Beauty in a new season

A new season is here. Autumn- It is a beautiful season every year. The season where the beauty of death is exhibited in vibrant colors. The harvest becomes ready and the fields are picked. The trees explode with brilliancy almost over night. In their season of change, the trees somehow still illustrate beauty and extravagance.  This is a season where old life passes on and this allows new life to begin to burst forth. The old is going so that that the new can come; yet, the deep roots still remain, anchoring nature to the ground. 
I believe that seasons in our lives are not abruptly planned by God. He has intricately planned our seasons of life, the changing of tides in our souls. He already has stones of victory ready for us to use to be victorious over giants that we dont even know about yet. 
Our season of grief has been a welcomed guest. We have learned to nurture and “baby” the wounds that ache so deeply. Self care is the best care!  We let grief stay as long as it needs to be present. We fully embrace it, fully feel it. There’s no running from it in this house. But we also choose to look deeper than just the surface- because we know that blessing is reaped from a season sown in tears.

Internally my “fall season” began about a year ago. A year ago today, my grandmother (my dad’s mom) passed into Jesus’ open arms after a heart breaking 10 days of decline due to a massive stroke. Twenty minutes before she died, my dad and I were having a consultation in the hospital about being admitted to hospice care. I was actually in his hospital room on the inpatient oncology unit when I got the news that she was gone. It was a horrible time for our entire family. My grandmother was a woman who always had an open door, a hot meal, some sweet treats, lots of laughs, and extra sass! She was amazing. As terrible as it was that my Grandma Maxson was no longer here with us, the event of her going Home birthed a stronger bond between my dad and I. Her death  created a loss in his life. Both of his parents were gone. After learning my dad had less than six months to live and hospice would take over his care, I found that same sting of loss in my heart too.

The most profound memory I have with my dad was sitting next to him at my grandmother’s funeral, gazing forward at her…. both of us caught up in processing the moment. I leaned over and put my head on his shoulder. My daddy was holding me in my loss as tears streamed down my face, down his suit jacket, and onto the floor. He knew that he was journeying closer to the moment when he too would be standing before Jesus…and I knew that I would be sitting in his exact chair gazing at him when the time came. Oh the pain in that moment. It cut deeper than ever.

I know my grandmother was greeted by the Father, my Aunt Patty, and my grandpa and she is living in a new body with a new mind, free of dementia and memory loss….free of hurt, free of pain. And at that moment when my dad’s shoulder caught all my tears, I realized that he would be free from pain, free from hurt, free from grieving and loss. In Heaven– there are NO funerals. No goodbyes. In his Heavenly Home with his Father– he would face no more loss, no more broken bones. No more cancer and no more sickness. I knew that there was beauty even in death. Just like fall’s season it was vibrant and showing through in all its glory.

My fall season…

My soul’s roots were still firmly planted, but the leaves all around me were bursting forth in color and vibrancy even as they were dying. The Lord was whispering to me all of the gentle words I needed to hear to get me through that day– but also all the words I needed to hear to realize that there was PURPOSE behind this pain. There was new blessing and growth ahead. Grief did not have to swallow us. We had beauty in the ashes.

I pray that in your “Fall Season” you see the vibrancy of life, even in the midst of your pain. If you’re burdened and aching, I pray you would look higher and deeper and see that harvest of blessing that is promised to you. (Galatians 6:9) Whatever has brought you the aches of loss, the pain in the waiting, the promise yet unfulfilled,  I pray that you see that there is purpose in your pain. There is purpose even in midst of horrible, gut wrenching loss. There is beauty even under the weight of grief. There is hope, even when you are hurting. There is LIFE. There is vibrancy. Just like Autumn.
Missing you, Grandma. 

“They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.” Psalm 1:3 (NLT)

 

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Crossing into new land.

Joshua here.

Right now I am sitting in the living room of our new house. It is such a peaceful home and I’m thankful for the gift it is to have a place where we can rest. We have been here around a month which has felt like a lifetime. I barely remember the small one bedroom apartment we just moved out of.

But its a new season. God is on the move again. Tonight I am feeling and sensing something new on the horizon. It’s an oddly familiar feeling; when you know that you have crossed over into new land but you aren’t exactly sure what’s out there. I have felt like its a time of exploration: of learning new things in places I have never been to, or even places I have been to but under way different circumstances.

Let’s go back 21 years ago…

My family was in one of the worst states it could be in. Months before my parents had rushed me to the hospital in our small Michigan town. When I got to the ER a familiar face of a doctor, whom happened to be a family friend, entered into the room. After running a few tests and trying to calm down my symptoms and my parents, he suggested we go to the children’s hospital in Grand Rapids. As we drove the hour to the next hospital all I can remember is sitting in our van with my pillow and stuffed animals as my parents kept the conversation quiet.

When we arrived I was rushed to do more scans and tests. After a long night full of examinations, blood work, and visits from various doctors my parents were given the startling news that no one wanted to speak. I was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma, a cancer primarily in children and something that had been present in my cells since birth. My parents, gut-wrenched and stricken by the news, had to face some pretty serious decisions very quickly. They had to choose between trying to save my life or enjoying the time the doctors thought I had left and letting the disease take over.

It was a long shot. Stage IV of any cancer is nothing to mess with. But my parents trusted the Lord to walk them through the process, to see what could be done to save my life. After several months treatment, an attempt at surgery was made only to have the doctor come out crying and saying there was nothing he could do. The doctor explained that the cancer tumor was so extensive that it went from my abdomen around my left adrenal gland up and around my aorta, trying to squeeze out my heart. But, what my family, doctors, and prayer warriors around the country didn’t know, was that we were about to cross over into new land.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation vision is “to grant the wish of every child diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition” (wish.org). I was given the opportunity to take a trip to do whatever I wanted to do. Now, I’ve had some conversations with my parents recently that lead me to believe that I may have had a hint of how bad things were back when they were going on. But now I cannot seem to remember much of anything from that time of my life, let alone how bad it was. Either way, I had a decision to make. While my brothers tried to influence me and I’m sure it worked somewhat, I decided to go to every kid’s dream vacation spot: Disney World!!

It was this trip that brought me into new territory.

I remember getting on the small plane that would take my family and I (including my pregnant mother and soon to be sister) to Florida. A place I had never been to. At this point though I was weak and had lost my hair from treatment as the cancer tried to take over. I could barely move on the plane as I held on to each seat trying to muster the strength to get to where we were going to be for the duration of the flight. With assistance I made it to my seat and settled in.

I don’t remember much after that. There are a few memories of the rides and shows that we experienced, the rainy night we saw the fireworks around Magic Kingdom. And the fully stocked fridge at our Ronald McDonald house full of Lunchables, every kids favorite meal.

Some time after we got back from our trip the doctors decided to do some more scans and see where things were at with the cancer. Before I left, we had been given the no go on the surgery due to the tumor being so extensive. After the new scans, the doctors came back dumbfounded. The tumor they saw inside of me was half the size it was before. They couldn’t explain it. They had done nothing. But the change in the tumor’s size was enough that they were able to do the surgery and get the tumor out of my body. There was still a long road ahead. But we had crossed over into new land.

Back to present day…

I’m sitting here writing this and it just so happens to be the eve before Bre and I leave for vacation. Not just any vacation though. This is our honeymoon, the one we never had. (For all those who don’t know our story: Bre and I got married 3 years ago, a few months earlier than planned when her dad was diagnosed with Stage IV prostate cancer. We got married in his hospital room and then again a few months later so our friends and family could celebrate with us. But we never had our honeymoon.)

And where are we going you might ask…

Florida.

In just a few short hours after I finish writing this post we will be hopping on a plane and going down to Florida. We have everything all set, packed, and ready for us when we get there. A nice rental car to drive around in, a comfy hotel to stay in, and some great adventures to beaches and other spots we look forward to seeing. The great part about this vacation is that Bre and I have never done anything like this before. We will be doing things that we have never done before, or things that we have never done together before; all in a place that we have never been to together before. It’s a new season, a time to learn new things, try new things.

We are crossing into new land.

And even though we are still facing grief and mourning,  still battling infertility, just learning to be homeowners, and continuing to grow to new depths in our marriage one thing has remained the same: no matter what circumstances will come our way we will continue to trust the one who has started a good work in us.

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”

Eccelsiastes 3:1 says, “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.”   —  (3/1 also being the date that Bre’s dad passed away)

21 years is a long time. Yet that is when the battle got serious. Just a few short years after being diagnosed with my disease I received a new diagnosis:

Cancer Free.

A title I will gladly shout and jump for joy and praise my God for His healing. For my doctors did not know what to do. But, He did. And He still does.

There was medical proof that I was not supposed to make it through what I did. And years later, I have come to find out that my oncologist was the best in the country at that time and now the best in the world at clinical cancer treatment for children. But even the best doctor in the world gave up and told my family to accept death. Accept the end of a life that had barely begun at just 6 six years old.

So I will continue to trust in His mysterious ways. I will continue to trust in Him because He has always been there. And I know He always will.

Waves.

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Lately, I’ve been day dreaming of going off to a sunshiney beach. Jusssst about every day… I go there in my mind. The sun shine & beautiful water keeping my Serotonin levels and my rear end afloat. Have you ever frolicked in the ocean? A refreshing current moves around you and decide to just float along with the waves. Your feet hit the bottom of the ocean floor and you feel the certainty of having a foundation underneath you in case you suddenly feel out of your comfort zone. Just in case… Yep.Simplicity. Stillness. That is until a sudden wave, unexpected, & totally unseen comes to sweeps you off your feet and it knocks you over. You know, the kind that makes you stumble… so you grab your footing on whatever you can and try to push yourself up. You pull yourself up hoping to spare your pride in hopes that no one saw JUST how unprepared you were for what just hit you.

So often the journey in life can be illustrated by this. I know that some of you reading this have faced some enormous waves that came so unexpectedly & knocked you clear down. Here’s where I speak courage over you and tell you to put those strong feet down and push yourself up to rise again. But then, friends, there are those moments that leave us in water that is WAY over our heads, not to mention over our comfort zones. The sea floor is out of sight. No clarity, no firm foundation felt under our feet. Those moments when we simply can not find the strength to push ourselves out of the deep. They are the unforseen waves that threaten our sense of safety and will will steal our peace, IF we let them.

Let’s first say, before I go on to anything else, that if that description up there ^ seems all too familiar, we get you. We get it SO completely.  I think after you face numerous “giant” waves, one after another for so long, you begin to learn the best way of trusting and the roots of  your faith grow deeper with each battering blow. The anchor of hope just gets more and more secure each time.

This week we are being stretched. A massive wave moment, if you will.

Josh had a regular check up at the doctor’s office a few weeks ago. Due to his history  with conquering childhood cancer, we are extremely proactive about doing a slew of blood tests each year to see where things are at. Josh went to his appointment– doctor says some numbers were off- but due to some of his bodily systems being affected by the many rounds of chemo and radiation he had years ago, the doctor said it wasn’t in the “concerning realm”. I felt relief and we moved on. After talking with some nurses in our family, and a few friends with health care backgrounds, I looked at the numbers again. I looked at the big picture over and the same tests taken the last few years. The numbers had all declined. So… Josh calls the physician back and asks her opinion. Her response was, “Because of your history I can’t do much else for you. I can refer to you Fort Wayne Hematology and Oncology”.  Our hearts sank. Don’t panic. Don’t start tredding water, Bre. Keep focused. It’s ok.

I called to set up Josh’s appointment. I have the number for the office programmed into my phone, because my dad’s oncologist practices there. The number sent me to the automated recording. The lady’s voice hit me like a giant wave. I haven’t called the number since October of 2016 when my dad left and went to Hospice. I swallowed my fear and pressed the correct extension. The intake nurse asked me some questions and then asked me about setting up the consultation. “Which oncologist would you like to work with?” … …. …. “Um….. I have only worked with Dr. Sadiq– he gave me three beautiful years with my dad…. and I trust him so much. Can we see him?” Tears flooded my face as the wave of the words we were exchanging smacked against my heart. “Sure!”

Waves. And more waves. Waves of emotion. Waves.

After an emotional wait in the waiting room- sitting in the exact chair that my dad always chose- Dr. Sadiq’s nurse greeted us with a smile. She took us back to the room. Josh was sitting in the patient’s chair….. no. He needs to be next to me.

Dr. Sadiq enters the room and sees that it is us. Waves. Waves of emotion. Tears fill his eyes. “Hi, my friends. I’m so incredibly sorry about your father. He was an excellent man. And he fought so hard. He is definitely in a better place.” Another giant wave.

He examined Josh’s numbers. Said some scary words — diagnosis’ that would be his main concern due to the history of chemotherapy and radiation. I can’t even type them out. He asked some questions, and tried to get a thorough understanding of the background. “I can’t make any conclusion as to why his blood levels are down except for to do more testing. I’m going to go overkill and try to find out as much as I can. I’m ordering a CT scan, an echo cardiogram, and a lot of bloodwork. At this point, I don’t see a reason for concern. But I want to be sure.”

He gave us a hug and looked me straight in the eyes. “Did he go peacefully?” I couldn’t even find the words. I mumbled a few things about “Yes… he was heavily medicated”.  We walked away from Dr. Sadiq as he had tears welling in his eyes. Another round of waves.

After gathering our thoughts, and feeling the peace that comes from the words, “no” and “concern”,  Josh and I spent time watching “The Shack”– Talk about a cry fest. Oh Lord!!! If you haven’t seen it, there is a part where the main character Mack is spending time with Jesus personified– and Mack is in a boat on a lake. The boat spews a leak and starts sinking. Black water starts consuming the boat, and the Mack starts to panic. The water starts to rise… and he’s freaking out. Out of no where Jesus’ voice comes like a gentle hug and says,. “Eyes on me, Mack. Focus on me. Don’t take your  eyes off me, Mack. Eyes forward. Eyes on me. I’m right here!” Jesus’ character appears in front of him and as Mack faces him with eyes gazing, the water leaves the boat. Mack reaches out to Jesus’ hand and he lifts him up out of the boat– only to teach him to walk on the water.

All I could think of after the appointment–all I could hear, friends, was the voice of God. The waves just pounding the crap out of Josh and I in our tiny little boat…. and all I could hear was “Eyes on me, Bre. Focus on me. It’s ok. Don’t take your eyes off me, Bre. I’m right here.”

We would be SO honored to have your prayers friends. We face so many changes in the coming weeks. We move in 5 days to our first home. I’m just now getting acquainted to my amazing job. Josh has numerous tests this week. We now will be visiting Dr. Sadiq again in August to go over the results of all of the testing he has asked for. Our anchor has gotten really strong, friends. Just like before we are believing for positive results. Wave after wave. Eyes on him. Eyes forward. It’s ok. He’s got you.

“Yes, come,” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus.” Matthew 14:29

He’s got us, friends. Keep trusting,

The Vire’s

Love you bunches.

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My dad was always so intrigued about us starting this blog. Josh and I kept him updated regularly about how we shared a bit about his story and also about our battle with infertility. He thought that it was amazing that we could connect with people from all over the world. One day he asked me if he gave me some things to write out, if I would publish it on our blog, just to “see what happens”. We were excited and told him that Josh and I would be honored to share some of his wisdom and knowledge with the world and any time he felt like sharing, all he needed to do was let me know. He wrote it all down but never felt well enough to organize it. The thought of him publishing some of his writing started to stress him out, especially when the cancer was super aggressive. Josh and I have been going through my dad’s writings slowly and intentionally.  We were able to follow a prayer journal all the way back to 1988 (before I was born).  We are always astounded at the ways of his clarity of understanding and the knowledge he had about Heavenly things. Reading through his writings has really given us a glimpse of the way his faith grew over the years and it has been amazing.

So… this one is for you, dad.

” 1/7/2015
We must stay close to the Father. We must keep ourselves free of resentments. We must remain teachable. We must read the Truth daily. We must pray daily. We must learn to love others as the Son loved us and still loves us. We must stay close to the Father. What does our Lord require of us? To act justly. To love mercy. and to walk humbly with Him.

Remember the Father gifted you when you were born. He has the best understanding of how he wants us to work and love others. My whole purpose in life is to walk closer to the Father each and every day.” – Mike Maxson

Josh and I frequently received written encouragement from my dad’s heart, even up until he started feeling really crappy. He knew that both of us felt love from words of affirmation- and he was the best encourager. One day I was waiting for my dad to get in the car to go to a doctor’s appointment. I always knew when I picked him up that the times that he took longer than usual to get out of the house were because he was just in meditation with the Lord. Patiently waiting for him to get his shoes and coat on, I sat and wondered… “I wonder what you were just talking to him about, God.” My dad came out to the car and then handed me a note card. “I wanted you to have this, tell me what you think about it. The Lord and I were just talking and he told me to share this with you…”

The notecard said:

“Bre: May the Lord answer you when you are in distress. May the name of the God of Jacob protect you. May He send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion. May he remember all your sacrifices. May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. We will shout for joy when you are victorious. May the Lord grant all your requests. I love you bunches, Dad.”

My heart flooded with peace. That was my dad. Spending his time listening. Listening to His voice and writing it down regardless of what other things were on his schedule for the day.

The day we told him about our struggle with infertility my dad started praying for what was ahead for us. That next morning I picked him up and he handed me another note card. This one read:

“Wow! What a journey this year has been! Thank you both for all that you have done for me and for so many others. The Lord is truly blessing you both and the best is yet to come. Love ya bunches, Dad.”

He always had the best perspective. The best is yet to come. My heart was newly sliced open by the horrible news of our inability to get pregnant and he had faith that the best was YET to come.

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Dad,

Although we aren’t together this Father’s day, I know today and all the days you remain whole at Home- that you feel honored and loved more now than you ever could have possibly on this earth. I can’t say we don’t ache every day that you aren’t here. I’ll never forget the moments we shared together here on this Earth and forever and always I’ll be honored to carry on your legacy. Josh and I truly know that the best is yet to come, and I know that for you the best currently is. My heart is overjoyed knowing you’re healed and not only don’t have to worry about those 3 doctor appointments per week– you get to enjoy and live through your perfected self before the throne of God. We miss you, Dad. Thanks for everything you continue to teach Josh and I.

Love you bunches,

Your Junior Bear

Eyes Forward

Slowly and intricately we are picking up the pieces of our brokenness, being sure not to rush grieving and healing. Every day we are intentional to allow our hearts feel the deep stings of pain and moments of loss. Just to be in the moment. Ugly crying, boxes of tissues, and moments were I just can’t keep going without running to the Lord’s throne with my brokenness. Feeling it. Fully feeling our loss, but without surrendering our peace.

And let me tell you, I have learned that grieving can become a battle ground. We face a battle often against certain thoughts that are not rooted in truth. Without eyes opened and careful watching those lies can begin to root themselves in our hearts and wreak havoc on our peace. The lie that we do not deserve to be whole or happy or feel joy again. It threatens to steal the joy right out from under your feet.  The lies that we don’t deserve to feel the peace and joy that come from thriving once again.  Grief counseling has done wonders for me and has helped me to spot these moments before they get out of control. There is a massive difference between grieving while healing and grief being a tool that the enemy uses to chisel away at your already broken pieces.

Josh and I have a quote by C.S. Lewis that we used on a decorative board for our wedding. It sat on our counter for the last 3 years and it has spoken to my heart in so many occasions and it says,

“There are far better things ahead than what we leave behind.”

The other day I was spending time being still and I looked up to see that sign staring me straight in the face. Then I heard a gentle whisper, “Are your eyes on Me & is your heart expectant of the GOOD things ahead?”

GOOD THINGS. THERE ARE GOOD THINGS AHEAD!!!

My dad used to laugh and tell Josh and I  through a huge smile that he had spoken with the Lord regarding our future as the Vire Family. His eyes would get really big and he would say, “There’s SO much ahead of you guys. I have seen part of it because the Lord has shown me and it is incredible!” He would encourage me to be rooted in whatever season we are in and to keep our eyes looking forward to Him instead of what you left behind. He used to encourage us to keep seeking– to not lose heart and to not give up because of the difficult seasons. To let those seasons thrust you into the victory ahead. I can remember sitting on the sofa watching my dad read God’s Word with such intensity– He would get lost in the Truth and what it was revealing to him about what was to come. Heaven was his Promised Land. Complete healing and wholeness were where his journey led him to, standing before the King of the Universe and hearing the words, “Well done, my son!”

We are on our own journey through the wilderness and through the valleys and through the roaring waves to get to our Promised Land.  It is not as though we will not be content until we get there, because we are content with every place our feet fall in this journey. It is so important to embrace the place you are at to the fullest and what it means to “THRIVE” in that moment. Even in the desert seasons, THRIVING.

This morning I meditated on a Scripture in Hebrews that talks about the faith of Moses when he was leading the Israelites into their promised land. He led them through tremendous obstacles and the Scripture says,

“He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible.” Hebrews 11:27

What a picture of looking forward that paints for me. Keeping your eyes on the One who is INVISIBLE– looking forward. Staying connected and yet letting him lead you through each deep valley of grief, each extremely difficult raging river of loss, each broken bridge of healing. Eyes forward. Heart full of peace…. we are marching on to our Promised Land, because there are SUCH good things ahead.

Last week Josh and I bought our first home. There were months of prayers and years of careful planning that went into being ready to be first time homebuyers. We felt called to commit ourselves to this city. I felt all of Heaven pushing us toward our new home– it is truly a place of REST (after we finish the hard prep work ; – )  )  The backyard makes you feel like you want to take a nap— Josh already has a place for a hammock picked out. In the weeks ahead we will be investing our time into filling the home with praises, stripping out the old, tearing out the dead, and filling it to the brim with new life. It is truly a mirror to the season of our hearts— tearing out the old and giving us new life.

And this week I begin a new job– one that will allow me time to continue to heal and be intentional with my mama and the women who have invested in me so dearly in this season. It will allow me a change of pace– out of healthcare and into a calmer and inviting environment.

We are looking forward- so thankful for what we’ve come through to get to where we are and so expectant of the continuous good things ahead.

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!!