Friday, November 30, 2012

v16 Finish What You Start

I look around at the piles of half-finished projects and I am discouraged at my lack of initiative. I was so excited once I started tearing into the kitchen, pulling the granite back splash and all of the drywall behind it in one moment, ripping down the wall-mounted microwave the next. But three years later, I haven't helped to finish the project.

Likewise there are piles of laundry from our trip last week, as well as piles of unopened mail. I have people volunteering in the morning to help finish that three-year-old project I started without giving it the proper amount of thought. I also have some friends coming over on Sunday for Thanksgiving 2.0. One would think this would motivate me to finish the laundry and mail sorting. But somehow the drain of going to the hospital for the third time this week has caught up with me and my bed is calling me louder than my chores are.

Yet even as I attempted to fall asleep tonight, I was thinking back to our visit last week. Ryan's uncle's house is, in Ryan's words, a time capsule. His uncle lives in the home where Ryan's grandparents used to live and Ryan says it looks exactly the same. When I asked his uncle why he didn't want to update or remodel anything, he said it was because he wanted to honor his father's wise words: "Finish what you start." He didn't want to start anything he couldn't finish. Besides that, though, is the fact that he is clearly content living inside his home exactly the way it is.

It dawned on me that's exactly what I needed to hear when it came to my own ideas about house projects!

I've been praying about what I should ask about continuing on with and where I should stop. The response I got was: "Don't start anything new." I've taken an inventory and that means there are three projects left undone, the master bedroom painting (which I can do and a friend has offered to help me with), repairing the drain and putting concrete and a fence around our pool equipment, and the kitchen.

Thankfully we have LOTS of help with the kitchen and God has graciously provided very talented and wonderful people who are volunteering their time to finish what I started before counting the costs. They say it should be done at the beginning of next year!

As I go to other people's houses, I realize that my friends live in homes where I see so much more contentment than I've ever known. Oh yes, they may complain that their home isn't as tidy as they'd like because of their small children, but they care more about loving their families than changing everything in sight.

I've studied the ease with which they glide through their homes, peaceful about their surroundings and the people who live with them. I can see how much these women of God love their children and revere their husbands. And it seems that the more clear their love of Jesus and less stuff they have equals more contentment. They have an undeniable peace that I've been searching for because they aren't looking to stuff to give them fulfillment.

I think that I've been concentrating on finishing house projects this past year in order to push away having to deal with Ryan's Cancer, and frankly, it's been a nice distraction. I'm a little apprehensive that once everything is done and we're just maintaining our property that it will become harder to bear the reality of our situation. Time will tell.

I know our God has taken care of us so far and I bet He will knock my socks off as He turns my attention away from my surroundings and circumstances and instead towards Him. I will have less unimportant things to deal with and more peace, much like my friends have. I cannot take any of this with me when I die, anyway.

Please pray for my contentment, to learn patience and how to cope with the emotions I've tucked away behind my focus on projects that don't matter in the long term. And when you speak to me, please help direct me to the One True Living God who wants my attention on Him, rather than on my stuff. Thanks!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

v16 From Wounded to Well

Last night I was afraid.

There it was again. Darkness crouching behind me, like a silent tiger stalking its prey.

I felt it creep up on me, threatening to attack the peace I've been feeling for months now. I pushed it away.

Then, I saw the picture. It tore into my heart and shredded it. My joy from last week turned to mourning for the family I just met 15 seconds earlier who was a world away from me, but close to my heart, my aching, bleeding heart. Four year old Kai had died from an inoperable brain tumor. Cancer devoured his body. Anger devoured my soul.

The fear of its close proximity encircled me, peppering me with questions, doubts, and troubles. These questions haunted me, like memories of dead distant relative that I should have gotten to know better. I didn't dwell on them because the grief would overwhelm me. I didn't entertain them because I was not sure I would live through the experience. At two in the morning, I cowered in the darkness like a small child.

A new day dawned. Then I read James 4:6-10 in my morning devotional:

But He gives more grace. Therefore He says:
“God resists the proud,
But gives grace to the humble.”[c]

Humility Cures Worldliness

Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

I finally discovered what this Scripture meant - because I used to be so blissfully unaware of the dangers of Cancer. I used to live my life like a child at recess in elementary school. Now I see what it does to other people, when family members or friends are taken ruthlessly from their loved ones. Cancer has humbled me, yet He has lifted me up.

I admitted to my frailty yesterday morning to my mentor, yet this morning I fell back into the thick of last night's questions, swimming in a sea of doubt and despair. "What if the scan in two weeks shows the Cancer has spread?" I asked God. "What would I do?," "What if the stillness of this house was always this way?," "How are those people on those Cancer websites living when their spouse or child just died?," "How could You take that little boy, Lord?," "How would I cope if Talitha got sick like Ryan at the same time as him?," "What if they both died?," "Lord, how could I go on?"

I silently fell asleep last night well past my bedtime, while these questions swirled around in my head and stayed there.

Then in the morning, a glimmer of hope, bookended in John chapter 14:

At the beginning, in verse 1...

“Let not your heart be troubled..." [Jesus said].

Then, again at the end of the chapter...

"Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."

Last night I started my quest for peace by reassuring myself of future vacations with Ryan while looking through family photos of past vacations. Instead I should have been scouring the pages of Scripture because during this morning's quiet time, Jesus reassured me that He is my peace and reminded me that I won't get it from anywhere else.

I have more questions than answers, especially about the future. Yet I know I will be taken care of even in the most dire circumstances, much in the same way I know others who have lost loved ones have been taken care of.

I feel the way many others do, I don't want Ryan to die from Cancer now - I want him to live! I cannot walk around with a knot in the pit of my stomach, but need God's peace instead. Jesus says He will give us His peace. Beth Moore has it right. As Beth says, the only way I will feel better is through reading His word and asking for more of the Holy Spirit to come into my life. I woke up wounded, but now, as the old hymn says, it is well with my soul.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

v16 Rx Vacation

"I wish we were still at Mark's house," Ryan admitted to me as we were feeding the baby in the hospital hallway before Ryan's doctor appointment. I knew he had enjoyed his vacation in northern California, spending time with his Uncle Mark and other family members.

Something had changed.

I cannot put my finger on it, but today Ryan is different. I look into his chocolate brown eyes and see a glimmer of hope that had previously dulled to a speck. It has now returned, and he has renewed strength from visiting his family and having a week of fun.

Sharing a meal and many memories with his family and mine had healed him in a way that nothing else could. Yes, he spent the week sadly contemplating the possibility that it could be his last vacation up north to see family. Yet I believe the Holy Spirit of God told him otherwise.

Driving home, we witnessed another miracle. "I will show you a sign that you will live - you'll see a dolphin" the Holy Spirit whispered to Ryan and then suddenly, a dolphin leapt out of the ocean as we were driving alongside the 101 freeway just north of Santa Barbara. We needed that miracle.

Ryan's had at least 20 people tell him he'll live and others tell him how good he looks, just how healthy he appears to be. I tell him these are all gifts from God, messages just for him.

Even today Dr. Lim looked him in the eyes and told Ryan, "You look good." We were surrounded by the hope of others in their Cancer journey too. It has been a great day so far.

Our Thanksgiving vacation last week gave Ryan a heart of gratitude for being alive, a sense of his need for God and strength to carry on because he has more to do in his life. It gave me the realization that I need to  cling to the Rock of my Salvation rather than fall back on old habits, find joy in everyday experiences lived out with family members and spend time with God rather than gobbling up goodies at the local cafe.

Even though our lives have slowed down to a crawl, we cannot do the things we used to do and I live every other week as though time were on hold, I am grateful for the life that God has given us. I hear stories from others about just how different it could be right now.

I look at the hustle and bustle of my friends' lives, travelling the world, changing careers, having fun in the sun, and getting to experience life in a "normal" way. My friends' babies get to learn to crawl in the comfort of their home and mine will probably do it on the floor of the hospital Spiritual Center. Admittedly it's hard not to be jealous. But I often pray to God and ask Him to redirect my thoughts and He does. He tells me: "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness" 2 Corinthians 12:9.

Right now I cling to His grace because I am so weak. He tells me when I am weak, He is strong. I feel that strength pulsing through my veins and see the hope that has returned to Ryan's eyes from his empowering vacation. I am grateful for the time we had and look forward to another one soon. Even though it's such a simple thing, I think a vacation is just what the doctor ordered.

v16 Humility and Relief

"Can you please tell me if I'm doing this right?" I called a friend around 10 p.m. one night to ask about feeding my baby. "Sure, what's the problem, Anna?" she asked. Then I went into the details.

It's both humbling and relieving to have a friend to talk to about what it's like to deal with the struggles of raising a very tiny baby. I want to do everything right and used to worry about getting into trouble (e.g. being sent to the principal's office) by the doctor or other people older than me because I was doing everything wrong. Ryan recognized this in me right away and told me that I was doing just fine but had to be willing to ask for help more often. So I took his advice and I'm so glad I did.

This advice applies also to the life of someone going through chemo. I just remember the frantic tension at the beginning, wondering if we were "doing things right." I had a million questions for the doctor and nurses. I wanted to cover all my bases and read as much as I could on the internet to find out what I could about Stomach Cancer.

Then I started to meet people just like us.

Recently I joined a Stomach Cancer support group on Facebook in order to learn all that I could about the dreaded disease from what other people have experienced. I realized that everyone has a different path to finding out that they or a loved one have Cancer, and how their lives play out. But there are definitely some similarities amongst us, like the fact that we all just want our "normal" lives back, death is only a thought away, and just how much the important aspects of life are magnified in a way that intensely overshadows the trivial.

It is humbling and relieving to meet other people who have walked ahead of us and know what it's like after receiving 60 treatments instead of sixteen. The more I talk to others, the more I realize, much like in the conversations I have with my friends about raising the baby, everyone has a unique experience with Cancer. I am sometimes embarrassed to ask the questions on my mind because I think they are stupid or insignificant. Yet I know from my seven years in the teaching profession, that there are no stupid questions. So I pepper the conversations I have with my friends about their experiences raising a child (or in some cases three!) and find out about strangers' experiences with Cancer.

God has allowed me to be in this humble stage in my life because I admit I don't have all the answers and sometimes don't even know the right questions to ask in order to feel better. I look forward to learning along the way, with God as my guide.

How have you been humbled? Share in a comment below.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Hurricane Cancer

I have never been in a hurricane, but I can only imagine trying to prepare for it. I feel as though we spent the last eight months going through a hurricane that just washed water over us and caused winds to rip through our home and part us from our tangible stuff. The damage has been overwhelming as the water line has risen and we're forced to evacuate the life we knew for a temporary shelter.

But isn't that what this life is, a temporary dwelling place with a more permanent residence promised to us in the afterlife? Isn't our body temporary, our lives but a vapor - here one day and gone the next?

Well, I'm so glad about that because in this life I keep messing up! I cannot wait to be in a place where everything is perfected and I don't have to worry about being too much of myself and not close enough to Christ.

In that day I will be with Christ and I won't have to hurt people's feelings over petty things. In that day I won't have to continually ask for forgiveness because I have different expectations than others. In that day I won't constantly say and do the wrong things that cause me sleeplessness, unforgiveness of myself and negative self-talk.

I cannot wait to be perfected! And I know the storm we're going through now is helping me through that process.

Although it has been quite painful, I feel as though in some ways we're in the eye of the storm. Yes, some of the effects from the Cancer in Ryan's body are like that of hurricane victims dealing with the wind, rain, and water damage to their homes. But much like hurricane victims, Ryan and I realize that what's important is being together as a family, enjoying each other's company and spending quality time doing things that matter with people who care about us.

Our stuff that we lost in the storm really, really doesn't matter.

It's disheartening to watch Ryan suffer from the constant neuropathy issues and other side effects from his Cancer storm. But God has promised us shelter from the storm. He says in Matthew 7 24-26:

Build on the Rock

24 “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: 25 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.
26 “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: 27 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”

I have to focus on building my house, not on earthly treasures, nor a healthy body, but upon the rock of Salvation! Because God tells us that the storms of life WILL come. It's not a question of if, but of when. When they come, if we build upon Him, we can live through any hurricane that devastates us.

I look to the horizon of my life, through that eye of the Cancer storm that just passed through our lives. To the left, I see the other half of the Cancer hurricane, ready to claim our lives and devastate us even harder than the first time it passed through. To the right, I see clear skies, and the possibility that it may pass by altogether, somehow, that it will lose it's momentum and die itself.

I have two options. I can either prepare for what's coming on the foundation of Christ, hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. Or I can bury my head in the sand and pretend that everything will turn up peaches and roses. Jesus says:

John 16:33
These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

I know that life will not always be smooth sailing. But God and Jesus will be with Ryan and I every step of the way.

As I prepare for the next steps of Ryan having Cancer on a long-term basis, and the rest of the hurricane that will pass over our lives, I am thankful on this Thanksgiving most of all for the fact that my Savior has overcome the world, to die for me and give me a future and a hope in this life, and the one to come.

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

November 1, 2003 And the two shall become one.

" sickness, and in health; to love and to cherish from this day forward as long as we both shall live." As I said the vows to my husband Ryan on our wedding day on November 1, 2003, I was crying tears of joy. Well, more to the point I was bawling my eyes out. I couldn't stop crying on my wedding day because I never thought anyone would want to marry me.

I was the woman Jesus met at the well.

In case you aren't familiar with the passage, it is written in John 4:

Jesus Talks With a Samaritan Woman

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.[a])
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet.20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know;we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

I'd like to call special attention to verses 16-17. I was this woman - and after giving my life to Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I was made right with God. I was whole, and became wholly innocent, completely holy because Christ died for my sins.

When Ryan married me, this act changed my name too. God often renamed people in the Bible and that was important to me when I got married. I was completely forgiven and He had given me a new life, as well as a new name. I was FORGIVEN of much!

My marriage is important to me on so many levels. But even if Ryan dies, it will not change the status of my forgiveness with Christ, which is much more important than my marital status. The Lord will take care of me in that case, much in the same way the Lord has put it on Ryan's heart to provide for and protect me while he is alive.

He cares for the widows and the fatherless. I've read that in so many places in the Bible! He's a God I can and do trust, regardless of what happens to Ryan.

On that November day so many years ago I never thought we would be going through this before we celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary! Who would? But I made a vow to a man who has showed me multiple times what forgiveness looks like, has loved me through thick and thin, and almost always points me back to Christ. I plan to keep my vows until the end.

I am blessed beyond measure by a God who knows what He is doing in Ryan's life, even though he has Cancer and has everything under control. I trust Him with my marriage and pray fervently for many more years married to my best friend.

How has your spouse blessed you? Share in a comment below.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Calling All Angels

"I was terrified to call you, and even hung up the phone once before calling you this time," someone told me. I thought to myself, "How could anyone be afraid to call little old me? I am just me, just a person living her life while raising a little baby and taking care of a sick husband and a home." But then it went full circle.

I was terrified to call a woman I had grown to love, even though she was on the opposite coast from me. I heard about her Cancer story from a prayer site named after her where I had posted prayer requests for Ryan. She had Hospice in her life now, and I recently heard updates about pain. She was at the end of her life, but the Holy Spirit clearly told me to call her. Repeatedly.

"But what will I say to her?" I asked the Lord. "I might upset her by talking about the fact that she's dying. Or say the wrong thing. Or I might start crying about Ryan and be focused on him, rather than her." Just another set of worries overwhelmed me when all I should have been doing was trusting Him to give me the words to say.

So I called her, but it was on her wedding anniversary weekend so she didn't pick up her phone. It turns out we shared the date, just not the year. She called me back and left a lovely message.

Two weeks passed.

There was no getting around it. Clearly there was something I was supposed to learn from her, but I didn't know what to ask nor what to say. I prayed about it and was going to focus on following her lead.

Yesterday I called her again. But when someone picked up the phone, I heard voices, then a click. I thought I should call back just in case there was a mistake. She texted me that she couldn't talk but would call later. She never did.

I beat myself up over it and thought about the missed opportunity. I couldn't justify why I hadn't called sooner and thought I may have messed up something I could never get back.

I tried again this morning, but this time I left a short message where I said I didn't expect a call back, but was praying for her. Twenty minutes later she called me.

It was an amazing conversation. I didn't know what to expect, but I was so blessed by her words of wisdom. She told me about how she'd been originally diagnosed with Kidney Cancer in March 19, 1994, prayed the prayer of Hezekiah and like him, was given 15 more years! On April, 19, 2009 her Cancer came back. WOW! She realized she wanted more time, asked God for it and here she is, three years and no treatments later, and she's just now at the end. She asked me about Ryan's Cancer journey. Then it came to me - I knew what to ask her!

"What do I tell Ryan who is so sad about potentially leaving Talitha and I behind?" I asked. She was excited by my question because she said, "I was praying about how I could help you because Ryan and I have different cancers and I haven't ever had treatment, so that's a question I can answer."

She went on to tell me her answer for the next fifteen minutes. I wish I could have recorded it. She concentrated on areas surrounding her Homecoming. She knew Heaven awaited her soon, and she reassured me it was much easier for her to deal with the Cancer than her husband and adult children. She told me three things that I will never forget. No, make that four.

First, she told me to trust God. I've heard this from so many people, but when someone who is dying tells you this, it means a lot. She trusts God completely and said that He will take care of me, in the same way she knows God will take care of her family when she dies.

Secondly, she suggested for me to pray for a special friend to come into my life who will understand my situation. She said that many people won't because of my age and stage of life, but ask God for someone who will care for me anyway. Many people will draw close to me at the end, surround our family with love and be there right afterwards. They will say great and stupid things. But when the dust settles, and I have to keep waking up day after day, they will all scatter. She knows this from watching her friends go through it. She said God would send someone because everyone would feel like they already said what they needed to say, but then months later, wouldn't know what to say and I'd be alone. That confirms my worst fear about 4 months afterwards. But I know this won't be for a while, so I will start praying and know that God has a plan.

Third, she recommended that I lean not on my own understanding. I told her that was one of my favorite Scriptures. She said that God is full of grace and mercy, that He will pour it out on my life, as she has seen it happen in her own life with regard to her husband. God has blessed them in ways they never could have planned for and knows that God will do the same for Ryan and me.

Lastly, she told me to focus on God's glory, rather than being angry at the people taking care of Ryan. "It's very easy to be angry at [the doctors] because they are imperfect and my doctors cannot seem to glorify God. They do not know how I am here still, either, because they cannot explain it - I am not supposed to be here still according to them. But if God is being glorified by me being in tremendous amounts of pain, then who am I to take that away from Him?" she asked me. I was stunned. I know that neither Ryan nor I want him to be in any pain, but her response took my breath away.

We ended the talk in tears. I have never met her, but I told her I love her and she, me.

Having a conversation with someone staring into eternity is life changing. It reaffirmed my desire to glorify God in all that I do and continue to thank Him for the experiences He allows, including the gift of a conversation with a mighty woman of God.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

v15 Being Pruned

"The vines are everywhere!" I thought to myself, horrified. Their tendrils were creeping all over every other plant in the tiny planter in my front yard, choking the life out of some and blocking the sun for others. "I must rip this plant out now," I decided internally.

The baby woke up from her nap and Ryan was resting upstairs on his 15th round of chemo. So I pulled her playpen outside and put on my gardening gloves. I took out all of my sadness, aggression, depression, and restlessness on that Black-Eyed Susan plant. I admired the stunning flowers and new growth, but after a few snips with my clippers, I realized its beauty was deceptive.

I saw the vines crawling everywhere, strangling my happy Hydrangeas, covering my lovely Lavendar, and making my Honeysuckle lifeless. No tears came but I had intense pleasure in the struggle of making a change in how things looked in my yard. I wanted the demon-possessed plant eradicated, immediately!

The outward appearance of beauty reminded me of sin. It looks so good from the outside and so appealing. But as I lifted off the top layer of beauty, I saw it for what it really was underneath. There were tangles of dead vines and leaves, and new growth was tightly wrapped around everything. The stem of the Black Eyed Susan was very strong and thick, its roots were entangled in the plants I wanted it to compliment. Instead of the original design I had in mind, it was just choking the out of life of the plants around it, slowly.

As a result of keeping my distance from gardening in that area of the yard,  it looked so good from far away. I thought it was okay that it was growing a bit over all the other plants, but when I got up close - I was horrified! I couldn't believe I'd neglected my plants long enough that a very healthy Honeysuckle that was as tall as our five foot fence was completely dead. Likewise, when I ignore sin that looks tempting from far away and fall into unhealthy patterns, it seems like everything is okay as I keep my distance. But when I get up close and inspect the damage, I find that it is not fulfilling its promises, nor is it beautiful.

Living in sin is a slow process, much like having a baby. The Bible explains it this way:

James 1:15
Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.

Nothing less than completely ripping it out, roots and all, will fix it and get me back to fellowship with God and Jesus Christ. There is no middle ground with sin. Either it has us, or we are pulling it out of our garden, throwing it in the trash and are glad that the trash man is right there to take it away. The difference with sin is that Jesus Christ took our "trash," the things we did wrong, and died in our place to set us back into a right relationship with God.

A sin that I've struggled with since the beginning of this trial is the sin of control. There is a false sense of believing that I have control over my situation, in making my life go the way I want it to. This is probably why I find pleasure in cleaning up small messes, putting household items into an organized fashion and making my garden look "picture perfect." Doing these things makes me feel as though I'm in control of my life.

The truth of the matter is that God is in control. He decides when any of us die. Ryan may have Stage 4 Stomach Cancer, but that doesn't change the fact that God knows the number of the hairs on his head (even if he is bald, ha!) and has already counted the days that Ryan has on this earth. He knows Ryan's end and has known it from before Ryan was born.

Psalm 139:16

New King James Version (NKJV)
16 Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.

About a month ago, I made the decision to stop worrying about how many days Ryan has left and give up my "rights" to being in control of the future of my husband. (In the Bible that's called repentence - turning away from your sin and going the opposite direction.) If anything changes in our circumstances, like Ryan gets more sick or he is in the hospital or he is in pain, then I will take those things as they come.

In the meantime, I've decided to enjoy the visits from good friends, loving family, and well-meaning strangers who deliver meals, send cards/little gifts, and call/text "just because they are thinking of us." No one knows the "right things to say" but each of us knows how to pick up the phone and ask questions. Please just ASK - truly, there are no stupid questions! It's harder to hear the silence of our phones than to answer questions about how Ryan is doing.

Sometimes hearing about what Ryan's Cancer is doing to him is hard, but we want to talk about it. It's uncomfortable, but it's our new reality. We think about it every day, so please don't think that by bringing it up it's something we hadn't been thinking about already.

I don't enjoy seeing Ryan so sick every other week, and wish there was more I could do to help ease his suffering twice a month. I continue to pray for him, remind him of the promises in the Bible and the job God has put him here to do. Last night, I quoted him the Scripture about being able to do all things through Christ who gives each of us strength and took comfort in the words of God, myself.

There has been a sense of freedom in not being bound up in the sin of control. I have peace about our circumstances and prayerfully fight against the desire to be jealous of others who have "better" circumstances than us. God has been so gracious this past year and I'm grateful for what He's done for us. It is through this Cancer that I am closer to Him than I've ever been, and have removed some of the inhibitions I used to have in my relationship with Him. God has humbled me and I've repented repeatedly. I've learned that this is a continual process, a journey rather than magically becoming perfect overnight.

Ryan is going through the biggest trial of his life, and I am praying this over him:

Job 23:10
But He knows the way that I take; When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.

How have you been changed by the refiner when He has removed your impurities by turning up the heat? How has God pruned the sin away from your life? Share in a comment.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

v15 Cherish Your Spouse

I hesitated to hit the "send" button to call a friend of a friend, whose husband died three years ago from Cancer. I wanted to know what she did to encourage her husband while he was alive and dealing with having to live with chemo treatments on a regular basis. I am so glad I got the courage to call her because our conversation really blessed and encouraged me that I'm on the right track. She said:

-Take each day at a time
-Ask God what He wants me to do for Him each day
-Read Psalm 139 because it says all of our days are already numbered and there's nothing you can do to add to them or take them away
-Pray for my husband daily
-Pray to God for Ryan's healing
-Just sit and listen to him with empathy, even though you don't know what's happening personally
-Trust God, even though we don't know the "why" and probably won't until we're in Heaven

I've had the opportunity to speak to some other widows whom God has put in my life. One woman, who has known me since I was born, has prayed for Ryan daily and took care of her husband for years who died from Alzheimer's disease. Another widow's husband died of Pancreatic Cancer, five months after his diagnosis. Recently, a different widow reached out to help me and shared her story of taking care of her husband for 15 years while he battled Parkinson's disease. My delivery nurse when Talitha was born was a widow, whose husband died of Gallbladder Cancer about four years ago. On Facebook I also spoke briefly to a young widow who just lost her husband to Cancer early this year.

They all remind me whenever they speak to me, in one way or another: cherish my husband and the time we get to have together.

How are you grateful for your spouse? Share in a comment below.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

v15 Join the Fight on Your Knees

There is a certain point in one's illness where you can choose to fight or to give up. I think Ryan is definitely a fighter and not a quitter. But this fight is a huge battle that is tearing at his soul.

On the one hand he's fighting against all of the side effects from the chemo and the daily reality of having Stomach Cancer. His hands and feet both bug him constantly. Can you imagine feeling numbness all the time that makes you drop things and unable to walk correctly when you used to do these things just fine?

The alternative to his current state isn't so pretty, though.  I remind him about the fact that he has a daughter he needs to raise and a wife to love until we're old and crusty. God has kept him here for a reason and even though Ryan is sick, he is here to shine God's glory in his life, no matter how long God has given him.

He shouldn't have to be dealing with any of this! Yet he is here in the thick of it.

Trust and obey, God says. When the battle is the Lord's, I will trust that He knows what He is doing and obey His word. He asks me not to worry, to cast all my cares onto Him and to take one day at a time. So that is just what I am going to do. And I ask that you join me in praying for Ryan:

Pray for his emotions to be covered by God's grace. Pray for his fears about healthcare in the future to be allayed. Pray for the battle he must engage in even though he didn't sign up for this. Pray for peace in the middle of this fight for his life. Pray for guidance and direction for Ryan's future. Pray for Ryan to focus on the Lord God Almighty and not his circumstances. Pray for total healing and maintenance chemo in the meantime. Pray for the protection of our family.

Thank you & God bless you!

v15 Faith Healing

"Have faith that Ryan will be healed and he will," the blond woman said to me five minutes after we met. She prayed for Ryan's total healing within a minute of introducing herself, which made both the baby and I smile. I had been praying for a miracle and needed some encouragement, so God answered my prayer today.

I had a very interesting conversation with a woman in the Spiritual Center as I was waiting for Ryan's Chemo infusion - Round 15 to finish. She seemed to think that all I needed to believe was in the miracle of Ryan living and he would be completely restored back to normal.

"I've seen it multiple times here at City of Hope. Plus my husband is a pastor and he has seen it more often in third world countries where they don't have modern medicine and solely rely on prayer for healing," she said.

"Yes, but if it is not God's will, then it won't happen," I said. She told me to remove the "but" from my vocabulary, that it was a sign of doubt and that I just have to believe it's what God wants.

"Besides, you have just told me more than 25 people have told him he'll live - God has given you more confirmation than just three people, which is the usual number of confirmations," she said. I thought in my mind how I've often felt like Ryan will live for years in spite of what the statistics say, but do not trust feelings as facts.

We went back and forth on the point about asking for what you want and getting it. I know the Bible says this, but it only says it regarding when we pray according to God's will. For example, in John 15: 5-8:

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

 Then it led to a discussion of God's permissive versus his perfect will. She argued that the people she saw who were healed was because of their faith in God and his perfect will. Ryan and I always argue that God didn't heal every single person, but only the people He chose to heal.

When I started to speak about the cases of people with stomach Cancer and the dismal statistics, she almost rebuked me, but I stopped myself and said, "Live by faith, not by sight." She also said I reminded her of doubting Thomas, that I needed to see proof. I told her about my friend's cousin who passed away yesterday, even though she was only a year older than Ryan and had a husband and two kids she left behind. To me, that was proof that sometimes God's will is for people to go to Heaven sooner rather than later. She argued that she knew a doctor with Stage 4 Stomach Cancer who is alive and has been alive for years without chemo because of his beliefs. She obviously believes something different, but it's okay that we disagree.

I thought back to our consultation with Dr. Lim today. He always seems hesitant to answer our questions about other people who have Stomach Cancer and live long lives. In light of my conversation today, I need to "believe" we're just going to see Dr. Lim on an annual basis for a check up sometime soon, and not have the chemo anymore, that each annual CT scan will show NO CANCER. No, it's not up to me. It's up to God and what He wants to do.

The one thing that caught my attention today was the fact that she said when Jesus healed someone, He always pointed out that it was their faith that made them well. Ryan and I both firmly believe that God does the healing, and that we have our part in it, but we need to give God the glory.

I must say, if God chooses to heal Ryan and he lives for years - it would definitely give God glory!

Let's hear it. Do you believe in faith healing? Do you have a faith healing story to share? Please write it in a comment below.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Answered Prayers

"I just read about a 3 year old girl with Cancer, but she died today," I told Ryan when we were in the grocery store last night. "Why does God give kids Cancer?" he asked me. I didn't know what to say.

I have read about so many stories about people dying with Cancer, especially young children. It is disheartening and discouraging. It seems callous and cruel. I pour through the internet to find these stories not only to pray for others in our situation, but also to find survivors.

I want to find out what it takes to beat Cancer, obtain it, and win the fight.

Then I remember what that nurse at City of Hope told me. She reminded me that it's not up to us, but up to God. Ryan frequently reminds me of this, as well.

If I could go back to that conversation with Ryan in the grocery store yesterday, I'd remind him of the messages from sermons we have heard from Pastor Jack Hibbs on Sunday mornings. We must have an eternal perspective for any of this to make sense.

Over the past month I've learned about kids dying from Cancer, and see that they were diagnosed around the same time as Ryan. When I read their stories, I cry. I ache for those families because I think about how close to home it is. I wonder if I could handle their path and know that I could not. It makes me grateful that Ryan's chemo is working now, even if he has to deal with side effects that include dropping things all the time and stumbling when he walks. This makes me cry more because I am saddened by my selfishness, wanting more of the blessing that comes from my husband being alive.

This scenario reminds me of what I read in my Beth Moore Bible study about the apostle John in Acts 12. He was probably really sad when his brother James was killed for his faith. But then they took Peter to jail too, and it was probably very difficult to have to deal with the double whammy of wondering what would happen to his best friend.

The prayers for the life of John's best friend were answered the way he wanted, but his brother's life was not spared. It must have seemed so unfair to John and so troublesome.

But God had other plans for the life of John, independent of the brother he spent most of his life alongside. Much like God has other plans for the parents whose children leave the Earth at a tender age, or the wives who are left without husbands, or husbands without their wives. Would John have gone on to do all the things God wanted him to if his brother was alive? Would parents, like Lane Goodwin's parents, fight against childhood Cancer publicly or vehemently if their child never got sick and died from the disease?

Would any of us be close to God if we didn't have the suffering in our lives that rocks us to our core?

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Glass is Half Full

I am nine years into our marriage, as of yesterday, and I STILL have expectations about doing something amazing to celebrate our wedding anniversary every year. I am not sure where I got those expectations, but there is certainly a pressure that both Ryan and I feel when any important date comes up on the calendar, like our anniversary.

"Expectations are planned disappointments," someone once said. I always got mad at Ryan when he told me this when we were first married, but over time I realized the truth in that statement.

We were driving away from our house and the plan was to go to Roger's Gardens, one of my favorite nurseries. I thought about the drive to Orange County, which we used to do quite frequently and easily. But now that Ryan has Cancer, that kind of trip takes its toll on him and he gets tired. I made a decision to kill my expectations to see the ocean and the amazing store, and stay local.

Our ninth wedding anniversary was spent in Corona, which is the first time we have stayed home. One year we went to Hawaii, another time was spent in Big Bear at a friend's cabin. We also spent several anniversaries on Catalina Island.

I've always had this idea that we "had" to go somewhere special and do something amazing. But God says, "Be still and know that I am God." When I was still long enough to pray and ask God what He wanted, it was clear that I was to put my husband's needs above my own. He likes to relax, have no agenda, and do a few things for fun, so he is not stressed out by going to all these places and having to do a million things. As for me, a fun time is going to a million places, talking until dawn and splurging by forgetting about the budget.

This year was different, however. We budgeted our time and our money wisely. We ran some errands, bought some anniversary cards, and just enjoyed our time together. I was a little stressed out because I had these expectations ringing in my head, but I tried to shove them away and enjoy myself. I heard myself bickering with Ryan like we used to do when we were first married, but I stopped myself on a few occasions and melted when Ryan tenderly asked me what was wrong.

We went on our first date night out without the baby since Ryan's diagnosis and I had our little one. I waited eight long months and am already planning our second date out! It was so enjoyable, even though in the past I would have been disappointed at "only" going to dinner with Ryan.

As I was getting ready, I was complaining in my head about not having "anything" to wear. But then I remembered the dress I wore when he met me and wondered if it still fit. It did! I wanted his eyes to pop out of his head when he saw me and I got the result I was hoping for. He put on the outfit he was wearing when he met me and we had fun taking pictures with his childhood friends' parents who watched our baby for the two hours we were gone. They showered us with love and gifts before we left and we felt very blessed by them in many ways.

As we were eating dinner, I saw that Ryan had the energy for just going to dinner, and that he was pushing himself to even be out late at night with me. I thought about the fact that he could be in a hospital bed, sick. He could have just wanted to stay home. But he went out to our favorite Chinese restaurant because of the fact that he loves me and wanted to demonstrate it to me tangibly.

After years of receiving love from my selfless husband, I decided it was long overdue that I show selflessness back. It's SO hard! I love having things go my way. But God calls us to a love that "is patient, kind, does not boast, keep a record of wrongs," etc. Wow!

I have a long way to go.

But the good news is I have started down that path and still have the time to learn to travel a new road. I admire Ryan more and more each day because I see the sacrifices he makes for our family, in order to provide for us and enjoy the little things he does in order to make our lives fun. I am going to choose gratitude about the half of the glass I have, rather than complaining about what is now missing.

What was a special time you had, even though it didn't have all the hoopla? Please share in a comment below.