)  have fellowship with other believers - and attend church regularly; and 5)  serve.

Your Mission, should you choose to accept it -- is to love the Lord your God by doing the things that the Bible commands all Christians to do. Will you do this perfectly? No! However, we are still called to do these things.

Personal Application: It is very difficult to serve when there is no thanks involved, no pat on the back or anyone watching to acknowledge everything I do in my home to serve my husband with Cancer and my infant daughter. But I am not called to read my Bible, cook, clean my home, parent my daughter or bring my sick husband whatever he needs in order to hear "Thank you SO much" every time I do something. Now, Ryan is very good about being appreciative and thanks me a lot for many things. But, I am not to do those things for a hope of getting something in return. Likewise, I am called to read my Bible -- not to hear God say, "Thanks Anna, for being so spiritual!" But I am called to know Him more each day and in wanting to have a deeper love relationship with Him, I desire to spend time with Him by being in prayer and reading His word. Fasting and fellowship are also essential in helping me to remain close to God. I must say, the most difficult part of my Mission to know God more has been to serve in a household with a very sick husband every other week. But I have gotten to know God more and more each day, which is part of the calling I have on my life.

Question: Will you accept this Mission that is possible? If this is the first time you are willing to do so, please write a comment below.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

v13 She's Lump

"Anna, come here quick!" said Ryan two summers ago. I knew it must be bad if he was using my first name because he rarely addressed me that way. "Oh no!" I exclaimed. "What happened?" "Well, she was probably sunning herself and I didn't see her when I was stacking the bricks," he said. It was a little lizard, whose head was crushed and bleeding. Her right side wasn't moving either.

He sat on the patio with his legs straight out, facing this tiny lizard lying still and thinking hard. I could see the 10 year old Ryan, playing with his lizards in his room in this moment. He has always been fond of lizards. "We should name her Lumpy," he said. We both laughed about the reference to that 90's song, but felt bad about it.

"She is blind," Ryan surmised. I was quiet. What could a blind, limping lizard get to eat? "How will she feed herself?" I asked him. "I am going to have to force feed her," he said. And he did.

Sometimes it took close to an hour, and I was impatiently wondering when he would give up. "I am responsible because I did that to her. So I am going to feed her until God takes her home," he said. It was painstaking to watch, but he patiently fed her, every day for six long weeks. And to make it more fun, we would sing her song to her, laughing but feeling bad at the same time.

I look at my impatience years ago and wonder if I have improved at all. I want to know whether this waiting game will end in a positive way - with Ryan completely healed from the Cancer that is now slowly decreasing. And I would prefer to know now, rather than wait for an answer. I think of the Scripture I've opened my Bible to, time and again, and smile:

Jeremiah 29:11-13

New King James Version (NKJV)
11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.

I know the Lord hears me when I pray, because He just answered my prayers exactly in the way I'd prayed them about the results for Ryan's CT scan on October eighth. Yet I know that will not always be the case.

I just read Greg Laurie's devotional on Monday which said, "There are times when life just doesn't seem fair. Things happen that don't make sense and we wonder why God didn't answer our prayer. But He will answer your prayer - in His way, for His glory, in His time." I look at the life of that lizard, how we prayed that Lumpy would live and become restored. Instead she died and was healed in lizard heaven. God answered our prayer, "No."

I think back to the patience and perseverance that Ryan had in feeding her - and think of the patience God has with me. I am glad Ryan didn't give up -- it shows he has the fight mentality to keep going, even if a situation is difficult. Likewise, I am glad God doesn't give up on me praying for my husband's healing.

What are you glad that God didn't give up on you about? Share with us in a comment.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

v13 Waking Hours

"You're angry with me, aren't you - that is why you are looking at me that way, right?" Ryan asked me one morning in early July. "No, that's not it at all. Do you want to know the real reason for that look?" I asked him. In my mind, I thought of what I would say because I knew this conversation was coming some day. I just didn't know that it would take almost 100 days to happen and was hoping I had more time. I thought about changing the subject, but wanted to be completely honest with my husband of almost nine years.

"I always check in the morning to see if you're still breathing," I said very slowly, watching his face for any sign of hurt. He laughed at me. "It's not going to happen that way, silly!" he exclaimed. "This type of thing will take months and be a slow progression towards Hospice. And you will definitely know when it's coming." I breathed a sigh of relief, mostly because I had not hurt the one I loved the most on this planet, but also because I finally told him how I felt every morning.

Since that day, I cannot say the thought doesn't cross my mind still, but it happens a lot less frequently. I happily listen to his heartbeat almost every night before falling asleep and it makes me feel glad that God has given my husband another day of life.

On days like today, when the chemo is fresh in his body and I watch my vibrant, funny, intelligent husband go from his normal self to a tired, nauseated and sick man - I think back to previous conversations that remind me of his and my mortality. I do a lot of praying. And I call friends and family for support.

I want our old life back, but not at the expense of my relationship with God. I want to go on dates again, and do silly things until late at night just because we can. But Ryan has no energy for that right now. I hate hearing that he has so many complaints about pain in his body and I am helpless to do anything to help change it.  I want him to just feel well, have a typical day at work in addition to having time to himself to do things he can enjoy. His life is no longer that way.

It's as if he has to go on business trips every other week for almost five days, without being able to call or text me. We have spoken every day (but two days) since we met and the silence from his illness is deafening. Even though he is safely in the next room, it is a time of limbo, an expanse that yawns wider as the chemo days pass.

He wants SO MUCH to live, to be a father to Talitha and continue to be an awesome husband to me. He wants to work on his relationship with God further, to deepen his faith and help others to learn about his Savior, Jesus Christ. He doesn't want to be sick anymore and certainly doesn't want to go through chemo.

But God is working in both of our lives right now in specific, gut-wrenching ways. God is building our relationships with other people and helping us to know how much He loves us through the people He has put into our lives. If I ask you tough questions, know that God has been working on me in those areas first. All of this change is spilling over into every thought,  conversation, and breath.

I will never see life the same way as before, never. And I hope I won't ever take for granted waking up to my wonderful husband.

How has God used others in your life to help you change in the ways you need to? Explain in a comment below.

v13 A New Day

Ryan and Happy Tayley 10/9/12

Today was a stressful day. Ryan woke up feeling great from an excellent night of sleep after taking Morphine. I always look at the need for Morphine as a bad sign, yet he slept well and that's always a good thing. He has been sleeping so poorly for the past two weeks and it was wonderful to see him in such good spirits for the first time in a long time.

We were able to get out of the door much earlier than normal in order to take Ryan's friend to the airport. The men sat on either side of Talitha while I drove with the luggage in the front seat. It was so cute to watch her head move back and forth to watch each of them talk to each other. She got some attention too, and just loved sitting next to her Daddy and his friend. She was trying to add her two cents into the conversation and babbled happily, including her new phrase "Dada" which always melts Ryan's heart.

We got to City of Hope in time to see Valerie to check us in and Shavone, Ryan's nurse, before she went on a lunch break. We sat in the tiny examination room, wondering what the results would be, and I felt a peace about it.

I was amazed today at the results of the CT scan. I had just prayed last night, "Lord, let the results be that Ryan's tumors are stable or shrinking" and that is EXACTLY what the report said. Most of his tumors shrank, some shrank by 1 cm (which is a lot) and I was in shock. Ryan said, "I don't feel really excited by the results being so positive" and I didn't know how to respond to that. Maybe he didn't know just how to feel after the stress over the past weekend? We are both just so grateful for the good news!

I was able to talk to a few Cancer survivors (like Ryan) and their spouses today and am always so enthralled by their stories and their resilience. I learn from them, how to cope with Cancer and have hope when facing adversity.

The Patient Navigator, Lupe, came to visit me today, to tell me that Donna - the woman who warmly greeted us when we started our journey seven months ago - had retired and that she would be there for us instead. After talking Lupe's listening ear off, I felt another surge of gratitude for all of the care and support we get here at City of Hope.

I know we are walking down our "new normal" pathway, trying to learn what our lives will involve with Ryan's illness. There is an uncertainty that always looms over us, but we know that we have a big God who guides our steps and walks with us as we go.  Having God by our side, in addition to the excellent care we get from Dr. Lim and all the staff here at City of Hope, warms my heart.

When have you felt gratitude for good news that you've received? Share it in a comment below.

Stormy Waters

There has been a little black storm cloud raining over the Waters household this past weekend. Ryan and I argued about things that don't matter in the long run, replaying old patterns that we've repented from and left behind long ago.

Tempers often flare when the Cancer is looming large in front of us, the CT scan from today reminding us of what we are up against. Neither of us want to discuss it repeatedly, and yet, when Ryan has to drink that barium contrast we are rudely confronted with the reality of our situation.

We have both asked God to take it from our lives and put it in the past. Ryan has told the Cancer to die, and says he is fighting it with everything he's got. We regularly get emails from good-willed people who have the knowledge of the latest Cancer "cure," and the many reasons why to stop using chemo. Yet, so far, the chemo is working at keeping the Cancer at bay - or is it? Do the risks and side effects outweigh the benefits?   Is it the right choice, even though it's not the only choice?

People often ask me how we are doing and lately I can say that things have not been so good. Ryan is pretty down, wondering about the timing of the end of his mortality. He feels quite ill lately, with a bloated feeling after every meal and an appetite that is fleeting at best. He doesn't have the energy to do the things he must do, let alone for things he wants to do. He rarely sleeps well and has constant reminders of the Cancer in his body. He is 36 and wondering if it is the end.

I stand by his side watching him fight, feeling numb, sorry for myself, and weak. I know I could not do what he is doing.

Ryan and I have been praying a lot lately, as well as reading our Bibles. In addition to our personal journey, God has been working in the people at our churches. God has brought alongside humble, sacrificial men and women to walk with us through this time of uncertainty. We need that encouragement because we would be lost without it.

Every day is a fight to get our hearts right with God, to focus on Him instead of our circumstances, and be grateful for what we have. Should we go another direction for Ryan's treatment? Would it even matter at this point? What is God's will for each of our lives?

Tonight I am swimming in a sea of more questions than answers, adrift - wondering what destination the CT scan results will take me to tomorrow.  Yet, I know we will not be alone in that doctor's office, even if it is bad news. I know God is with us and He has a plan. He has already mapped out our course. We must trust Him in this storm now, more than ever because He cares for us, and guides us to Himself especially during difficult circumstances.

Are either of us prepared to follow God's will, no matter what? Are you?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Warning Signs

CLUNK! CLUNK! CLUNK!  I heard my car making a very loud knocking noise while I was driving down the 680 South freeway near the 101 in San Jose back in late 1994. It sounded horrible to someone who did not know much about cars and had just started community college.

After I got home safely I asked my father what the noise might be. He asked me a series of questions, but pinpointed the problem right away. "So you saw the red light on your dashboard, but you ignored it for how long?" he asked, in a fatherly tone. "That annoying light has been on for a LONG time, Dad," I said. "Don't you think there was a reason it was on?" he asked me. I was silent, even as I mentally came up with the excuses of how busy I was and how much I had going on in my life. I ran the engine of my blue 1981 Oldsmobile Cutlass dry because it had NO oil and I had not changed it in several thousand miles. I sat in stunned silence as my Dad said he would pay for half of the bill, and was very ashamed of myself but grateful for my Dad's generosity. I had to work over two months to cover my half and was very upset with myself in many ways when I handed my Dad the check. He also let me borrow his car for the time that it took to replace the engine, and I was constantly reminded that I should have followed the warning signs pointing me to another pathway.

Much like in my early college days when I turned a blind eye to the warning lights on my dashboard, I have warning signs in my life that tell me my spiritual life will run dry if I do not replenish it. There are several things that are involved in making an engine in a car run well, and one of the more important things is oil. God uses our friends much like the lights on our dashboard to warn us when we're doing something the wrong way or are going to run out of something essential, like the oil in our car.

Ryan and I have learned to warn each other when we are in a difficult situation by asking each other pertinent questions:

  • "Do you think you should be talking to him/her about that issue?"
  • "How has your relationship been with God lately? Have you been reading your Bible?"
  • "Do you think it's kind to talk about that person that way?"
  • "Isn't that just a band-aid fix? How will that really change the situation?"
  • What would God want you to say or do?
Lately, with Ryan being so sick from the Cancer and the chemo, there have been all sorts of warning lights flashing on my spiritual dashboard of life. But instead of ignoring them like I used to, or doing something that won't fix the problem like overeating, spending money, or being entertained, I listen to them. I call friends and  family and ask them for advice. I pray for answers to my questions about how to heed the warnings signs. I hear that still, small voice in my head and I know that is a prompting from the Holy Spirit to crack open my Bible and read it. I make time to spend learning how to become more like Jesus and less like myself. I know that I won't be able to "fix" Ryan's Cancer just like I could pour a can of oil into my car and have the problem solved, but I can keep my spiritual life running like a finely tuned engine in order to handle the clunking noises in my life. 

What warning signs have you ignored in your life and how did you eventually heed them? Write about it in a comment below.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Safe in the Father's Arms

Ryan has had a tender heart for God's word lately... "I can just hear how much God hurts when he says, "O Jerusalem.." and wants them to come back to Him," Ryan said to me a week ago. I had never thought about that before. I pondered how Jesus said he wanted to gather them together, as a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings. I look at how God has gathered Ryan and I (and Talitha) together, to hug us and surround us with love. Lately we have felt so much comfort from so many people. It is as though God is giving us a big bear hug!

One of my friends told me that God definitely wants us to know how much He loves us. As I cracked open the Beth Moore Study book "Beloved Disciple" (a study I should have started almost two weeks ago) I started reading about how John knew how much he was loved by the God of the universe. I want to become someone who knows how much she is loved by God, rather than someone who feels bad because I am not doing my homework.

I see glimpses of it every now and again, through the actions of my friends, my husband, and our families. I am touched by the kindness of strangers and the thoughtful caring words of people in our lives. I also read it when I study God's word and feel a scripture come alive, as though it were written just for me at that time.

Over and over again, I am reminded to return to my Father's arms, to feel His presence, His love, and His guidance in a close relationship that bids me to change for the better. I look at our daughter when Ryan holds her and it is a literal picture of how a daughter and a father have love for one another. I am resting in the knowledge that I am loved, but I strive to give this love to God with "all my heart, soul, mind, and strength," and want to give it to those in my life too.

I have a long way to go, but I am excited about the journey that God has me on.

What Scriptures have encouraged you during your trials? Please share them in the comments below.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Learning to Walk

As I watched my screaming infant daughter, my brain just could not take it. I had to do something! So I got out the vacuum and started cleaning..

Talitha's doctor told me today that she needs to spend several sessions of time on her tummy in order for her to become comfortable with crawling. I told her that Tayley just starts screaming when this happens, and she said that didn't matter. So in order to help me cope, I turned on the vacuum.

As I rolled the vacuum over our tile floor, I noticed the baby's legs kicking frantically. I started laughing at the fit she was throwing and I just couldn't stop myself. I never would have believed that a seven month old would have a tantrum of that magnitude, and yet I was witness to it in half of its glory. Thankfully, the other half was drowned out by the sound of the machine whirring in my hands.

I thought about Talitha's predicament. I could not believe how much she cried and screamed at something that was so necessary for her continued development. She could not see the bigger picture so she didn't know how helpful her tummy time would be for her to grow up and learn to walk. I thought about how this applied to my life too, as I picked up my baby after five excruciating minutes.

I could see myself, face down on the floor, pitching a fit about my predicament regarding Ryan's Cancer. There I am, an infant wailing for her Heavenly Father to come pick her up and take her into His loving arms where I am much more comfortable. My Heavenly Father knows the bigger picture of how this trial will grow me, and how much this will help the progress toward my continued spiritual development. Yet all I can do is weep and wail against something that is for my own good in the long term, even though it doesn't feel pleasant right now.

How have you felt like an infant during a trial in your life? Discuss in a comment below.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Life is So Unfair!

"So if everyone in the world was praying for me to live, would that change God's mind if I were meant to die?" Ryan asked Pastor Jack Hibbs at church yesterday. "You already know the answer to that one," Pastor Jack said. He continued, "Prayer doesn't change God, but it is meant to change us to focus upon God's will for our lives. Now, we are called to pray for the sick, and Lisa and I pray for you every day. We are praying that you are healed, but also that God's will is fulfilled, whatever that may be."

There have been two times where Ryan and I have wanted to escape the trials in our life and move away. The first time was more than five years ago and we had talked about moving to North Carolina, changing jobs and starting over. We were having a discussion about it two years ago on a trip up north to see Ryan's Mom for Christmas when Pastor James MacDonald's CD series When Life is Hard answered our question about moving by hitting us square between the eyes, "What, what, what, what... I'm going to um, move? I'm going to, um, get a different job? I'm going to...? No, no, no. The cup which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it?" That same day, we made the decision not to talk about that anymore. Yesterday, we were listening to the CD on the discipline of prayer during the Authentic: Developing Disciplines of a Sincere Faith series, and Pastor James said that we are meant to pray for healing, and to use Jesus' prayer as an example. "The cup which my father has given me, shall I not drink it? Yet, not my will but Thine be done." Jesus asked for it to be taken from Him too, but wanted to do what the Father asked Him to. Shouldn't we do the same?

"It's just not fair!" I wanted to scream. "Yes, but Anna you have to remember life is not fair," my mother's voice echoed in my mind.  She always told me this, especially in regard to my brother having Down syndrome, but I never thought it would apply to a situation like this in my life. It is submitting to the will of God during an unfair situation that is so very difficult. Pastor Jack was talking about Chuck Smith in his sermon yesterday and said, "Well, in Chuck 1:1 it says 'Blessed are the flexible for they shall not be broken.'" I guess I need to be more flexible because I definitely don't want to walk around broken all the time. And running around lamenting about unfairness doesn't change anything.

God has given Ryan a type of Cancer that doesn't have a set duration, or a cure. We cannot escape the weight of it, nor can we move to a different part of the country to avoid it. But we can rest in the fact that God already knew about it in His plan for our lives, and that He is giving us comfort through His word, as well as through others who have walked this path before us. It comes down to the fact that we just need to trust Him.

How has unfairness affected your life? Discuss this in a comment below.