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Are you a “courage club” member?

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It’s nearly the one year anniversary of my sister-in-love’s homegoing! At this time last year she was in the hospital dying — I didn’t know she was dying at the time.)

I was watching her little ones for the week, ages 4 and 7. Then the call came. The shock. Only 48 hours to live! With babies in tow, we hightailed it to the hospital.

During my last visit at home with Jess she had mentioned her friend’s book launch, The Courage Club. She wished she had written about  her own cancer journey and the lessons learned along the way. I could hear the regret in her voice.

Don’t worry, sis! We haven’t forgotten you or the courage God gave you in your brief 33 years of life. This post is for you! We all need a share of your courage for this journey. Like Elisha prayed, I want a double portion of your spirit.

As one of her caregivers, I had a front row view. What I witnessed was extraordinary faith! She knew how to “be strong and of good courage”.  Bear with me. I want to share some of the nitty-gritty.

I’m hoping to leave a few of  her footprints in writing.  Footprints this big from a tiny person are hard to follow.

Courage club members put on their big-girl panties and do hard things!

You don’t ask for big things from God and sit on your duff. Labeled stage 4 cancer after her double mastectomy, Jess asked for healing. Then she rolled up her sleeves and went to work. Her diet changed from processed foods to organic, gluten-free foods that often tasted and smelled very strange. Never mind the green smoothies!

Next, she learned how to swallow pills. Couldn’t handle vitamins before, but she did it! She joked and choked. Score!

Add the needles, IVs, the nausea, the hormone changes, the loss of hair, lack of sleep, and unremitting pain, at times.

Courage club members make a path for joy in suffering.

Oh, my! The things we laughed about! The bodily fluids and functions we discussed!

The memories she made with her family are precious! We begged her to slow down. Never mind that. Spending time with those she loved was top priority.

When she was feeling rotten, she planned happy outings for her kids. I got to execute  some of those! Quiet house for her, happy day for the littles.

My girl will never forget her Aunt Jess and wearing fake mustaches and fedoras together.

True to her last wishes, those she loved had a final party together with her in a hospital waiting room. Despite terrible pain, she looked around and positively beamed at those she loved.  That was, hmmm, maybe forty of us? For a hospital it was a BIG party.

Courage club members care about others even in the middle of their own suffering.

Her phone was always filled with messages. Other cancer patients were continually calling her. They knew she would find time and an encouraging word to give them

Then there was Beau. Early twenties with end stage cancer. At this point most of his friends had disappeared. Not Jess. With help, she planned his final birthday party at the hospital. It was the last birthday she planned.

She excitedly told me how she had told more people about Jesus in her last year, all because of “blessed cancer” as she nicknamed it.

Courage club members never give up hope!

Hope spurred her on for four years of stage 4 aggressive cancer. She never made it to the last specialist she planned to see. Her liver failed. But her hope hadn’t.

She admitted to me after Beau died that she was scared. It was the only time I ever heard her say that. It was probably her realization that her own brave fight was almost over, though neither of us could bear to admit it at the time.

Her motto was, With God, nothing is impossible.  We shared a love for Michael Hyatt’s Living Forward. She was smiling at the future, just like the Proverbs 31 woman.

I wrote the following post in the middle of this four year cancer fight.

Week 9: Five Ways To Keep Up Your Courage, Dear Heart!

I really had no idea how MUCH I would need to keep up my own courage.

You see, at the same time Jess was dying, my own chronically ill husband was diagnosed with cancer.

Turned out to be stage 3. We’re facing a second surgery soon.

Unfortunately much of our fight this year has been with a broken medical system on top of fighting cancer and chronic pain.

It has been stressful, horrendous, and courage-sucking. We’ve felt like cogs in a broken gear system. We’ve even been shamed for courageously bucking the system and fighting for compassionate, prompt care.

A few caring docs along the way have brightened our path. We’re SO grateful for those. They are bright spots of compassion. Compassion is often sorely lacking in the medical field.

Compassion ought to be the number one requirement for every tech, office worker, nurse assistant, doctor, and nurse.

Courage club members learn compassion for the suffering.

Jesus showed compassion all along his earthly journey. He came to “show us the Father.” He touched the hurting that many despised.

He demonstrated ultimate compassion in laying down His life as the sin-sacrifice.

His courage spurred Him on to the cross. “Who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the Father.”

Are you a part of the Courage Club? Let’s lift each other up in prayer this week,  and keep up your courage, Dear Heart!

Sis, thanks for giving me such big footprints to follow. You continue to inspire me, and your legacy of love and compassion fuels my fire to keep loving and living forward. Till I see you again…

 

 

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Store up comfort…

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That’s what I like to think my blog is: a store house of comfort.

A place that is real.

Caregiving wives have their hands full in a different sort of way. You and I need to feel we are not alone.

This week I received a lovely little surprise in the mail. A lady in our church mailed a new devotional to me. Her gift will go on my upcoming post “ways to help your hurting friend” list.  So I’ve been taking time to rest, refresh, and read for my soul’s sake today.

Otherwise, this coming week is so busy, so stressful that I could just quit. Quit. Right. Now.

Ever had one of those weeks? Where does a caregiving wife go to hand in her resignation? Especially when the weeks and months ahead look just as intense!

Time for a focus reboot.

Time to quit for one day. One beautiful day in seven exists in which God Himself chose to rest from His creation labors. Time to sit and cry and read and pray in my chair in a quiet house (for the moment). So let me share from my beautiful devotional today, okay?

January 11…”Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. (Isaiah 40:1)

“Store up comfort. This was the prophet Isaiah’s mission.

The world is full of hurting and comfortless hearts.

But before you will be competent for this lofty ministry, you must be trained.

And your training is extremely costly, for to make it complete, you too must endure the same afflictions that are wringing countless hearts of tears and blood.

Consequently your own life becomes the hospital ward where you are taught the divine art of comfort.

You will be wounded so that in the binding up of your wounds by the Great Physician, you may learn how to render first aid to the wounded everywhere.

Do you wonder why you are having to experience some great sorrow?

Over the next ten years you will find many others afflicted in the same way. You will tell them how you suffered and how you were comforted.

As the story unfolds, God will apply the anesthetic He once used on you to them.

Then in the eager look followed by the gleam of hope that chases the shadow of despair from the soul, you will know why you were afflicted.

And you will bless God for the discipline that filled your life with such a treasure of experience and helpfulness. (No author given, just says selected.)”

This sweet comfort reads like a sermon on II Corinthians 1:3-6

“Blessed be the God even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

the Father of mercies,

and the God of all comfort;

Who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble by the comfort which we ourselves are comforted of God.

For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so also our consolation abounds by Christ.

And whether we be afflicted it is for your consolation and salvation,

which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer:

or whether we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.”

Praying you, too, will find comfort and strength for this coming week, dear sisters.

 

 

To lighten your darkness…

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How dark is your night? What wakes you up with tear-drenched eyes? What throbbing ache lies in your soul that you cannot heal?

I’ll share just a bit of mine. This weekend.

We packed up four walls of beautiful and heart-rending memories.

Too soon.

Just like the beautiful soul that lived there — beloved, beautiful wife, sweet mommy of littles, kindest sister, best friend to many.

Aged thirty-three.

Four walls of heart-rending pain. Cancer, you evil monster from the pit!

Four walls of sparkling, soul-tickling laughter.

Four walls of caring and generosity.

Four walls of faithful, priceless love.

When you lose love like that, it’s like losing the Hope Diamond.

This packing was a ritual I needed to be part of. Four-plus years of traveling back and forth to this place, this crucible of suffering and beauty. These people I love so dearly.

It’s a tiny place in the city.

My sis went home to her Father in heaven, the only Father she ever really knew, while her husband, my brother, was remodeling her dream home in the country.

She made him promise to finish it. Soon.

She wanted her husband and babies to have that happy place in the country.

Away from the harsh city lights and sounds. The scream of sirens and tormented souls.

Away from the careless neighbors whose throbbing music kept her awake when her body needed rest to heal.

On those sleepless nights she would organize. Make things better for her family. Plan surprises. A light in the darkness! Her light was a small, lovely reflection of the LIGHT of the world.

Jesus says, I am the Light of the world. He who follows me will not walk in darkness, but have the Light of life.

This is why I get up in the morning.

Even though the darkness of grief. Even with the downward spiral of my husband’s health.

When I grope for hope in the darkness, Jesus lights my path.

I’m not hiding from His light.

But how do I manage to see it through the thick darkness? I open His Word, and His light always finds me.

My daughter and I have a nightly ritual. I read to her. God’s Word shines at the end of the day.

My goal is to shine the Light in her life as she learns the darkness of this world.

It’s out to suck her under. To teach her lies. To tangle her feet in its’ hopeless web.

I want her to recognize darkness for what it is — a plot of the Father of Lies to take her to his cruel, eternal, dark kingdom of unquenchable torments.

You don’t want any part of that darkness. I don’t.

If it’s too hard to even lift your head to the Light at this moment, keep reading. Please!

Let’s talk. This life of suffering was never meant to be a solo journey.

There are parts of your journey through darkness I may never understand.

But the One who made you knows you perfectly!

He wanted you to read these words about Him today. As God become flesh, He can fathom the depths of your pain like no other living creature can. Isaiah 53 says He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.

I will pray for you if you post in the comments below.

My prayers will be like a tiny, flickering candle in a huge cavern.  Still, the Father knows your name and will hear the cries of this little candle.

Let the Light of the world shine in your soul.

John 8:12English Standard Version (ESV)

I Am the Light of the World
12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

His mercies and compassions will amaze you and the darkness will begin to fade. Please let me pray. Post below to let me know you want prayer.

Chronic invisible illness — but you look SO good.

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My hubby had a splitting migraine for most of the week. 

He got out of the house a couple of times but for only a short jaunt. Yesterday he took all of the pain meds he could so that he could walk a few doors down the block to hear some live music.

Twice in a thirty minute time he was told how good he looked by two friends that have some small awareness of his health issues.

I really think they meant it kindly. I do. But some don’t.

They say it in a tone of disbelief. You can almost hear the thoughts tumbling around in their heads. Sometimes small remarks tumble out of their mouths, too.

Oh, you must be pulling my leg about your health issues. You’re not so bad off. Why aren’t you working, again?

 My sis in love got some similar remarks and responses. (No one really expects a stage four cancer victim to hold down a job. That’s a relief!) She was such a fighter and an upbeat person. She made a huge effort to leave the house looking good.

In fact, for most of the four years she fought stage four cancer, you would have to be around her for awhile to catch on. The joy of the LORD truly was her strength.

Being on her care team gave me an inside glance of the true nature of living with cancer in your bones. At home you tend to let your hair down, so to speak.

I saw her sit and groan softly many times through unbearable pain. Gratefully accepting a cup of tea she could barely stomach, though she wanted it so badly. Many barely touched plates of food…

For many years I have regularly seen my hubby struggle to make it out of bed for a few hours at a time. He consistently naps every day after laying in bed until late in the morning. His bones hurt every day, too.

He can look good and still struggle with a boatload of pain.

Looks can be deceiving in so many ways. Tell folks how you feel, and you’re a whiner. Put on your game face, and you’re not as ill as you’re  reported to be.

It’s an odd conundrum that many chronically ill people face and their spouses, too.

Understandably, you feel on the defensive at some of the pointed or careless remarks that get shot your way. I know I do.

I sat and listened as my sis almost cried about several folks asking her when she was due. And, are you excited about the baby?

In fact, she had already lost her ovaries to cancer. Her liver was so swollen she looked like she was starting her second trimester. But she loved her two babies like there was no tomorrow.

How do you deal with these unwitting arrows that people shoot at you?

“HE is my defense. I shall not be moved.”

I have listened to Marty Goetz’ CD, “HE Is My Defense” dozens of times in the past few months. The Scripture set to music heals the wounds. Jesus is the “horn of my salvation”. That horn can either call for help or push its point in my defense.

I need a Defender! I need a Refuge. I need the solid Rock to stand on.

Truth. I, too, have inflicted needless wounds with my tongue. If we live long enough, we all fall short in this area. Greatest. News. Ever. His wounds have paid my ransom.

Forgiveness. I need to extend grace and forgiveness to those who act like we have leprosy because of the chronic illness in our family. Or those who carelessly speak. Why? His Word is ultra clear. If I don’t forgive, it is clear I have not been forgiven. Those who forgive the most love the most like Jesus.

Understand that some folks will never “get” chronic illness. Forgive. Rest in His defending love. What are some ways you respond? How does invisible illness challenge your family?

 

Small and broken, vast and mighty

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photo credit: Danielkordan.com

At least we got to say goodbye. The final goodbye some do not get. So hard. So sweet in the sense of, I’ll see you again, dear lover of Jesus….Dear sister-in-love, loving wife to my brother, joyful momma to my niece and nephew.

Like Job now, we sit in our dust heaps and seek healing for our wounds. So very small and such broken people we are!  And, once again, nothing has changed since Job’s millennia. A few offer real comfort.

Others pass by or avoid our ash heap and say nothing. A common problem faced by those with chronic illness — lonely on their ash heaps, or worse, fending off word-arrows of accusations. Who really wants to visit the cancer wards? Or the sickbed?

The words leap off the pages of Job like they were written only yesterday.

“He alone has spread out the heavens and marches on the waves of the sea. HE made all the stars — the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the constellations of the southern sky. He does great things too marvelous to understand. He performs countless miracles…if He snatches someone in death, who can stop Him? Who dares to ask, What are you doing?” Job 9:8-10, 12

When you know someone you love is dying, the whole world comes alive in vibrant technicolor. You can almost taste the moments.

The sunset on July 26 was beyond amazing here. I could see the edges of His majesty, and almost peer through the clouds to ask, Please don’t let her suffer anymore. Please take her home. She cannot even communicate to us anymore if she needs more pain meds.

Some days your chronically ill friend or spouse may say these words. Please just take me home, God. Life hangs by threads of pain. And we dare to ask, What are you doing?

Such a question God never answers. He speaks to Job on his ash heap.  He tells him to look up. To look around. To recall the day of creation.

Some answers are so vast that our finite minds cannot hold the infinite realities.

Like a pebble tossed into a vast, still lake, my sister’s life touched hundreds of people with the ripples of her life, breast cancer journey, and faithful death trusting His plan. Your life matters! Who knows how your story may inspire and encourage another?

We cannot possibly understand how our light ( but very painful and terrible in the moment) afflictions are working an eternal weight of glory, only for those who are lovers of Jesus, God’s only beloved Son. Fellow ash-heap sitters, sit, mourn, and share my comfort. Look at that sky and wonder!

 

 

When time stands still…

Now, more than ever, I am looking forward to the Day when time is no longer. One day is with the LORD as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

My sis-in-love battled stage 4 breast cancer for over four years with faith, hope, and love. Her presence in this life was a joy to all who knew her. People streamed into Hopkins at an exhausting pace to see her one more time during her last five days of life. At 33 she leaves behind her husband and two children aged 7 and under.

I’ ve been a double caregiver for these years. It is truly more blessed to give than to receive. I will share more later, but I wanted to let you know, dear sisters, that you are not forgotten. More enCOURAGEment to come. Please pray for our hearts to learn wisdom from our sorrow. To be more like Jesus — that is what Jess would want for those she left behind.

Sanity in an insanely awful time…

When your eleven-year old daughter dramatically states that this was the worst year of her life, your heart turns over and your ears tune in. Why?” You gently pry as all good mommas should. The words come tumbling out. You listen and pray you can respond in a way that will reach to the bottom of her soul. You find your thoughts echoing her pain.  How to encourage this child on the brink of such a challenging life in a troubled world?

The news of this year has shattered her innocence. Paris, the beautiful city she admires from afar, Planned Parenthood selling baby body parts when her biggest wish has always been another living, breathing sibling, and much closer to home, her beloved young aunt fighting stage four cancer, papa’s constant battle with chronic pain and illness, and the death of her far-away great grandfather whom she had a great wish to meet.

“But I’ve had a lot of fun times, too, Momma.”  I breathe an inward sigh of relief. In a desperately awful year, I have striven to find a path for joy, gratitude, and the wonder of being alive to enjoy God’s creation and the air He grants us to breathe. Maybe all is not lost. All those moments of saying, well, the car may be broken, but look how God has provided rides to where we need to go. Or, God cares for your aunt and hears the cry of the humble. Finally, King Jesus will fix this broken world in a way we can’t even imagine. I could hear the hope in her voice as she remembered the blessings. 

Thanking God for our blessings and remembering His promises of future justice has kept me sane in an insanely awful time in our lives and in the history of our nation. To remind you of our future hope:

“There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD. His delight is in the fear of the LORD, and He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, nor decide by the hearing of His ears; but with righteousness He shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins, and faithfulness the belt of His waist. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. Isaiah 11:1-6….. Even so, come quickly, LORD Jesus!…