Joy

Merideth and I met my 3rd day at college. Her dorm room was at the end of our hallway. I mosied down the hall to meet some new friends and found myself sitting in her room chatting with her and some other girls from down the hall. Six of us sat and ended up chatting late into the night about everything from our favorite colors to what motivated us to get up in the morning. The question came around the room, “Who is your hero?” and it was Merideth’s turn to speak. Tears welled up in her eyes as she looked as us. She took a minute and then said confidently, “Jesus is my hero. He wakes me up every morning and he doesn’t have to do that. He gave me life and he gave me a new kidney when I needed it. He keeps me alive every day and I’m always thankful for that.”  I remember sitting there in awe of her answer. She was so thankful for the small details that I overlooked everyday.

Over the next year Merideth and I grew our friendship over many laughs, late night conversations, ridiculous movies, junk food, and moments of worship. We had worked out our rooming for the following year and decided to room together. That summer before sophomore year of college I went to visit Merideth and her family in Ohio a few weeks before school started. We wanted to plan who was bringing what and the details about moving. But that weekend ended up being more to me than that. That summer my dad had lost his job, had a “heart event”, and my mom and I had to move out of our apartment because she had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and had to retire. I was overwhelmed with the stress of life. Merideth welcomed me in the driveway with a huge hug.  I felt so welcomed and so Merideth gave out so much peace and joy. That weekend I laughed harder than I ever have and Merideth and I built a major foundation for our friendship.
We moved into to school so excited about the year ahead. Living together that year brought so many new challenges and MANY new memories. I could go on forever about the little memories that we shared and the big moments that stretched us and grew our friendship closer. That year of college Merideth became sick multiple times. The first was the Swine Flu…which dampened her spirit only a little bit but did a major hit to her body. She than began experiencing kidney transplant rejection. I drove Merideth to the hospital in our town because her symptoms were becoming severe. That night Merideth was rushed by ambulance home to Ohio from Marion. I was so uncertain and scared for Merideth but as she was wheeled down the hall to leave she gave me a  double ‘thumbs up’, which was our universal sign that everything was going to be “ok”. After mounds of tests and months later she returned to college to work on her nursing degree, but was dependent on dialysis. She handled the transition with such grace and perseverance! And she never complained. The machine was set up in our room and she so mightily faced that challenge every day. I was amazed at her determination to keep living full of life and joy and to not let this be a “Set back”. She continued to study and work towards her nursing degree– with intense motivation and determination everyday. She got up every morning and left for class– no matter how horrible she felt. She held on to Jesus as her strength everyday.

I close my eyes and can still smell her soft blonde hair– the smell of “Pure Grace” from Philosophy. I hear the loud cackle laugh that she occasionally let escape from the depths of her bubbly soul. Followed by the signature dance moves that she graced us all with frequently in college (typically a movement of the knees, followed by her arms in the air in different motions). But what I remember most is her unwavering JOY. There were definitely days when I knew she could barely get out of bed because she was so weak and tired, & then I’d see her from across our room. There she was getting herself ready for another day. Another day she wasn’t always excited to conquer, but she always did with confidence.
Everything about Merideth was rooted in Christ’s ability to conquer the impossible with victory. Even on the days when we sat and cried together because we weren’t sure what tomorrow would look like, she still decided to firmly trust in his glorious plan for her life. In the short life that she lived, she focused her affections on Jesus. She found pride in her faithful and loving family. She was an incredible and selfless friend.

In an essay for school Merideth wrote the following:

“The more we trust God the more we learn that he is faithful and capable of doing great and awesome things…Each time He meets our need we are strengthened in faith and ready to accept the next challenge and the “process” continues and our faith grows stronger.”

She is missed everyday– she will always be the most extravagant depiction of JOY to me. I’m letting her words settle deep in my heart today. The more we trust God– the more we learn that he is capable of awesome things…. and through her my faith has grown stronger and deeper. I’m missing her always and can’t wait to see her again. Thanks, my friend, for teaching me so much about JOY and His strength.


 

Anchored

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The days leading up to my dad passing, my dad was in and out of it. There were moments that he would open his eyes- sometimes to say “hello!” to a family member that had come to see him, sometimes to answer a question. His body was really weak and he was slowing down. Josh and I had some really amazing quality time with him during that time. We knew things were starting to decline, but weren’t sure really how bad things were.  We finally got him to a place where the pain was no longer agonizing him to the point of screaming. But it became difficult for him to stay awake for longer than a few minutes. We got him comfortable in his chair and I had the nurse come to see him. She knew by looking at him that he needed to be transferred to the inpatient facility to have the physicians help regulate him. Before the ambulance came to pick him up, I got down on my knees next to him and looked him in the eye. “Dad, you know Josh and I love you very much, right?!” His eyes opened up VERY wide and he looked at me and said, “Well, yes! Of course I do!!”  I needed to hear that so badly.

The admitting nurse approached me. I asked her to tell me exactly where my dad stood clinically because I needed to know. She said that due to some of the symptoms he was experiencing, she felt that his kidneys and liver were likely shutting down and that things tend to “move quickly” when a patient gets to where he was. Up until this point, Josh and I had feared that this process would be slow and agonizing for my dad. We came to a place of acceptance and our prayers turned into pleading for God to take him home quickly. We went into my dad’s room to see him after admission and he was still pretty lucid. Inside my heart was exploding–  I just wanted to leap onto his bed and hold him so tightly. I wanted to hear every sound that came out of his mouth, I wanted to ask him a million questions I hadn’t even thought of yet and I wanted to hold on so tight to his hand and never let it go. But I knew I needed to claim peace.

I did get my chance to hold him tightly over the last 5 days of being with him. I held his hand and talked with him a lot. I cherished every touch and every squeeze of his hand. Both Josh and I were able to have some intentional time with him and even he opened ONE eye for me and smiled while I talked to him. I told him pieces of my heart, and watched as his last tear fell from his eye. I caught it on a tissue and realized that he was never going to need tissues in Heaven.

In the hours before he passed, I had slept for a brief period and had an amazing dream. In the dream the ceiling opened in the room my dad was in. In the corner of the room golden stairs came down and slowly a man with a white robe came down the stairs. Each foot perfectly placed and timed. He walked to the end of my dad’s bed and laid himself over my dad’s body. I knew it was Jesus. He wrapped his arms around my dad’s body and lifted him up carrying him gently as a dad would his sleeping child. And then he turned and carried my dad up the stairs as the ceiling closed. My heart was so full. Full of life and yet full of grief. I knew Jesus was calling my daddy home.

Josh and I were with our Aunt and had bunkered down in the room during the rough storm that night. Unable to sleep, I got out my Bible and wrote out the lyrics to the song “It is Well with my Soul”. I felt the Holy Spirit nudging me to write out a verse:

“And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:4 

And then I was led to a verse in Psalm 27:

“Yet I am confident I will see the LORD’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living.” vs. 13

As soon as I wrote out that verse, I looked up at my dad. He looked so peaceful and so relaxed. I heard it. I heard the abrupt shift in my dad’s breathing. For 5 days he struggled for every breath and every movement pained him so greatly. And just then, His breathing seemed so relaxed and free. We got close and with 5 soft and gentle breaths, his spirit was gone.

Yet….. YET I am CONFIDENT that I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living, friends.

I wonder what He’s seeing with the new perfect vision he’s been given or how he’s running and dancing with cancer no longer destroying his bones. I can’t help but wonder just how free he feels now that he is no longer attached to a pain pump, oxygen, or the 17 medications he took daily. Oh my heart–broken in so many pieces. There are hundreds of little memories that play in my mind every day. The quirkiness of his laugh after a really stupid commercial or the way he would close his eyes and simply lay back in his chair– a nonverbal sign to Josh and I that he needs a minute as a “time out” to regroup with the Holy Spirit.

As hard as it is to be missing out on such wonderful moments with my dad, Josh and I have immense amounts of peace in this season. That peace covers me like a blanket on my worst days when Heaven feels SO far away. Shortly before my dad transitioned to Hospice, him and I were able to talk about the “distance” both in time and the physical distance between him and I when it was time for him to go Home. I’m not sure if I’ve ever felt such a deep connection to my dad as I did that day. He looked at me, tears welling up and he was biting his tongue (which meant what he was about to say was going to be brief but was going to pack a punch). He told me that “there won’t be much time between when I leave this Earth and when I see you again…it will only seem like a brief moment for me.” Here I was thinking he was going to tell me something to console ME for my sense of “loss” and he was telling me of his own loss of us not being together. My heart sank. Now, in reality, I know he knows NO sense of loss. But we are missing him so deeply.

In the eb and flow of the waves of grief- Josh and I have learned so much. We’ve learned that we can let it come and we don’t have to fear it. We’ve learned that we are anchored and that means we don’t have to fear being swept away. We are anchored and holding on to the hope that my dad so greatly exhibited throughout his life.

Below is a video slideshow that Josh and I made to honor my dad in his legacy. Thank you for all your support and love during this really tough season. The prayers that we’ve received have carried us through the last 3 years, and we are honored by the massive amount of support we have had.

 

 

[We love you, dad. Until we are reunited— we will proudly carry on your legacy.]

Update 2/8/17

snow

Big, fluffy white snowflakes are gently falling outside. They cover everything with a blanket of white, covering up the dull browns and grays of this winter season. Each snowflake intricately made with its own complex design. Not a single snowflake lands outside the boundary that it has been given by the Creator even while the winds blow the flurries in a frenzy. There is order even in chaos. There is a specific design and intricate timing for snowflakes venture from the clouds to the ground. Oh how I needed this snowfall, friends. I needed to be reminded that even the smallest details do not go unrestricted and unnoticed from the Creator. Everything has its timing and place.

We journey on next to my dad with baby steps…one day at a time. Josh and I are learning how to balance every avenue that calls for our attention, while still remaining rooted and grounded. I’m so thankful that God’s peace surpasses our understanding…especially in this season. We’ve found that our understanding is quite small.

A few weeks ago my dad had a haircut and we were able to get him out of the house. With some help, he got inside the shop and winced as he sat down in the chair. His barber started cutting my dad’s hair, not realizing he was hiding the pain he was really feeling. He’s been cutting his hair for the last 8 years and they’ve built a relationship. My dad smiled through most of the cut, but my frequent glances at him saw more pain than what he was letting on. He finally said it to Dean, “This may be my last haircut here.” We’ve battled with his limitations for a while. I’m so proud of my dad for pressing on through the adversity. But, in his words, we are “learning to accept the limits of [his] condition without giving up hope completely.” The wisest words I’ve ever heard. I’m so challenged by that- how do you allow yourself to accept that there will be mountains and challenges that come in life–without giving up hope that there will also be breakthrough at some point in the journey.

As of now, my dad has been staying home where he finds the most comfort. His comfort, he will tell you, is not found in the physical. There’s little comfort in the physical- I know it seems to stem from his deep rooted relationship with the King of Kings. Everyday my dad has found comfort in reading and studying. He finds comfort in his recliner- sitting with his feet up, his back supported, oxygen turned on and his Bible in his hand. We’ve been over everyday- bringing him meals, soaking in conversations (some deep and some just hilarious). I admire my dad. I admire how deeply he’s rooted. He has such great support. Our family is amazing and has been every bit of support for all of us. I feel like they are the pillars holding me up when I feel everything crumbling. My dad’s friends have been checking in frequently, which he appreciates. Some of sweetest friends of mine have been so intentional about asking how we are doing. We are so honored by the support we have.

The difficulty and pain come when my dad gets up and does any kind of movement. He can’t stand for very long at all. All of his bones ache and his body does not put out much energy. He’s having difficulty using his legs because of numbness and neuropathy. He’s having a difficult time with basic tasks. We are all learning what that means to have new limitations that he’s never faced before. His nurse has been helpful by walking us through each new challenge. We’ve asked her many questions about this next phase and what it means to have a caregiver coming over frequently. We’ve talked about what to expect and how to prepare. We’ve talked about the tough stuff- the details that tug on my heart strings pretty hard.

In the midst of the chaos, there are two words that I didn’t realize I needed to hear. I didn’t know how badly I needed them until they were spoken. I needed to hear my dad speaking, “I’m ready”. Words that I wouldn’t have accepted months ago, but I needed to know now how ready he really is. I know he is ready to be made whole and new. I know he is ready to be complete and healed. It’s crazy. My trust is God is solid.  But I’m learning that when a loved one you’ve cared for for so long will be leaving your presence and fully entering His, sometimes you find yourself thinking silly things like, “Who will take care of him when he is there? Will he be ok without me and will he have everything he needs?” Just silly questions that I know the truth and answers to, and I know there’s no need to worry.

We were able to watch the super bowl with my dad. A memory I will not forget. He was rooting for the Patriots- (I know, I know –the CHEATERS! Hahaha!) He told me he wanted them to win just to be different and controversial!! He watched the game and the hilarious commercials with Josh and I –dosing off in between plays and at half time he said, “there’s no way [the Patriots] are coming back from that!” The last few seconds he was watching the TV with his mouth open. At the end of the game he looked at me with a stunned look on his face and said, “HOW IN THE WORLD!? How did that happen? That was amazing!” As silly as it sounds, I think it taught us all a lesson in not giving up and for clinging to hope until the very end! It was awesome to share that memory with him. I think we wiped him out- he slept a majority of the next day.

For now we continue to trust and rest. My dad’s pain is managed with pain medications every two hours round the clock and with a pain patch that allows him a continuous dose of medication.Even when he experiences pain, I know He feels peace from Heaven every day. We talk a lot about Heaven and what it will be like. We will continue to soak in every minute we get with him as we continue to navigate through the rough days. As always, we would be honored to have your continued prayers. Thank you for your support, friends. We can’t thank you enough for your prayers.

Update 1/14

My Dad

A few weeks ago my dad was able to meet with a woman who has a background in teaching English and Literature. She offered to gather pieces of my dad’s testimony and story and wanted to try and organize a piece that would give life to his story. She asked him what his favorite verse of Scripture was and he replied with this:

“Show me the right path, O Lord; point out the road for me to follow. Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you.” Psalm 25: 4-5

I had never heard him mention it before, but he stated that he’s been clinging to the whole chapter of Psalm 25. Hearing him talk about the verses that light up his darkness, strengthened the weak places of my life. This week especially I’ve been clinging to the life and peace that comes from standing firm on that verse. The last few weeks have been predictably unpredictable…if that makes any sense.

My dad’s energy has been slowly declining. He’s battling with understanding and accepting the weakness he feels without giving up. The nurses have been answering questions as they come as to what we may expect, but we know that every story is different. This week the bone that is exposed in his mouth has reared its ugly head and has caused him a great deal of new pain. Unfortunately, my dad was on a bone strengthener when he was receiving treatment. Normal dosage for someone with osteoporosis is once a year…my dad was receiving it every 3 months. One of the biggest side effects of the medication is the decay of jaw bones (weird, I know). In the midst of his treatment my dad had to have multiple teeth removed due to the risk of infection. The lack of healthy bone may have added to the issue that he’s facing now. Anyway– basically he has exposed bone in his mouth that makes it painful to eat much.

I spent this week on the phone between his oral surgeon, the hospice agency, and our family dentist trying to find someone to take initiative and start an antibiotic for my dad. Knowing that any kind of infection in the bone takes months to heal in a healthy person, I know that antibiotics will probably not solve the issue entirely. But there is no way on earth I am going to sit here without at least trying something to ease the pain for my dad. We finally got the oral surgeon to give him some antibiotics and he started those this week. The pain in his face, ear and jaw has lowered but is still there. We’ve been slowly increasing his pain medications as necessary to keep it at a moderate level. The meds he’s on are some big guns– we can’t make too many changes without completely affecting his nervous system and his ability to use his motor skills.

Our other battle we are fighting is the problem with the lack of observation with my dad’s feet. I’ve made my concerns very clear to the agency but I fight daily the desire to switch hospice agencys. My dad is not fully ready for another transition and all the commotion that comes from it so he’s decided he wants to sit still with our choice of agency. His heels are healing, but very slowly. We do foot care and wound care every day to allow for quicker healing. But we know that my dad’s healing time is extremely slow and that his feet are likely to be a source of issue as he declines.

Last weekend my dad was feeling like he wasn’t receiving enough oxygen, likely due to his blood counts being extremely low. He started using oxygen on Saturday a.m. and felt immediate relief– a decline in anxiety, more strength, and easier resting. He has found peace in lying still with the oxygen on and his feet up.

He’s had a lot of visitors come this week. He was so appreciative for the time with friends and family but by the end of the week he was extremely thankful for rest. He’s still enjoying time reading and we’ve found him some really great books at the public library. For now we take each day one at a time and enjoy even the little moments with my dad. Each moment is precious to us, and we battle each mountain together! We ask that you continue to pray for his peace and for him while we journey into this next part of his care.

 Josh & I

Josh and I also wanted to update everyone regarding our journey with battling infertility. We’ve been focusing most of our energy on my dad but have also been individually and together working through the sludge of the battle we face. We both sought mentors to help us manage our emotions and navigate the uncharted territory we are facing. They have been amazing for us! Anyone who also battles infertility knows that each person in the marriage has to have the freedom to express their emotions individually. It’s wild how deeply infertility tugs on your heart strings. It’s no easy battle.

We’ve armed ourselves for battle with a LOT of scripture, a lot of support from friends and family and a lot of time at the throne of God praying for what is next. Yesterday we met with our fertility specialist here in town who is also our OB. She was excited to hear about our appointment in Cleveland and was supportive of both of the clinical options that they had available for us to try to get pregnant. One of the options can be attempted here locally and the physician who can do the procedure has been highly reviewed and recommended to us! The other will only be available at the Cleveland Clinic by the specialist who saw us there, but is risky and extremely expensive.

Our doctor here in town was extremely encouraging. She encouraged us to seek out what we feel the Lord is leading us towards and to take the time to be unified in a decision first. She ran bloodwork to monitor my diabetes and found that my A1C (which indicates a number that shows an average for bloodsugars) was 5.1 (anything below 6 is great) and she was so pleased! She even said I can be taken off my medication if I continue with the diet and healthy levels that I’ve had. She gave us some suggestions for supplements that help with stabilizing bloodsugar levels and helps women to prepare for pregnancy. I’ve been working so hard to ready my body for pregnancy and to take better care of myself. She also ran some blood work to check other counts to make sure that I am up to where I should be with my endocrine system. I will hear back next week about the labs, but I am happy to know that there’s success in one area!

We are praying for what is ahead. There is one option that we are leaning more towards than another and we are hoping that there will be open doors along the way, helping us to easily move toward that direction. We have full confidence in the Lord’s plan and just like that verse up there ^^^ Psalm 25– He will guide our steps and he is our hope EVERY single day! We would ask that you continue to pray for us as we focus on my dad’s journey right now in this season, but also navigate the rough seas of emotion that encompass our infertility story. We so greatly appreciate the support we have received this far, and we know that God is FOR us and not AGAINST us. We  are on solid ground, and for that I am thankful.

As always, THANK YOU for taking time to invest in us and our story and we love you deeply. ❤

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update on my dad 12/19/16

It has never been more difficult to truly know his “status” than during this season. I knew this would be the case, but it’s difficult to feel settled when you’re in the midst of it. We no longer do any sort of labs or tests to see where things are at, and we merely have pain levels and energy to go off of. After years of working in long term care, I’ve grown to recognize some of the tell-tale signs of status changes–but something happens to all that knowledge that you gain from working with patients for many years when the situation regards YOUR family member. Some days I feel like I’ve never been around someone who is battling illness –like this is all brand new territory. A strange feeling.

Anyway- We’ve had some really great days and some really horrible ones over the last 4 weeks. The beginning of December we celebrated my dad’s 67th birthday- something we rejoiced over!! Josh and I bought him an extremely sugary cake (hey, gotta live it up on your birthday!!) and some of his brothers and sisters  came to town for dinner. He got multitudes of cards from all kinds of people that have such huge selfless hearts. At first he was a little peeved that I planned the surprise mail. These days, mood swings vary everyday. But eventually on the third day of mail– I just opened all the cards and prefaced with, “Dad, these are from people who have journeyed with us through these last 2 years and they want you to feel loved.” He smiled through all of them and said, “Wow!” when I finished reading the last card.

A few days ago the pain in my dad’s knees was causing him so much discomfort that he was unable to sit still and began hyperventilating. It was awful to watch and I immediately picked up the phone to call the nurse. The doctor added a new medication to my dad’s regimen that has taken some time to adjust to, but has majorly helped reduce the pain from a “7” on the 1-10 scale to a “2”. The amount of pain medication that he was taking before the change was already pretty hefty. A few days of feeling foggy and not being able to finish sentences followed his first dose. My dad was frustrated that his brain wasn’t clear. It took time to adjust to but the new medicine is helping to manage his pain really well. I can definitely tell his mind is bogged down a bit, something we expected.

He has had some really great visits with friends and family. I always feel so encouraged to see him with company. Some friends from high  school came down to see him back in November. Our faithful family comes to visit often, and we have faithful family friends who have come by to encourage my dad. We’ve also been taking my dad out as he asks. I’m constantly fearing the evil viruses and germs that people spread everywhere with their hacking coughs and snotty nosed children. If I could, I’d go before my dad and bleach every surface before he touched it. I always carry masks in the car, but he doesn’t wear them. (The stubbornness is in the Maxson blood. 😉 )

The other day he wanted to grab a book from the library so him & I journeyed downtown. I was a little nervous about the amount of walking (the building is huge) and was hoping that the atmosphere wouldn’t overwhelm him because our library downtown can be a…different place. He did alright until we got the books he was looking for. I realized he was slowing down and his face was flushed. He frequently overheats (hot flashes big time!) in public places, but I noticed he was uncomfortable. It was the first time since he learned how to walk again that I noticed the weakness in his legs and his inability to lift them up. He told me he was having a hard time walking and lifting his feet. The neurosurgeon that did my dad’s original back surgery said that he may, again, have trouble walking due to the pressure of the cancerous mass pushing on his spine. Whatever it is, I can see this being a new challenge that we are facing while getting around.

This week we look to with a little bit of anxious anticipation as we celebrate Christmas and the miracle birth of the man who bore our sins on the cross.We are celebrating how God completely interrupts the “plans” and can bring healing peace and rest with him. This season we are all learning what it means to rest. It has been a long time since I’ve been stuck awake worrying about the “what ifs” and the “what’s nexts” but lately that has been my new normal. We have learned that laying down every emotion before the King is how we will make it through the day, and fully trusting that he will make all things work together will bring us peace.

In the next few days, we have family friends donating their time and their resources along with a friend to help gather together the words and thoughts surrounding my dad’s testimony and story. They are helping us to produce and organize a piece that will share his story in his words. I’m so excited for this opportunity to organize his greatest victories, struggles, and miraculous moments and to be able to keep it forever.

We continue to ask for prayer as we journey into the holidays and the new year. I can not believe that 2017 is just around the corner. I can still remember what it felt like to make it through 2014 and now here we are…almost 3 years later. Wow! Whatever these next few weeks look like, we are thankful for the moments we share with my dad every day and we trust that whatever is ahead will bring us to where we need to be.

Thank you for supporting us and for loving us so well, friends. Please hug your family members a little tighter this year, don’t argue over stupid stuff like the cheeseball, put your phones down, be intentional and soak in every memory you can!!

We wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!! 

 

 

 

Glimpses of Heaven

“When the night is holding on to me, God is holding on.”- John Mark McMillan

Today we are celebrating my dad’s 67th birthday!!!! This day is a day we are rejoicing in with hope and joy and there is so much to soak in. Tears are flowing as I reminisce about the vastness of God’s love and miraculous power exhibited in my dad’s 67 years. The testimony of my dad’s life and the power that comes with sharing the touches of Heaven we have seen is too powerful to leave to ourselves.

 

July 2014: Room 4023 on the oncology floor of Parkview Hospital. My dad had just had a major back surgery to release some of the pressure on his spine and nerves that was prohibiting him from walking. He had been diagnosed at this point and the future was unclear. So many unknowns and so many questions. The oncologist had come in a few times asking us to allow him to try a treatment on my dad that would give him more time and would kick the cancer out. But as I came in to check on my dad the day after surgery I noticed that he wasn’t waking up. He wasn’t opening his eyes. He wasn’t moving his limbs. My heart racing, my mind spinning I pushed the reality of the situation to the side and started praying that God would wake him out of the deep sleep he was in. Hours went by and his breathing was slowing down. His breakfast tray still sat to the side so I grabbed the spoon and tried to spoon some yogurt into his mouth…he wasn’t swallowing or responding. Tears streamed down my face as I realized that we opted for a surgery that might just take my dad to Heaven. Phone calls made, family very close, and old and new church friends in and out of his room constantly. We took shifts praying, reading to him, giving him oral care and talking to him. Each one of us sat for a moment by his side, holding on tight to his puffy hands as if to be gripping tightly to the little hope that was left.

One day a couple from my dad’s church knocked on the door and offered to pray over my dad. My mom and I joined forces with them and together prayed that God would heal him and wake him up with his LIFE and peace. (Dick and Sara together prayed with us and over us for the next few weeks and were & are a VITAL piece of our story. The tears really flow when I think about the faithfulness of God through them!)

The days went by. His kidneys were starting to shut down, his body bloated from the fluid, and his breathing had slowed dangerously down. Many people who he helped so selflessly came by and made peace. So many nights our loving family took shifts so that Josh and I could rest and shower. Tears, preparing for the worst, and the uncertainty. Doctors asked me to make the decision to stop all treatment and choose Hospice care. They asked me about  code status, something I asked others in my job but no one ever asked me for someone?! We chose as a family to wait it out and wait on God to heal my dad’s body. And then as if nothing was wrong….I got a text the night of July 4th, 2014 from my Uncle who was staying up with him. And it’s this picture right here:

My dad had opened his eyes and asked for food for the first time in 5 days. He looked at my Uncle and requested a “Chocolate shake from Culvers” at 2:00am. My aunt and uncle were stunned and did their best to find him something to eat at 2 in the morning. The nurse came in examine my dad and said that he would need to start with liquids first so she brought him some soup. Heaven. A glimpse of Heaven for me. This picture ^ just tears me up in so many amazing ways. He went from septic with a 103 degree fever and barely breathing to sipping soup and cracking jokes.

After my dad woke up he started to share with us what he saw while he was unconscious. He told us about walking next to Jesus and talking with him. I imagine my dad so badly wanted to be fully there… fully out of the pain and sickness and fully healed. He’s said that he saw angels and demons in the hospital room and he could feel them fighting for his life. Many nights I stayed up singing his favorite worship songs over him and I could feel Heaven right along with me…battling for his life.

My dad was fitted with a back brace and shortly after was discharged to a nursing facility to learn how to walk again. He was getting treatment for the cancer under the  care of the oncologist who, in our darkest moment, saw HOPE and a chance for my dad to survive.

April 2015 My dad was fully walking, gaining weight and able to get around. He was able to discharge from the nursing facility but need a place to call home that wouldn’t be too much of a hastle to take care of, and would keep him safe. We found him an apartment that was close to us and we found him furniture for him to fill his home with. Multiple people helped us get him settled. This season I remember well. We would simply PRAY and literally hours later someone would have exactly what we needed.

The following summer we were able to make SO many memories. We were able to get to the pool and get some sun. He was able help me while I babysat my nephews during the summer days. We went to the zoo, played miniature golf, and laughed ALOT. Seeing him with my nephews was a glimpse of Heaven for me. Heaven. Because I knew he may not see our children…I got to see his kindness, his gentleness and it brought me so much joy! We were able to take him downtown to enjoy Ribfest ( yes, that’s right–a festival here in town devoted to…RIBS!!) We were able to sit and listen to the bands play music downtown (his favorite thing on a Saturday). Heaven. A glimpse of Heaven.

  

October of that year  (2015) we decided to fulfill one of my dad’s wishes he had always wanted to do. He LOVES the lake and lighthouses. He also had been to Michigan a handful of times but never made it out to the end of the pier to see the lighthouse in Grand Haven up close and personal. We chose to go on the 17th… thinking the weather wouldn’t be too cold. Boy, were we surprised!! 40 degrees on Lake Michigan is like 20 degrees below zero, folks. The wind was so strong the waves were pounding into the pier and over the edge. But we were all determined to get to the end. This day was a beautiful portrait of “life” for me. The waves were splashing me in the face, drenching the pathway, and the wind was biting my face. But we kept going. After a few breaks and some hot chocolate we made it! We could see out miles on the glassy sea & he could hear the waves pounding the shore. Heaven. A glimpse of Heaven.

Last summer we got the news that my dad was facing the choice of picking a new treatment. This treatment was the last of 2 oral pill options left and he had just had the last chemotherapy available, meaning we may be facing a decline soon. One of my dad’s brothers lives at Langley Air Force Base in VA and knowing where things were setting Josh and I called my aunt and uncle and set up a time to come visit. 3 weeks later we packed the car FULL, and headed out for a 13 hr roadtrip at 5:00am. To say I was anxious about him being comfortable or even making the 13 hr trip ….was an understatement. He slept for most of the first part of the trip. And then as SOON as we hit mountains, my dad’s eyes were glued to the window. I’ll never forget Josh and I switching drivers, making it Joshua’s first time driving in the mountains. My dad took front seat, as was his fatherly duty to be there to support Josh as he manuvered through the windy turns and hills. When Josh wanted to freak out, my dad was calm and just said, “Try taking your foot off the brake and just coast.” Heaven. There it was. My glimpse of heaven. One of hundreds that trip. How much I needed to hear those words. We were in this all together as a family. Feeling like life was spinning out of control….and there was the Father calmly in the front seat. PROUD of his children and simply saying, “Try trusting. Try coasting.”

We took my dad to the beach on that trip. If you know my dad you know he LOVES all thing beach. The sand, the seagulls, the wind, the sun, the boats. We sat with our toes in the sand as the waves splashed on the beach. My uncle and him talked about naval ships and ports. My husband and I decided to go for a swim in the cold water and my dad sat on the beach under his umbrella and watched. As we laughed and splashed around in the waves I looked up to see my dad and family still watching, still laughing as my bright orange shorts that I bought for a makeshift bathing suit shone through the water! Heaven. A glimpse of Heaven. My dad on the beach watching over Josh and I as we faced the waves together. Enjoying the journey.

 

Today and every day we celebrate the moments we get to be with my dad. We celebrate ALL the victories he has had in his life. And all the ways God has been faithful. We soak in the memories we have with him. But we also reflect on the glimpses of Heaven that have pushed us through the difficult days and into the glorious ones. Happy birthday, Daddy!

 

White knuckle hope

“Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping–believing that he would become the father of many nations…Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God.” Romans 4: 18,19

One of our challenges this season has been to continue to cling to HOPE in our desolation. So much of what we’ve faced with my dad lately has given us peace, but the technicality of where we are at in our journey quickly threatens to bring despair. It is not at all simple and certainly not easy. We have struggled to see hope both in my dad’s battle and in the waiting for our babies. Our hearts ache everyday to see my dad’s body renewed and healed and to hold our babies in our arms. The fight to stay hopeful is so deep. It runs deeper than the flesh, my friends. For me hope means clinging so tightly to a belief that something will be, even when it currently isn’t– no matter how crazy it may seem. I mean REALLY clinging. Like the serious “white-knuckle” type clinging. It is the kind of clinging that makes your hands ache and makes your knuckles white with the tension of your grasp.

Lately we’ve really been challenged by Abraham as he displayed such faith and believed that God will do what he said he would do. He clung to the promise and he never wavered in believing. (I picture him with white knuckles, too!!)  He stayed the course. He kept his eyes on the One who gave the promise, and not the task of getting to it.

Josh and I have so much we are hoping for. Our promises are so important to us and they are bigger than I ever thought. I often feel like I don’t have “enough” hope to sustain a belief that the promises we seek after will be fulfilled. But…I constantly find peace in knowing that our promises are held in huge steady hands, they are intricately planned out for OUR BEST BLESSING, and they will be presented at just the right time.

It has taken me 2 years to get to this point, but I’m realizing so much. There is a bigger picture in this journey with my dad, in the journey of waiting for our babies, in the journey of grieving. It’s a MUCH bigger picture than what my eyes can take in. Every day I see glimpses of the magnificence and I’m amazed. Josh and I desire to stand confidently on the truth rooted in Scripture about who God is. But when you battle on the front lines for so long, one of the biggest internal battles becomes steadily believing that God is who he said he is. We often feel as though we’ve been tossed in the waves a bit. But Hope is our anchor and steadys our course.

So often I find myself drowning in irrational, untrue fear that our promises won’t come. I let it literally suck the life out of me. My focus then becomes how big our challenges have become, instead of the actual truth that my God is enormous, sovereign & in control. I have grown to learn that He is certainly a promise keeper and extremely faithful. Even in our immense pain during this season of longing for our children and for my dad’s healing, we have found that He is trustworthy and His plan is perfect.

I know that we are not the only ones who are dealing with planting deep roots in Hope. We personally know many who are deeply hoping for such BIG things and seeking after their own miracles. For some it means bodily healing from illness that have plagued them for so long, or for some they have planted deep roots while hoping to add to their families through adoption or pregnancy. Some of our friends are desperately hoping to see revival and unity in their family, or healing from powerful addictions. Some of them are holding out for financial miracles or fighting until they see healing in their marriages.

Friends I just want to say whatever you are hoping for and holding out for–KEEP hoping!!! Do not stop. Do not give up!!

The promises that have been given to you are on their way.

You may feel like you’re fighting for something that will never come, but it WILL come at just the right time. Whatever you are facing today I pray that you face your challenges with EXPECTANCY and a renewed hope. Nothing you ask for is too big, nothing is too small, nothing you ask for is out of His reach. We are believing with you for big things & white knuckle clinging to our hope ALL the way until we see our promises fulfilled. Love you, friends.

Update on my Dad 10/30/16

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Over the last few days we’ve had to rely heavily on the hospice staff. Last Saturday my dad’s pain completely got out of control. He definitely pushed his limits on how far and long he could try and be active.  We thought he may have “over done it”. But Saturday night my dad’s pain increased so much that he could not sit still and he could barely breathe. I’ve got to be honest and say, one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced is watching someone agonized in pain that can’t be controlled. I’ve seen a lot of suffering in my lifetime…and watching my dad struggle to sit still and breathe normally because of the bone pain has completely broken me.

We spent time on the phone with the hospice agency off and on and the nurse decided to come by. She called the physician and the doctor made a dosage change in his medication. The amount of increase did nothing for the first 45 minutes and to say I was uneasy about it is a major understatement. They sent an increased med script to the pharmacy and when I got there to pick it up, they hadn’t even started to fill it. I looked at the staff member at the counter with the fear of God in my eyes and told her, “He’s a hospice patient suffering from cancer in his bone and he needs this now. We don’t have time, it needs done now.”… She stumbled about  and responded, “I’ll do it right now, ma’am.”

The increase of frequency and dosage pushed my dad into a fog. He would slip away during conversation and his sentences were not getting finished. We knew that was to be expected, but it happened so quickly. I had to gather my thoughts. There’s power in this decision to up his medication–it gave him freedom from pain, but I was not ready to say goodbye to the lucid moments with my dad. Josh and I stayed at his apartment with him a few nights to make sure he was getting his medication round the clock. Every 2 hours he needed pain meds and he was having a difficult time remembering when he took them.

A few days of not remembering things and frequently asking questions went by. The pain now at a “0” only when he wasn’t moving but still at a “5” if he moved at all. We spoke with the nurse about the possibility of tiny fractures happening in his bone due to the cancer spreading. We were aware that this point would come, but you can never be fully prepared for the changes that come with terminal illness. Even though I’ve worked in long term care and hospice for over 4 years, I still feel like this is all new. I’m guessing because it’s so personal to us this time around.

It’s been so hard to transition from the deep trust we had in the oncologist and his staff to learning to place our trust in our hospice team. It’s a slow process, but it’s getting there. The Dr. wanted to make some more critical changes to find a med that is little longer acting. She wanted him to get more than 2 hours of sleep at a time. The suggestion was a medication that my dad was not fond of… at all. My dad’s spent 30 years helping people get free from the chains of addiction. He’s done so much for this community as well as the surrounding areas. His energy was spent helping people break addictions to pain medication.. And now to be relying on medication to keep himself comfortable has been so difficult.

As we’ve journeyed through the reality of what is ahead, my dad and I have had some very intimate and deep conversations. We’ve talked ALOT about what Heaven will be like. Everything from the sights and sounds to his role in the House of God. He’s talked with me about how he can’t wait to ask the Lord certain things….or how he can’t wait to see the rhythm of Heaven in action. We refer to Heaven as “home”. We’ve talked about what he has already seen while he visited in Heaven in past events in his life. We’ve talked about how he wants to continue learning, even in his perfected body. We’ve talked about Josh and I’s future children and how we know they are coming at just the right time. We’ve had such sweet moments in the last few months. Moments I replay in my head on the difficult days.

Thursday a representative from the funeral home came and we talked about all the details that have been looming over me for the last 2 years. The plans are complete and are as my dad wishes. To be able to experience finishing touches WITH my dad was a complete blessing. There was so much peace. So calm.

Friday the nurse came and we made some adjustments to his medications. The difference in his clarity and ability to think has been amazing. His pain is controlled for now, and he can sit and lay comfortably at home. He’s been resting on and off and enjoys keeping up up on the World Series stats. (He’s rooting for the Cubbies!!) We continue to make as many memories as we can. For now, we soak in all the conversations and the laughs. My dad’s increase in clarity allowed Josh and I to stay at home this weekend. He has voiced his desire for alone time, so we want to make sure he gets that. I’m sure processing everything is difficult, not to mention having the high amount of medications he is on fogging up his brain.

For now, we soak in every moment we have and we enjoy cracking our inside jokes. We deal with the grouchy days with ALOT of prayer and grace. We focus on the NOW and we know that the Lord will lead him into his glorious destiny in a glorious home.

We would like give a HUGE thanks to all of you who have been praying with us, who faithfully stand with us. To: the family who listens to my tear soaked conversations and speak hope and comfort to us when the days get long, the family who drive hours just to be with us and support us, the family that holds us when we fall apart, the family who listen to me rant on our bad days, the friends who have brought us meals, bought us special gifts, and who have texted me and called me to check in on us, the church family who has prayed over my dad and has been available for us 24/7— The support we have felt has left me in tears and it is what keeps us going strong. Caring for a parent is such a unique bittersweet blessing. We are honored to be placed as my dad’s caregivers and we will continue to walk with him until his homecoming.

Please continue to pray for peace and freedom from the pain. We are continuing to trust in our Great God but also in the gift of modern medicine and the expertise of our team.

Thanks for investing in us, friends. We hold it dear to our hearts and we feel your love.

What Hope Looks Like

A little over a month ago Bre and I began a drive towards a city that we have never been to together. We left early in the morning, carefully planning out our day knowing it would be one full of emotions and answers and in some ways uncharted waters. As we progressed through the drive we were able to think clearly about what it was we were actually going to be doing that day. September 12, we drove to the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio to seek out guidance from a doctor who is one of the best, if not the best, in his field.

We arrived into the city of Cleveland unsure about the path that the GPS was taking us. Subsequently I questioned my navigation skills as we tried to find the clinic. We drove past street after street of desolate and broken down buildings and businesses. I couldn’t help but feel the urge to just get through to where we needed to go and find the parking garage. As we got closer to the hospital the surroundings seemed a little less scary and more hopeful. We noticed the high rising buildings, busy sidewalks full of doctors and patients, and the skyways that allowed for inter-building connectivity. We found the parking garage and made our way to the skyway.

It was at this point that nervousness started setting in. What were we getting ourselves into. We have already been told that it’s going to be nearly impossible for Bre and I to have kids, what would be the use of going to another doctor to hear another saddening theory/diagnosis. But in those moments, my lovely wife reminded me that there was nothing to fear when the Lord has led us to this place to seek out help of the best doctor in the country. She was right. There was no reason to fear. We knew we were taking a risk. We knew it was going to be hard but we felt like it was a step that needed to be taken.

So we did.

We found our way to the building where my doctor practices and got registered with the reception desk. We walked upstairs to the waiting room and took a seat. My heart was racing as I counted down the minutes until I would hear my name called and Bre and I would be able to go back into a room. After what seemed like hours (which in actuality was about 20 mins) we were called back into a small, dimly lit room. Whatever peace I had up until that point I quickly disregarded as I took in my surroundings and let them overwhelm me. Another mistake. I let the feeling of fear, fear of the unknown, the unforseen, rise up within me again until the moment the doctor came in.

I wasn’t ready for what I was about to hear from the doctor. After a physical examination and an explanation of my medical background, the doctor began to assess where he thought the problem might lie in my body with regards to our fertility. He explained that chemotherapy damages stem cells as it works to combat disease. Thus causing my body to struggle in regenerating healthy cells. He spoke with such kindness, something we had not experienced with other doctors in the months previous to this appointment. It was a refreshing change of pace. I felt like there was hope rising within me and that I could trust the direction that was being suggested. The doctor explained that there were two main options: One is an exploratory procedure to see the extent of the damage from chemotherapy and radiation, with the hope that the damage isn’t as extensive as the doctors may think. They could use what they find to help us get pregnant. The other involves procedures that include Bre’s body and helping us to conceive. Both come with challenges including being highly expensive and no guarantee of success.

The mix of emotions that came from hearing what the doctor said took several days to process, to digest, to feel okay with despite the hurt we have held onto up until this point. After mulling over the options in the middle of Red Robin as Bre and I talked about what we heard, we realized something: We have options.

Before this appointment we were told there were no options. Now we not only had an option but we had more than one option to consider. We went from feeling like we were on a rough, dark road to coming closer and closer to seeing a promise come to pass. It by no means was an easy step to take that day, but the value of taking the risk far outweighs the alternative of staying in a place that lacked hope and contained no answers/options. It took having to go down a path that seemed like there was desolation, like there wasn’t much to look forward to in order to find the next piece of the puzzle.

Ever since that day I’ve felt like a weight has been lifted off of us. We don’t have everything figured out. The options set before us are still going to take some smoothing out of details. But we are thankful for the Lord leading us through this part of the journey the way He did. We are finding our Joy in the process. We are looking forward to a reality that seems more possible and realistic than ever before. So whatever it looks like from here on out, we know that His path is always leading us to a better place than what we may see or understand in the moment.

So for now, the journey will carry on.

“Never again will you be called ‘The Forsaken City’ or ‘The Desolate Land.’ Your new name will be ‘Hephzibah’ or ‘The City of God’s Delight’ and ‘The Bride of God’,  for the Lord delights in you and will claim you as his bride.” Isaiah 62:4

 

Cranes & New Seasons

IMG_20160902_094610Peering out the window from this little transfusion room we have a clear & exciting view of the new cancer center that Parkview Hospital is building. Right now, to me, it looks like mere random pieces of rusty metal being fused together. A giant crane swings back and forth to different sides of the structure, carefully picking up giant pieces of metal and meticulously placing them where they need to go. One man in a tiny box controls the movement of that enormous metal machine. One wrong move would be all it would take to do major damage.

My eyes have been glued to the window, and I was amazed at the precision when a voice inside spoke to me:  “The articulate knowledge of the whole picture is how these men can build such a beautiful structure. Just as I am intricately building such a beautiful foundation of faith from these days of small stages and steps that don’t make sense by themselves.”

That’s a good word. It pulls at my heart and eases my worry about the next few steps we have to take for my dad’s care. This transfusion is a result of my dad’s blood counts dropping too low for him to qualify for the last available treatment the physicians have to fight my dad’s disease. His oncologist is hopeful that this “boost” will push him through being able to start the Radium 223 injections to the bone.

We’ve also been told to prepare for the possibility that this treatment won’t work out. The side effects can be pretty harsh on the body, & the symptoms my dad is already experiencing have come on pretty strong. My dad has turned down the choice to try a more toxic chemotherapy and has decided that if this treatment is out of the question, he wants to talk about going onto Hospice care.

Naturally, my instinct is to to be offended by that option and to want to take more time (as if it will bring another option from somewhere) to think about it. But talking with my dad in private after the appointment, he told me that he is miserable and his inner strength is diminishing. He vocalized that he is ready, if and when that decision needs to be made. I can see it in his eyes. He is tired.

Just as the month of September upbruptly came on to the scene, I felt an abrupt shift this week from one season to the next. Josh, my dad, and I have, as a family, talked in spurts about my dad’s transition to Home in the Lord’s arms. Over my life time, my dad’s been to Heaven literally 3 seperate times when to his body was fading out and has been sent back to this world every time. I’m not going to pretend like I know how my dad is feeling, because I don’t. But I do know that he’s tried to describe the Heaven he saw, and fails to finds words big enough or good enough. I know he has frequently referenced the glimpses he had of Heaven over the last 2 years of treatment. It is a hope and peace for him that no one can take away.

We will know more about this next season next week. We meet with both physicians to consult about the possibility of treatment and will decide what’s best for my dad from there. We have peace and hope because we know that the bigger picture includes victory for my dad. These bumps along the way are just like the crane that grabs hold of pieces of metal to build the skeleton of a grandiose creation. We can rest assured that there is no piece missing & no piece misplaced. It is all in His intricate plan and timing.  Thanks for all your love and support along the way, friends. We are honored to have your love and prayers.