The Aftermath of Cancer, 2020 and COVID.

Christmas with my favorite!

Happy New Year everyone! I am sitting here reflecting on this past year and ever so grateful. Did COVID rock our world, absolutely. But, I am ever so grateful to say it hasn’t taken anyone away from us. I appreciate my parents attitude about it and it’s one I share. We have to live our lives trusting God and know that our days are numbered since the beginning and nothing we do will change when our earthly time is up. If COVID is the thing that takes us from this earth then so be it, we know where we are going.

Many family members have tested positive and had some milder symptoms, nobody has been hospitalized. We have been careful but not to the extent that we will miss out on visiting loved ones and attending family gatherings, hosting holidays and giving hugs. We wear a mask if it is required and we social distance in public places, but with family we live! If you were a friend that came to my Crazy Christmas Sweater party you got a hug, good fellowship and freedom from masks. We had a blast! The holidays were wonderful and my parents flew out to join us for the first time this Christmas. We spoiled them good. My daughter and her fiancé joined us from Texas also. We are blessed.

This year has had medical hardships. My husband Dan got sick in March and after a couple weeks he ended up in the hospital for several days with NO visitors allowed, diagnosed with pneumonia. His COVID test was negative. Although the infectious disease doctor and pulmonologist believe he could have possibly had it and either got a false negative or was passed the COVID infection and had secondary pneumonia. We will never really know. They tested him in August for antibodies and he was negative but they say the antibodies only last for 2-4 months. His medical issues have lingered, mostly fatigue and shortness of breath. He was getting better after his hospitalization and then in August began feeling worse which began another coarse of treatment for “walking pneumonia.”

His shortness of breath never fully resolved and after a chest X-ray showed some non-conclusive areas it began months of fighting with our insurance for further scans, referrals to specialists, more doctor appointments, and more fighting with the insurance. Finally I got him an appointment with one of my fabulous doctors at City of Hope for further investigation. That was key. COH is no nonsense and won’t put up with insurance denials.

Meanwhile in September his smart watch told him he had atrial fib, which resulted in EKGs and more referrals. He did not have A fib but something “inconclusive,” again, showed up, which led to further testing throughout October and November. His heart rate was consistently high so he was put on medication for that. His blood pressure was high and so he was put on medication for that. They ruled a lot out but never really gave a good explanation for what was causing all these new symptoms. Also, was his heart the source of his shortness of breath or his lungs, or a hiatal hernia they found? This is the question!

So now he is seeing a team of specialists at COH, getting further tests done this month and hopefully they are going to get to the bottom of it all. He has always been a little mysterious in his medical issues, but we are hoping for some solid answers.

So that is the worst of what 2020 brought us. My poor husband has had a rough year. I did mention the aftermath of cancer in my title, so I will share where I am at in my journey.

2020 has been good to me overall. Surgeries are behind me, cancer treatments finished at the end of 2019. I had tattooing (nipple color) done 3 separate times this year because the color didn’t take too well the first two times and needed touching up. I still see several specialists including my oncologist every 3-6 months for follow up. As far as lingering symptoms go, this is the part that is foreign to most people, myself included. Chemotherapy side effects can last for months, even years and in some cases permanently.

My body has been adversely effected in ways that unfortunately are permanent, some I can and will overcome. It screwed up my metabolism and hormones. So it pushed me into menopause and often the symptoms can be more severe when this happens and mine are; including heat intolerance, joint pain, hot flashes, and weight gain. My metabolism is out of whack which also made the pounds pile on post treatment which, according to my endocrinologist, is extremely common for cancer patients post treatment. I have gained 60 pounds in the last year and my goal is to spend 2021 losing it!!! I am still experiencing mild neuropathy (nerve damage) in my feet and legs. At this point it is permanent. I have Chemo brain fog still at times, my memory isn’t as good, my vision is more blurry. I don’t drive at night anymore. Then there is the fatigue from decreased metabolism, screwed up hormones, weight gain and spending so much time inactive due to a combination of all of the above, my husbands shortness of breath and resulting lack of stamina, and COVID restrictions as well. I am blessed that with an altered immune system that has been hit hard the last couple years I have escaped illness. Praise God!

So that’s my life! I’m grateful for it and I’m happy. But my goal this year is weight loss, increasing activity and hopefully then, my energy.

Cancer has changed me. I am much less social and more reclusive. I actually enjoy being home more than anything and often alone. I like it! Weird…for me anyways!

So I became a dog person this last year. My wonderful husband humored me and went along at first even though he wasn’t excited about the idea until he delved in in March when we went to see a litter of Golden Retrievers not knowing the address was a shopping center parking lot and the litter was being sold out of the back of some jerks Prius. Only two puppies left, I was ready to walk away, but Dan suddenly wanted to “save” this puppy from that man! So we came home that day with our Lexy girl.

Lexy

We had a 6 month old cocker spaniel named Lady at the time that later moved to Texas to become my daughters puppy because of behavioral issues we couldn’t deal with. Lexy, on the other hand, was the perfect fit we were looking for.

In August we welcomed Maximus the great, “Max,” into our house. My husband had always wanted a Great Dane which we set aside when we thought we were done with pets. But when we started looking for a friend for Lexy, we chose Max so my husband would love him and be invested as much as I was and as much as he was with Lexy. Also, because after researching 4 breeds of interest, we concluded he was a perfect breed for our lifestyle. So I am officially a dog person. I spend most of my days with Max and Lexy and they have turned out to be perfect fits for us! They are so smart and well behaved and we have our routine.

Max

In September I fostered a momma cat and seven kittens which reminded me how much I loved breeding animals. I grew up always having a cat that had kittens every year. I had fun fostering them for 5 weeks until they were old enough to be adopted out by the shelter. But it ignited a spark in me again and I decided I want to breed puppies!!!

Our new love for Golden retrievers and knowing the popularity of the breed made it the perfect choice. So again my wonderful husband allowed me to invest in another puppy!!! An English cream golden male. He will be 8 weeks old in 2 days. I picked him out and he will be coming in 2 weeks. So a year from now we can breed pure bred (non papered) Golden retrievers as hobby breeders. I am so excited!!!!

Axel

Who knew that 2020 would bring us 3 wonderful puppies and a whole different lifestyle and hobby? It is perfect for me being home alone most of the time and enjoying my new squad, they are my constant companions!

So as 2021 starts off, Dan, myself, Tristan, Lexy, Max and our unnamed puppy to come, wish you the happiest and healthiest of New Years, blessings and prosperity galore, love and joy found in living life, making memories and in wonderful family moments!

There is hope beyond 2020! To God be all Glory on earth as in heaven!

Controlling My Thoughts

Several years ago when I was going through biblical counselor training, God taught me what it really meant to “take my thoughts captive.” This was a lesson He spent years trying to teach me but because He is so amazing, in that He never gives up on us, it took me a long time and a lot of lessons to really learn how truly taking your thoughts captive can allow you to walk in freedom like you’ve never known.

I knew the verse: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5. I had heard sermons preached on the subject, I had done bible studies with the topic included, I knew this truth! But as we know as Christians that it’s not enough to know the Word, we must also put it into action. That is much easier said then done.

When we are hurt or offended or betrayed, it’s so much easier to justify our feelings and thoughts than to take them captive for Christ, and this is where the devil has his field day! Once we allow those hurts to fester, “because I have a right to feel what I’m feeling,” than we start believing all the lies, distortions and misperceptions that start creeping in. Once we have done that we start looking for anything we can to affirm our thoughts, so we can be validated in our thinking. Which leads to more misperceptions, misunderstandings and flat out reading into things. Raise your hand if you can relate with this pattern of behavior?

We end up in a place of holding on to hurts, grievances and even misperceived offenses without even realizing we have. We carry this baggage around with us. Until something triggers those wounds and then our reactions are often over reactions or behavior dumped on someone who may not even have anything to do with the original offense. But we have a right to feel this way, right?

Wrong!

Not if you want to walk in freedom!

Remember the verse, we demolish every argument that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive in obedience to Christ!? That is a size-able action. More than knowing it we are called to doing it!!!

So how do we apply this when we are hurting or feeling offended. First we start by not allowing lies and distortions to seep in, we seek clarity if we need to and we follow all the precepts to achieve peacemaking. “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” James 3:17

Read that again, wisdom is pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, merciful, unwavering, producing good fruit and without hypocrisy!!! That’s a tall order! So check yourself in your speech, attitude, body language, intentions and goals or should I say, end game. Be a peacemaker not a strife stirrer!

We need to speak truth into our situation. We focus on the good things we know to be true about that person, relationship or that situation. Because when we are focused on the good, it grows and the bad becomes less “in-focus” and vice versa (so you don’t focus on the bad or it too will grow and grow and grow). Get it?

Then we are putting into action Gods Word: Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Philippians 4:8

Also, we ask the Lord to help us see them as he does. To love them like he would. So even if a person seems unloveable and we are having a hard time seeing anything good, we ask for eyes like Jesus and He will give you grace to see that person in a different light.

We can tell ourselves that our feelings and thoughts are justified, that we have a right to feel this way, that “they” don’t deserve our forgiveness or mercy or love. That we deserve an apology, or validation or understanding or whatever we may be searching for. Or we can take our thoughts captive and walk in Gods peace that surpasses ALL understanding!

That my friends is true freedom! And when you learn how to apply His Word in each and every situation, to fix your thoughts on Christ and His Word instead of your circumstances and feelings. You will bring peace and truth to all your relationships and the truth will set you free. And even if that person doesn’t change, you will, through your actions. And trust me, people will notice!

To God be all Glory! There is hope beyond this!

Total Honesty

It’s taken me two weeks to write this. Stopping and starting, editing, and rewriting parts. I have avoided writing for awhile now. I have been stuck. I have been somewhat depressed and didn’t feel I had anything that I wanted to share or worth sharing. I haven’t felt any inspiration and so I tried to focus on other things. My family, my home, my garden, my puppies. All good and worthwhile. But I am who I am at the core, even when those characteristics conflict with my feelings. Transparent, strong, hope-filled, honest and I wear my heart right out there. So I will share.

These last two years have been a roller coaster physically, emotionally and mentally. They have been hard. They have also been full of joy and treasured moments. They have been disappointing. They have been peaceful. They have been scary. They have been transformative. Some days I’m lonely, depressed, conflicted and stuck. Every day I’m alive I treasure and thank God for. I know I’m blessed. I’m happy and I have a good life.

I’m gonna get real here and share some things I’m not proud of. I’m going to share the real stuff, emotions, thoughts, and feelings that I’ve experienced and that I’m still working through.

First let me say, I know I’m loved and blessed and I am thankful and grateful for so many things. I don’t sit around sad or in a negative mood or unaware of how incredibly good I’ve got it! But the truth is these other feelings coexist as well. They intrude in my day, they sneak into my thoughts, they overwhelm me at times. So I’m gonna share them even though the good stuff outweighs the bad by far and I know that joy is a choice and most days I choose it.

Looking back to this time two years ago I was oblivious to the turn my life was about to take. I was loosing weight, again, using my daughters cookbook recipes alongside my husband. We were recording our progress monthly on her blog with pictures and updates and measurements. I had lost 55lbs in 8 months. I was feeling good. Life was good. The calm before the storm.

For those who follow me or know me, you know that August 2018 was when I went for a routine annual mammogram that revealed a mass that turned out to be invasive breast cancer. I was 46 years old. Those were some scary and overwhelming days that followed as I waited for test results, then appointments, then more test results, then more appointments. Decisions had to be made, huge decisions that would determine my course of treatment, my doctors, my insurance, my body, my life. I clung to my Savior more than I ever had before in my life. True peace and hope filled me and guarded my mind despite the struggle. I learned to trust Him without borders.

Treatment began and I was filled and uplifted by so many friends, family, neighbors and in some cases strangers who came out of the wood work with encouragement, love and support, and showed it in a variety of ways. It honestly filled me up, and some days, held me up. I had never had so many people express care and concern for me in my lifetime. Honestly, I didn’t know that many people really cared about little ole me! I liked the attention, I liked the feeling of having my “love tank” full and overflowing with acts of service, words of affirmation and quality time!

So despite the trauma my body was going through physically, mentally I stayed strong. Emotionally I surprised myself with how good I was doing, rarely shedding a tear. Don’t get me wrong, chemo sucked bad. The side effects were awful. Then came surgery, the beginning of the physical changes of removal and reconstruction of my body. Emotionally that was difficult. Physically it was the hardest thing to recover from. Again, I had angels who stepped in to be there for me. So much care and attention!

After my physical recovery and learning that all signs of the cancer had been removed, things began to change again for me. Although I knew of all the people that were pulling for me and praying for my continued healing and remission of any signs of cancer, the majority of actual attention went away. I had liked the attention. I missed the attention.

I was adjusting to a new normal. A new body. An “after cancer” life that left me changed. My love tank slowly emptied. I tried to get to know the new me and not just my physical body. Cancer changed who I was and I didn’t recognize myself. I became more introverted more protective of my heart and time. Home became my sanctuary. A loneliness set in I wasn’t prepared for. But I didn’t really want to be around people. I went to follow up care at City of Hope which included occupational therapy. I also began physical therapy due to a frozen shoulder and overall weakness.

The therapy honestly helped me physically of course, but also mentally and emotionally to understand that what I was feeling was normal. It takes time to recover from everything I had been through and I needed to give myself grace and take it one day at a time.

Well, sadly, I fell back into old comfort habits throughout my treatment and recovery, FOOD! Fortunately, throughout my chemo and surgery recovery I maintained my weight loss of 55lbs. I fluctuated up and down within 5-7lbs of that weight for an entire year. Nice! However, after regaining my health and without readjusting my diet, maintenance was no longer happening. I started to gain weight.

I was in a funk, stuck emotionally, my support had disappeared, I was alone, the attention was gone. I was coping with my body image (a new body), physical therapy, further cosmetic reconstruction and lingering side effects.

I continued to comfort myself through food. Old habits die hard!

I saw the pounds slowly creep back on but I was defiant about giving up the food I wanted. My head space would not allow me to give it up! The holidays hit and it got worse, all my favorites were everywhere. I ate bags of candy corn through the fall, Christmas cookies throughout the season. Then as soon as the Easter candy was out it was bags of jelly beans. All the while, eating whatever my heart desired. After all, look what I’d been through, right? So easy to justify.

Covid hit, physical therapy stopped, I became more of a recluse. I had not regained any motivation to cook since “before cancer.” We ordered meals in. I became more depressed each time I stepped on the scale and so I began to avoid the scale. My clothes weren’t fitting anymore, so I online ordered bigger sizes.

When I finally stepped on the scale, I was disgusted and disappointed in myself. I had gained back ALL the weight I had lost the previous 8 times! PLUS 5 POUNDS!

I was officially 5 pounds heavier than I had ever been. I felt terrible. I could no longer tell if the physical symptoms I was experiencing were really from chemo side effects, like forced (chemo induced) early menopause that brought on joint pain, hot flashes, diaphoresis, and low energy. Or was it from how heavy I now was?

I wrestled for weeks with knowing that I needed to do something about my weight and not wanting to give up my favorite foods! “I want what I want” kept ringing in my head. I don’t want anyone to know that I failed again in keeping the weight off. I don’t want to hear what I already know about how to loose weight and keep it off. I don’t want to be told to follow my daughters recipes and do what she did because she succeeded. I told my husband I wish there was a diet where they put you to sleep and when you wake up you’re thin. There’s not!

So here I am, two years has gone by. I beat cancer! My body is full of scars. I’m still adjusting mentally and emotionally to the new me which I don’t like very much right now. So I have to decide if I want food more than health. Do I want to enjoy looking at myself in the mirror or do I want to keep eating what I want and avoiding the scale and the mirror and pictures!

I started what I hope will work the best for me on Sunday. A combination of intermittent fasting and healthy organic pre-made meals from a delivery service, when I eat. (Because I know that I won’t cook.) This is different from anything I have done before. I chose it because it is what will work best for me and my current circumstances.

The Good Kitchen

It’s been 3 days and I’ve already lost a few pounds, the more I loose the more it will motivate me to stick to it. I’m still working out the mental and emotional stuff. It’s so much more than just the need for weight loss at this point. I’m still getting to know the new me, the “after cancer” me. Gaining this weight didn’t help at all. I’m deciding what I will accept and what I won’t. Carrying around all this extra weight is something I won’t accept. I don’t like who I am and what it does to me physically and emotionally.

The struggle remains. It is a familiar struggle. A struggle that I have battled most of my adult life. Here is to a healthier tomorrow. Here is to making good choices, one meal, one day at a time. Here is to figuring out who I want to be and becoming that person.

I know there is hope beyond this!

Catching my reflection in the mirror

Ringing the Bell! What’s Next?

Yesterday was my last Herceptin infusion, a targeted therapy medication that I started with my chemo infusions and lasted for an entire year, 17 total doses. It specifically treats HER2 positive tumors and cancer cells. It was an exciting day of completion! Nurses sang to me, bells were rung, hugs were given and I even received a “champion” medal. It was a milestone day!

I have shared my journey through my blog and through social media over the last year. My last blog post was 4 months ago explaining my brain fog and difficulty with writing due to my lack of focus. I talked about the side effects I was still experiencing and what it felt like living in the “in between.”

The last few months have had their challenges. My joint pain and neuropathy resulted in a referral to a rheumatologist who ran every test to rule out any possible autoimmune disease that could explain the worsening symptoms. He expected them to come back negative and they did. His opinion was that I was experiencing side effects of chemo and my continuing Herceptin therapy. My medical oncologist felt the joint pain was more likely due to the chemo induced menopause. Either way, I started on Cymbalta for joint and nerve pain and after a follow up and increase to my dose, my joint pain and neuropathy started to resolve and became minimal. Then coincidentally (or maybe not), two weeks later at the end of August, I had a period for the first time in 10 months.

So in September my rheumatologist suggested stopping Cymbalta to see if it was the Cymbalta or the hormone changes relieving my symptoms. After a week off Cymbalta and experiencing some horrible side effects, I went back on it and will remain on it until all my treatments and surgery recovery are complete or longer if the mild neuropathy symptoms I still experience do not resolve.

One additional complication from my double mastectomy and reconstruction surgery in March, and the immobility that came with that, is I have been dealing with frozen shoulder in my right shoulder since about 4-6 weeks after surgery. I have been going to physical therapy twice a week since June. It is a very painful and limiting condition and could take months to resolve.

Overall, I feel healthier and my energy is increasing and I am also working with a physical therapist on overall wellness and physical conditioning to build up my strength.

With the end of treatments behind me, the next step is surgery to complete reconstruction. My surgery is scheduled for Monday October 7th with my plastic surgeon. He will create nipples from skin on my new breasts. I have been without nipples since March. He will also even out and smooth out my hips and tummy which will require some scar revision and some lipo. He will also remove my port in my chest since I have completed my infusions. The surgery is a day surgery and will last about 2 hours. Recovery is expected to take about 2 weeks with minimal discomfort. This surgery is one more step before the final step of tattooing color on my newly created nipples and adding color for areolas, which will take place 3 months from now after my nipples heal.

Then we move into follow up stage. I will be following up with my medical oncologist every 3 months for 2 years, then every 6 months for 3 years, then annually after that. I will also follow up with my breast surgeon, my thyroid Dr and my cardiologist every 6 months for now.

This is the end of the tunnel, so to speak! I feel the light on my face now! Soon to be basking in it!!!

Spiritually I walk with my Savior, the valley is behind me as I embark on the final climb to my mountaintop moment!!! I can’t wait to see the view from up there. I know it will be glorious!

I have done a lot of reflecting this last month of how far I’ve come this last year. I am forever grateful and filled with joy despite any suffering. My God is big enough, my husband has been the hands and feet of Christ to me, my family has loved me well and my friends and neighbors have shown me unconditional support. All my people have loved me, held me, encouraged me, supported me, prayed for me, fed me, walked with me and cheered me on. Jesus was not the only one there with me in the valley of the shadow, I felt each of you gathered around us each step of the way! I am grateful.

To God be the glory for His never changing faithfulness and healing hand and all of you that He used to graciously lavish His love and care on me. There is hope beyond this!

Living In The “In Between”

I have had a really hard time getting back to writing. One of the lingering side effects of chemo is foggy thinking, lack of focus and inability to concentrate. They call it “chemo brain” and it doesn’t just go away when chemo ends. Chemo is a double edged sword. It heals and it destroys at the same time.

My pathology results after my surgery showed that the invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), the tumor that was rapidly growing in me, was gone! All that remained was a small DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ). This is a tumor inside the duct, which chemo doesn’t treat, it must be removed. It was also explained to me to be the origin of the invasive tumor that was rapidly growing outside the duct. All traces of the cancer were removed through surgery. I no longer have any breast tissue left in my body. My breasts were reconstructed using abdominal tissue (fat basically).

So chemo did it’s job and not only dissolved the tumor but all evidence shows it kept any cells from escaping from my breasts and spreading anywhere else in my body, resulting in my breast cancer being staged at 2. I am fortunate. I am blessed. But chemo damage lingers. So I may be considered “cancer free” but I am not yet side effect free.

I am also still undergoing treatment for the full year, due to the type of tumor I had being HER 2 positive. I am receiving a drug called Herceptin. Although it is a targeted therapy drug and not chemo (it targets specific cells for destruction), it still has side effects. One of which is joint pain, which I am now experiencing all the time. I receive this transfusion every 3 weeks, just like chemo, for the full year (17 doses total).

Around 60% of patients on chemo get CIPN (chemo induced peripheral neuropathy). I am in this 60%. 6 months after chemo 30% still experience symptoms that can last from 18 months to 5 years and can even in some cases be permanent. I am 4 months out from chemo and still experiencing CIPN. I pray I will not be in the 30%.

I am also in chemo induced early menopause and because of my age it is highly likely that will be permanent. I experience intense hot flashes and reduced hormonal effects.

So between having chemo brain, neuropathy, hot flashes, lingering fatigue and now joint pain daily, I continue to struggle with healing from the effects of cancer and treatment. I also have nerve sensitivity and blanket numbness over most of my breasts and my hips and abdomen, from my extensive surgery.

My body is foreign to me and still unrecognizable. The reconstruction is not complete yet. I am taking it one step at a time. My next surgery will probably be in late summer. My perspective has shifted in regards to my body after my cousin said to me, “Hey this is your second body, most of us only get one and you were gifted another one!”

I know I’m blessed. I feel fortunate for so many reasons and that makes the acceptance of living with this “newly gifted body,” and these hopefully temporary side effects and pursuing complete healing my goal. So I press on.

I am grateful I was able to keep most of my hair through cold cap therapy. I did loose most of my eyebrows and eyelashes, but all my lost hair is now growing again. I am also recovered from my anemia and feeling much stronger.

I am “in between.” That is my new terminology for where I’m at physically, emotionally and mentally. I am cancer free, but not yet to a place of “normalness,” whatever that may be? When treatments and surgeries and healing is complete and I can feel normal, even if it’s a new kind of normal. I have heard from other survivors that it can take 2-3 years to reach a place where they wake up one day and feel “normal” again.

Emotionally it can be hard, not just because I’m dealing with treatment and physical side effects still, but because not everyone close to me truly gets what I’m still going through. So many people see me as cured and healthy again. I get that, not everyone knows what I experience every day. So mentally I’ve had to adjust my expectations and also understand the average human response in light of my situation. I’m taking one day at a time, with my eyes on the path before me.

My husband has been beyond amazing and continues to be my biggest support. His understanding and compassion toward me is astounding. I can’t say enough about how lucky I am to have him in my life. He gets me and he loves me so well.

The struggle is real through each step of this process. And it is a process. Cancer will not consume me. Treatment will not consume me. Despair and fatigue some days try to consume me, but I have hope beyond all of this!

My hope is in The Lord. My redeemer, my comforter, the rock on which I stand. My trust is in Him.

But you, O LORD, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high. Psalm 3:3

So I may be “in between” and that’s ok, because my God is right here with me every step of the way. I am never alone. He knows the plan for me, a future full of hope!

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 29:11-14a

I will seek Him with my whole heart. All for His glory. There is hope beyond this!

The Vows

“to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part”

Everybody knows these traditional words that are “repeated after me” at almost every wedding ceremony you have ever been too. But when marriage gets hard, and they all have their hard times, do these “repeat after me” words just become words or does a vow mean something more.

Next Monday Dan and I celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary! That’s a big one and a milestone for sure. We have lived these vows for 30 years. We have even renewed these vows to each other twice!

“To have and to hold from this day forward.”

We wouldn’t want it any other way. We are grateful for everyday that we get to share our lives with one another. Loving each other and growing older together. We have learned the art of having and holding over these 30 years and we do it well. Very well.

“For better or for worse.”

It just keeps getting better! We’ve had the for worse moments also. Lots of them! In 30 years of life together, experiencing all the ups and downs, raising a family, multiple moves, job changes, career changes and just being human, oh yes, we’ve seen the worst in each other. But looking back over 30 years the “better” moments completely swallow up the “worse” moments. And honestly we’ve learned that you get what you focus on. Focus on the good and more good will come. Focus on the negative and that will become all you see.

“For richer for poorer”

We’ve seen both richer days and poorer days. Our finances have always been a training ground God has used with us throughout our marriage. We’ve made lots of mistakes financially and sometimes we had to learn very hard lessons more than once. Money trouble is often one of those things that can take a marriage down. This one never broke us even when we were broke. God used it to teach us about true contentment in spite of our circumstances. Once we truly learned this lesson we realized a rich life has absolutely nothing to do with money. We have a rich life!

“In sickness and in health”

This is a biggie! Not only because I am currently struggling through breast cancer treatments but because we have dealt with chronic illness the majority of our marriage. Chronic pain and inflammation has plagued Dan for nearly 23 years. The “sickness” part of our lives has caused disabilities, job changes, career changes, financial troubles, and countless days of pain, grief, depression and crying out to God. Despite all this, we are grateful for our overall health and trust God that ultimately our lives are in the hands of the Great Physician.

“To love and to cherish”

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13

The key to any great love is sacrifice. Once you get married, your focus should shift from your own happiness to the happiness of the person you are now joined to for life. It’s no longer about you! Here is where most marriages fail! You want a holy marriage? Devote yourself to your spouse the same way Jesus devoted himself to us all, unto the cross, laying down His life for us.

We have loved each other in the dearest most intimate ways and have grown together in ways we never dreamed possible. Sacrificing and laying down for one another becomes an honor when done in humility and with a pure heart. No ulterior motives. Loving each other is easy now and loving is only part of the vow. We also truly cherish one another. You can love someone without truly cherishing them. But why would you if you want a great marriage? Don’t leave out the cherishing! The cherishing is where all the richness and fullness comes from! The cherishing is where two people in love become best friends in every way. We consider ourselves blessed beyond measure in the loving and cherishing area of our vows to one another. This one is what swallows up the “worse” the “poorer” and the “sickness” parts. Focus on the loving and cherishing and the rest fades away.

“Till death do we part”

This one is written in stone. Nothing could separate us in this lifetime except this one. All our days are written in His book. Only God knows when death will be written into our story and how that will play out. So until that day comes we will cherish every day we have together and pray that our days will be long on this earth so we can love each other in ways that glorify our Maker and enjoy all the good gifts He has given us in each other, in our love, in our marriage and in our blessedly large family that all came from two kids falling madly in love!

30 years

360 months

1,560 weeks

10,950 days

262,800 hours

15,768,000 minutes

To my best friend, I love you forever. I will always be your favorite and you will always be mine. Happy 30th babe. We got it right!

There is so much hope beyond all of this! Glory to God

Every Love Story is Beautiful but Ours is My Favorite

Five years ago we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary on March 4th. For the 25 days leading up to our anniversary, I wrote out our love story year by year from March to March of each year. (Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes)! I then shared it over 25 days on Facebook. In this blog post I have compiled those 25 year of posts and added the last five years in one blog post to equal all 30 years. This is a very different type of blog post then anything I have written before. It is 30 years of my story, with quotes, quips and scriptures at the end of each year summary. It is a very long read, because 30 years is a very long time to be married. But in honor of our love story and 30th anniversary, I have put it all together in one post. I hope anyone who reads our story will enjoy reading it and ultimately learn more about my family and what 30 years of life, love and marriage can look like. Happy reading! To God be the glory! There is hope beyond all of this!

(1989-90) Year One

3/4/89 Our wedding day. All my dreams had come true at 17. I married my High School sweetheart of 3 years and I became a wife and soon after I was expecting my first baby. It was all I ever wanted! We were so young and naive but so happy. Our precious little bundle, Brittany Noel, arrived Dec 12th. The BEST Christmas present ever. Danny had broke his leg a short time after our wedding and had to have surgery and the recovery was long and hard and we only made it financially because we lived with my parents. We hadn’t figured out what to do with the rest of our lives, we didn’t have established careers, but we had each other. And in spite of all that, we had our precious baby and life was good, just figuring it out as we went along.

“Marriage is a mosaic you build with your spouse. Millions of tiny moments that create your love story.” -Jennifer Smith

Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

(1990-91) Year Two

Life was fun and we were young! We were so happy with our little family of 3 and soon expecting baby #2. We still lived with my parents. Danny landed a good paying job (for our standards at that time), with the school district and later with a larger company. We were excited about moving out on our own! We had good friends and were in a young marrieds life group (bible study). We welcomed the arrival of our 2nd child and firstborn son, Colin Michael, 4 days after our 2nd anniversary. A few weeks later we moved into our first apartment. We were so excited!

“Love is the master key that opens the gates of happiness.” -Oliver Wendell Holmes

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 1 John 4:8

(1991-92) Year Three

Here comes our troubled times! The times that made us who we are, the times that allowed God to come into our young love and lives and work His miracles. It wasn’t easy and it certainly didn’t happen quickly. We separated and I moved with our babies back in with my parents and started college a month later, with my parents devoted help with my children. Soon after our separation I found out I was pregnant with baby #3. Talk about throwing a wrench in things! But we know God works all things together for good 🙂

“There are a hundred paths through the world that are easier than loving. But who wants easier?” -Mary Oliver

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Proverbs 3:5-6

But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side. Psalm 3:3-6

(1992-93) Year Four

This was a time of devastation mixed with little gifts from God as I clung to Him and my Christian friends and family. I grew stronger in my relationship with Jesus Christ who truly sustained me through this overwhelming time of my life. The most precious gift this year was the birth of our 3rd child, Kyle Daniel. Danny asked me to give him his name for a middle name. I gladly honored his request. I continued full time this year in my prerequisites for nursing school. I involved myself in two different bible study small groups, these were the friends who stood by my side, prayed for me and gave me strength to move forward everyday in spite of my circumstances. This was a year of maturing, growth and healing in so many ways.

“They say it takes a village to raise a child. That may be the case, but the truth is that it takes a lot of solid, stable marriages to create a village.” -Diane Sollee

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

(1993-94) Year Five

Still separated for almost two years, Danny and I spent the summer months dating and trying to give our marriage a second chance. I knew in my heart that something was wrong. No matter how bad I wanted to reconcile and not get divorced, some things are out of your hands. We tried and during this time I conceived baby #4! But a few months after I knew that reconciliation wasn’t going to happen. So I let go and cut things off and we started proceeding toward a divorce. I started nursing school that fall. I was in my first trimester of pregnancy and my first trimester of nursing school! I gave birth to Bethany “Hope” during my OB semester of nursing school and returned to my nursing clinicals one week after I delivered at the same hospital. I had a network of nurses and friends that helped me because this hospital was also the L&D unit my mom worked in. I had so much support and love during that time and I felt the love of Jesus surrounding me. I was in a strong place. Starting to see the future with hope for new beginnings!

“No one has ever measured (not even poets) how much love the heart can hold.” -Zelda Fitzgerald

May the God of all “hope”fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with “hope” by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you “hope” and a future. Jeremiah 29:11

“The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.”’ Numbers 6:24-26

(1994-95) Year Six

A year of redeeming love, a year of miracles! God got a hold of Danny in only a way He can and Danny’s heart was changed. Some say people don’t change, but God can change people, it’s the only truly lasting change. (I have often compared it to a “Saul to Paul” type conversion!!) This was our road to Damascus. God had to do a work in my heart also, to forgive and trust and be open to what He was doing. I had already made all my own plans for my future and was happy and at peace with them. I had to let go of my plans and embrace what God was doing. Best decision I ever made. On our 6th anniversary we renewed our vows with our 4 babies and our family at our side. A new beginning! Not the one I thought I would have at this point, but God gives us so much more than we can hope for or imagine! He truly brings beauty from ashes. I was in my last semester of nursing school and working as a student nurse in a postpartum unit, life looked so bright. God had done the unimaginable and restored our marriage and family. And of all the times I have shared our testimony over the years, God has and will always get the glory!

“Love doesn’t sit there like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; re-made everyday, made new.” -Ursula LeGuin

“A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” -Robert Quillen

“A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.” -Mignon McLaughlin

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:17

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or imagine, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies. To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oak that the Lord has planted for his own glory. Isaiah 61:2-3

(1995-96) Year Seven

A time to celebrate! Our marriage was restored. We lived temporarily back with my parents as we were purchasing their house and they were building their new home! (So I guess you could say they were living with us). I graduated from nursing school (whoop whoop!!) and started my first RN job in postpartum. THEN a Christmas surprise! It only seems appropriate with all these blessings that we would find out we were expecting baby #5 during this year! It was a little overwhelming but also exciting! Lots of changes. Counting it all JOY! My marriage was stronger than ever, full of love and growing richer and fuller than I could have ever known to be possible.

“Love is a partnership of two unique people who bring out the very best in each other, and who know that even though they are wonderful as individuals, they are even better together.” Barbara Cage

“Marriage is not a noun; it’s a verb. It isn’t something you get. It’s something you do. Its the way you love your partner every day.” -Barbara De Angelis

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

(1996-97) Year Eight

I got a new job and was hired at the hospital were I gave birth to all my children. I was trained as a NICU nurse, I found my place in nursing. My career became dedicated to my passion, babies! We had a romantic second honeymoon in Puerto Vallarta when I was six months pregnant. We then welcomed baby #5 that summer, Connor Logan. A busy time in our lives, Danny was working in accounting for a large construction company, I was working full time in NICU, a new baby, kids in school, preschool, home day-care! Life was busy but life was good and full of love!

‎”No one can go back and change how it started but a new future for any marriage can begin the moment one person begins to invest in it.” -Fawn Weaver

“Marriage: Love is the reason. Lifelong friendship is the gift. Kindness is the cause. Til’ death do us part is the length.” -Fawn Weaver

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved. Psalm 55:22

(1997-98) Year Nine

Immersed in life! Working full time, school talent shows, brownies (pre-Girl Scouts), dance classes, music lessons, diapers. A busy life. A full life. Sharing good times with my best friend and husband. Happy times!

“Happily ever after is not a fairy tale. It’s a choice.”-Fawn Weaver

“In the arithmetic of love, one plus one equals everything and two minus one equals nothing.” -Mignon McLaughlin

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your cares on Him, because He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7

(1998-99) Year Ten

A rough year medically, Danny was home on disability with severe vertigo, the first of several chronic conditions he would have to struggle through from this point forward. He became a stay at home dad and started earning his degree by attending college online during his disability. I had surgery to have my tonsils removed this year. Then we decided to have another baby (why not?) and conceived baby #6 this year. The kids were happy to have their dad home. We were busy as ever and added community theatre to the list of childrens activities this year. In spite of the rough patches and trials life threw our way, our family continued to grow in love, in size and in The Lord!

“The greatest marriages are built on teamwork. A mutual respect, a healthy dose of admiration, and a never-ending portion of love and grace.” -Fawn Weaver

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:58

(1999-00) Year Eleven

We welcomed our 6th baby and our 4th son, Caleb Aaron. Football and cheerleading were added to our busy repertoire this year. We continued in community theatre fun with all four of our oldest kids performing together in the play Peter Pan! So much fun!

“Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads which sew people together through the years.” -Simone Signoret

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. Psalm 127:3-5

(2000-01) Year Twelve

Some people called us crazy, many didn’t understand why, the comments we received were sometimes really hurtful, but this year we decided to try for baby #7. Yes, another baby! After all 7 is the number of completion! We conceived this year while Danny continued his studies online from home, being a stay at home dad. He added coaching pop warner football to his resume as he became a coach to our son. We had two cheerleaders this year for our sons team. Life became even wilder and so full and fun! We took an incredibly fun family road trip with my parents to Estes Park Colorado and even drove up to South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore!!

“A good marriage is each for the other and two against the world.” -Robert Brault

“Marriage is our society’s most pro-child institution. If you want kids to do well, then you want marriage to do well.” -David Blankenhorn

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2

(2001-02) Year Thirteen

We welcomed our 7th child and 5th son, Tristan Bradley. The other kids helped us choose his name and he decided to arrive much differently and he was delivered by CS since he saw fit to turn around completely into a breech presentation at the very end of my pregnancy. He was born 4 months prior to my 30th birthday and 9/11. He made our family complete. We added basketball this year when Kyle started playing and Danny was his coach. This was a happy time, a busy time. We were so in love with each other and our children! We had so much to be thankful for.

“A happy marriage doesn’t mean you have a perfect spouse or a perfect marriage. It simply means you’ve chosen to look beyond the imperfections in both.” -Fawn Weaver

The blessing of the LORD makes a person rich, and he adds no sorrow with it. Proverbs 10:22

(2002-03) Year Fourteen

I changed jobs this year and took a staff position in NICU at Queen of the Valley Hosp (my most favorite place I worked throughout my career). We also bought a bigger home this year and moved just after Christmas! Danny completed his bachelors degree in IT and continued on for his Masters! He started his own IT consulting buisness and began doing contract jobs on occasion while he continued in school and daddy duties! Those contract jobs eventually led to the job opportunity and career he is currently in. We juggled sports, dance, voice, community theatre, performing troup, music lessons, school and still diapering and baby raising! Life was grand! We were rich in love and friends and family!

“The more things we can laugh about, the more alive we become: The more things we can laugh about together, the more connected we become.” -Frank Pittman

“Enjoy the little things in life… For one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.” -Kurt Vonnegut

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love. 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

(2003-04) Year Fifteen

With our pregnant and nursing years behind us (14 years of being pregnant and breast feeding), we decided a little mommy and daddy time was in order and this began an amazing couple years of the most exciting trips we have ever taken. We started small with a 3 day cruise to Ensenada Mexico and we were hooked. Several months later in the fall we went to Maui and took Kim and Daniel (my brother and sister in law) with us, and had such a memorable time together in paradise. Then 5 months later, for our 15th wedding anniversary, we took a road trip across the country to New Orleans and from there went on a 7 day western Caribbean cruise to Jamaica, Grand Caymans and Cozumel. (On this cruise was when I cut my long hair) We had so much fun, we decided we had to take all the kids with us on our next cruise and began planning right away with other family members wanting to join us. These were some of the adventurous years.

“The best time to love with your whole heart is always now, in this moment, because no breath beyond the current is promised.” -Fawn Weaver

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11

(2004-05) Year Sixteen

Danny graduated with his Masters degree this year! We had a huge luau celebration in our backyard! Biggest party ever! As a gift for his graduation, family pitched in and sent us to Cancun. Then within months, we finally got to take our kids along on a cruise, a 4 day cruise to Catalina and Ensenada. We had so much fun with the whole gang. That was when we decided to buy a travel trailer and take a lot more family trips! We had begun the journey of home schooling earlier in the year because we weren’t happy with the public schools our children were enrolled in. So we hit the road, sometimes for two weeks at a time. We went places like Zion National Monument, Bryce National Monument, all over Colorado and Arizona including the Grand Canyon. We visited family in New Mexico and saw Carlsbad Caverns. We traveled through several mountain passes and my husband will tell you how much I loved to take the “scenic routes” on the map. Which with towing the huge rig we had, where often narrow and a little scary, but always so beautiful. What a beautiful country we have to explore!

“Being in a long marriage is a little bit like that nice cup of coffee every morning – I might have it every day, but I still enjoy it.”-Stephen Gaines

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:16-17

(2005-06) Year Seventeen

Those road trips led us to Arizona where we visited family after a fun trip to Tombstone, AZ. During that visit we found out that two of my cousins were in foster care and their social worker was looking for family placement. We felt compelled to take them in after having experienced a brief foster child placement in our home several months before. During that time we got emergency foster parent credentials to take in a boy that my husband coached on our two oldest sons football team. It was short lived, but we knew all things happen for a reason and we felt this was the greater purpose of that experience. So after several trips to AZ to visit with and get to know Dustin and Desiree, they came to live with us in CA and our family grew to 11 for a short time. This became very temporary when we quickly found out they had problems beyond our abilities to help. We had to make a hard decision and relinquish them back to AZ for specialty placement. As we picked up all the broken pieces it all caused within our own family. This was an emotionally devastating time on our own children and I took a stress leave from work and we spent some quality time loving on our kids and restoring our home.

“The difference between an ordinary marriage and an extraordinary marriage is in giving just a little ‘extra’ every day, as often as possible, for as long as we both shall live.” -Fawn Weaver

In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good. Ecclesiastes 11:6

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18

(2006-07) Year Eighteen

During this time of healing we took a trip to Texas where Kim and Daniel had moved the year before, to visit them and see their new home. It was during our trip there that we decided to go home and put our house on the market and make the move to Texas. I had been offered one of the two job offers I received before ever leaving town to head home. This was a time of confusion and sadness. We grieved over what we thought was a failed experience with our foster children. We sought The Lord in prayer and our house sold. So we picked up, packed up and moved to Texas that summer. We enrolled our oldest son as a freshman in public school so he could play Texas High School football but continued to home school all the other kids. Starting a new life in Texas was exciting and new but very difficult as well. Starting a new job, having a new home, new church, new friends, all huge changes. God knows how many bad choices we made along the way costing us financially. With medical issues mixed in, Danny had surgery on his foot and I had my gall bladder removed. In spite of all this it was a very happy and restorative time in our lives in which God was drawing us closer to Him. We learned about peace and contentment in the midst of life’s trials. Our lives were rich with love and friends and family. We knew that we were right where we were meant to be and things had turned out just as they were supposed to.

“Love doesn’t make the world go round. Love is what makes the ride worthwhile.” -Franklin P. Jones

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11-13

(2007-08) Year Nineteen

Life in Prosper, TX was exciting and fun! Full of good people, friends and community. We enjoyed watching our son play football and excel and be promoted to Varsity his Sophomore year. We enrolled Kyle as a freshman that year so he also could play football a year behind his brother. The other kids were still home schooled. Brittany was singing occasionally in church and leading worship in youth. Our kids were thriving and we enjoyed being just down the road from Kim and Daniel and the kids cousins. I continued working full time as a NICU nurse and Danny worked as an IT consultant, self-employed and working contract jobs which included occasional trips back to CA to do jobs for the company that would eventually move us back to CA for a full time career opportunity. My parents moved to Texas from California this year, bringing our Texas family total to our family, two brothers families and my parents. We bought our house on Brittany Way this year and we were content with life and happy. Good times!

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” -Henry Ford

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7

(2008-09) Year Twenty

This was the year of the State Championship in Football! Prospers first ever. My son was a two-way starter for the Prosper High School football team, it was his Junior year. We enrolled all our kids back into public school that year and Bethany was a freshman at the HS and the freshman team mascot (Edgy the Eagle). Kyle got moved up to Varsity for playoffs and all the mascots got moved up as well. It was so exciting to have all three of our kids down on the field during that ride through playoffs and all the way to State! The game was the last game to be played in the Cowboy stadium before it was torn down to build the new stadium. What a highlight of that year. We won state! Our son was integral in making that happen and all our HS kids were involved in the team that year! Brittany moved to CO for a school year to attend worship school at New Life church in CO Springs. She still pursued singing, music and writing. It was hard letting her go so far from home but also exciting entering this phase of life. They were all growing up and we were thoroughly enjoying these teenage years.

“A fool in love makes no sense to me. I only think you are a fool if you do not love.” -Unknown

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6

(2009-10) Year Twenty-One

Brittany graduated from worship school, came back home and started working at the church and singing on the worship team. What a blessing and joy to see her and hear her each Sunday up on that stage! Our lives were full and brimming with joy. Our jobs were the same, although Danny started traveling a little more frequently to CA. The kids were all excelling in school and sports. Colin was a Senior, Kyle (and Sarah), Juniors, Bethany a sophomore, Connor in 7th, Caleb in 4th and Tristan in 2nd. All of them were now going to the great schools in our small town community. We traveled before the school year started on a trip back to CA and to Vegas with the 5 youngest kids. (This started a trend of traveling once each summer with Danny on his buisness trips).

“A great marriage isn’t something that just happens; it’s something that must be created.” -Fawn Weaver

(2010-11) Year Twenty-Two

Colin graduated from HS and his baccalaureate was held at our church. Brittany was the spokesperson and led worship for the event. It was very special! A proud moment to see our oldest children’s achievements. Brittany was also in a blossoming relationship with her soon to be husband Brady Williams. This is the year they met, got engaged and got married! We travelled to AZ to join our friends at the CO river for a vacation. ALL of our kids joined us on this trip including our soon to be son in law, Brady. In his honor we made a side trip to the Grand Canyon since he had never been. This was the last trip we all took together. I am hoping that will someday change. Kyle and Sarah were seniors this year and grew up fast after going through the tragedy together of losing Sarah’s dad in a car accident the summer before their senior year. With heavy hearts we attended his funeral and said goodbye to a great man, husband and father. We all learned how short life can be that summer and how important it is to seize the day and cherish every moment. Kyle had an amazing football season and was named Offensive Lineman of the year. Colin got recruited to play football for a private Christian University and went away to East Texas for a year of school and we took several road trips to East Texas to watch him play college football. Connor played middle school football, life was busy still.

We held a small, quaint, and beautiful wedding ceremony for Brittany and Brady in our living room in January of that year. It was charming perfection, just what the bride ordered! (The twinkle lights hung in the living room until we sold that beloved house). We gladly and with full hearts welcomed another son into our family and were so happy for our daughter, also being the first of our children to wed. Blessings abounding!

“A long-lasting marriage is built by two people who believe in -and live by- the solemn promise they made.” -Darlene Schacht

“There are few things more frightening to a man than giving away his heart. And there are few things more comforting to a man than to know the woman he gave his heart to, will protect it with her life.” -Fawn Weaver

Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. Psalm 30:5

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13

(2011-12) Year Twenty-Three

An exciting year for sure! Kyle and Sarah graduated from HS and Kyle proposed to Sarah that summer, who we adore and had already become a precious addition to our family. Colin moved home that summer to continue his education at the community college and started working for the school district. Kyle got accepted to the fire academy at the same college. Brittany was expecting our 1st grandchild!We took another fun trip to CA that summer with our 4 youngest (notice how the numbers on our trips keep decreasing). We spent 4th of July weekend at a hotel on the beach in Dana Point and took a trip to Disneyland. Bethany started her Senior year. Connor, Caleb and Tristan all played football this year and Danny coached again! So fun! Brittany gave birth to Availeth Joy, our first grandchild, in Nov of that year and all of our lives were better for it. Avey is so precious. What a Merry Christmas it was that year! Full of Gods riches and blessings in our lives!

“Love is the greatest gift when given. It is the highest honor when received.” -Fawn Weaver

“Marriage is a commitment- a decision to do, all through life, that which will express your love for one’s spouse.” -Herman H. Kieval

(2012-13) Year Twenty-Four

Kyle graduated as Valedictorian of his class from the fire academy and went directly into EMT school all before his wedding in July. We welcomed a beautiful daughter into our family that summer and were so happy to see their 4 year long romance blossom into happily ever after!

Bethany graduated from HS and started college. Colin started his job full time at Texas family fitness which eventually resulted in a General Manager position. Brittany and Brady were expecting grand baby #2 and we were enjoying life with our kids and granddaughter. I was at a new job, still in NICU, at a different hosp. We traveled to CA again that summer for vacation with our 3 youngest! (See a pattern here). Danny was traveling for work more than ever and we started discussing the possibility of moving back to CA for his career…something we never thought would happen!

“We come to love not by finding a perfect person, but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly.” -Sam Keen

“Where there is love, there is life.” -Mahatma Gandhi

(2013-14) Year Twenty-Five

This year was a roller coaster. We welcomed our 2nd grand baby (1st grandson) Benjamin Alton, into the world in May. A few months later in August Danny and I and our 3 youngest children moved back to CA after 7 years in Texas! (again with that number of completion). We chose Chino Hills because it is so nice, so close to Danny’s job in Pomona and right around the corner from my sister and only relative from my family, left in the immediate area. I was able to retire from nursing after 20 years with the move back to CA! A dream come true! (I do miss those babies though). Kyle was in Paramedic school and a volunteer fire fighter. Sarah was in her final semester and graduated in May with her Bachelors degree from SMU. We kept our home in Texas for a year before selling it and two of our adult children lived there. Colin proposed to Kyli in December. We have been so blessed by God as our family continues to grow. We were all able to go home to Texas for Thanksgiving and be all together to celebrate the holidays. We also celebrated Christmas on Dec 1st with all our kids while in Texas. We spent Christmas Day that year at our apartment in Chino Hills with our 3 youngest sons. That was the first Christmas in 25 years that we couldn’t be all together as a family on the holiday. In January, Bethany also moved to CA, so we had our 4 youngest children with us in CA.

“There is no greater happiness for a man than approaching a door at the end of a day knowing someone on the other side of that door is waiting for the sound of his footsteps.” -Ronald Reagan

(2014-15) Year Twenty-Six

Colin and Kyli got married in April! We were so blessed to all be in Texas together for the wedding to welcome our newest member to the family. We sold our Texas home this year and let go of our Texas residency. Home was once again California! We moved to a larger townhome apartment in Chino this year. Danny’s job was going great and I was enjoying retirement. Connor was working hard as a shop mechanic at the same company as Danny. Caleb was a sophomore and Tristan was in 7th grade. Bethany only lived here a couple months and then moved back to Texas. Brittany was expecting her 3rd baby! We traveled to Texas for many visits this year and enjoyed the holidays in Texas in November once again.

“Show me a man who is smiling from ear-to-ear and living a beautiful life, and I’ll show you a man who is grateful for what he has and utterly in love with his wife.” -Fawn Weaver

(2015-16) Year Twenty-Seven

Tragedy hit our family hard this year when Brittany lost her precious son Elias who was born still, full term. We don’t always understand why things happen as they do in this broken world. She also had two other early miscarriages and now has 3 precious children in heaven. I spent some time in Texas with her family during that time. She conceived again during this year and we looked forward to welcoming another precious boy into her family. We bought our house during this year in Chino, California and finally got permanently settled in. Colin and Kyli moved to Ca this year. Soon after they were expecting their first baby! Colin took a job as a project manager at the same company Danny and Connor worked at. Connor moved into a superintendent training position. Caleb was a Junior and Tristan was in 8th grade.

“A successful marriage isn’t the union of two perfect people. It’s that of two imperfect people who have learned the value of forgiveness and grace.” -Darlene Schacht

My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned. Song of Solomon 8:7

(2016-17) Year Twenty-Eight

This year we welcomed two beautiful grandchildren! Brittany and Brady welcomed Noah Eli in April and I spent nearly a month in Texas with my family and grandchildren! Colin and Kyli welcomed Jaxson Micah in June in California, their 1st child and our 4th grand-baby! Bountiful and bouncing blessings! Once again sadness hit our family when Kyle and Sarah who were excitedly expecting their 1st baby, lost him at 18 weeks of pregnancy. Sarah went on to sadly loose a second baby to early miscarriage. We now have 5 grandchildren in heaven to reunite with some day. She quickly conceived again after that! Caleb started his Senior year and then tested out by receiving his equivalency diploma. Tristan was a freshman this year in high school. Brittany came to spend the summer in California with her children since Avey had been diagnosed with JRA, she wanted to see if the climate helped Avey the same way it had helped Danny. Avey’s RA went into complete remission! So Brittany and Brady moved to California during this year and joined the numbers that were growing here in California calling this state home once again!

“Once we figured out that we could not change each other, we became free to celebrate ourselves as we are.” -H. Dean Rutherford (in a letter to his wife on their 59th wedding anniversary)

I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine. Song of Solomon 6:3

(2017-18) Year Twenty-Nine

This year Kyle and Sarah welcomed their son Kirk Kyle to the family at Christmas time and we were in Texas to help welcome him. Soon after Colin and Kyli announced they were expecting their second baby! Caleb worked most of this year as a shop runner for the “family” company’s Tristan started a part time job at Pizza Hut an started his sophomore year. Brittany and Brady’s family moved from the San Diego area out to Joshua tree area in the desert as their occupations and lives changed as Brittany started Instant Loss, her blog and social media buisness that blossomed into a cookbook deal as she was about to become a published author. Bethany moves into her own apartment in Plano, Tx, we kept hoping life would lead her to California also.

“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” -John Lennon and Paul McCartney

Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Song of Solomon 8:6

(2018-19) Year Thirty

Tristan studied hard and passed his CHSPE and received his equivalency diploma and started community college at 17! The days of having kids in school finally coming to a close! Colin and Kyli welcomed Jhett Colson into their family this year, their second son and our 6th grandchild! Life was looking pretty joyful and abundant. Maybe just the lull before the storm. Shortly after welcoming Jhett into the world, my life took a turn when I was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine mammogram. Since then has been a time of rest, treatment, doctors appointments, tests, consults and healing. We had to postpone my bucket list trip we had planned to NYC at Christmastime. But we had a wonderful holiday with ALL of our children and grandchildren in which we came away with family pictures! I have undergone 18 weeks of chemotherapy and will soon be having a double mastectomy with immediate DIEP reconstruction just 8 days after we celebrate our 30th Wedding Anniversary. This has been a hard trial and an onslaught to my health. Yet we head into this next year grateful to God that I am alive and that we caught the cancer early enough to treat it at stage 2. Life will go on. We have a God in whom we can completely trust in and rest in and that is where we are. Danny is working hard, taking care of me, carrying the world on his shoulders and trying to start a buisness opportunity for our family alongside the company several of them work for now. There is much on the horizon and a future full of hope! We are excited to celebrate 30 years of marriage and family and to take the time for me to heal. Then we look forward to taking some postponed and long awaited trips! We have thoroughly enjoyed all the 2-4 day weekend travels we have gone on these last couple years. Places like San Francisco, San Diego, Mammoth, Big Sur, Colorado, Texas, Beverly Hills, beach trips, etc. We plan to continue frequent long weekend trips starting with a celebration of our anniversary in San Simeon on the beach near Hearst Castle. But we also look forward to many other travels, visits with family, family weddings, welcoming babies as great aunt and great uncle to several now! We look forward to the future and all it holds.

So here we are in the present chapter of our love story! Celebrating 30 years of life, love and happiness! We would never have made it thru life’s ups and downs without a solid foundation in Christ and the love of family and friends! Marriage is hard, but nothing worth having is ever easy! Love is a choice! Oh it starts out as an attraction and a lot of emotion and fluff, but true and lasting love is a daily choice to lay down your life for another, to stay when life gets tough, to forgive when hurt arises and to love as Christ first loved us and gave himself for us as an example to follow. And through this sacrifice there is a coming together, an expression of Christ’s love, a richness, an intimacy that so few couples experience nowadays! It is in our nature to look back and think about what we would change if we could! My answer is nothing! I wouldn’t change a thing! What we’ve lived is what’s brought us to where and who we are! And where we are is happy, still married, best friends, rich with blessings, with our cup running over, and YES, “IN LOVE”….happily ever after, till death do us part! You know…to have and to hold, to love and to honor, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health (and we have seen it all!), forsaking all others, until death do us part! I wouldn’t have it any other way! Happy 30th Anniversary to my love!

May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer— may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be intoxicated with her love. Proverbs 5:18-19

I have found the one my soul loves. Song of Solomon 3:4

Chemo Ends…Surgery Next!

*warning: graphic and transparent. What else would you expect? 😊

Today is my last chemo infusion. I have been looking forward to this since I started chemo, but I’ve been even more excited since infusion #5 because I could see the light at the end of THIS tunnel. I emphasize “this” because I still have to get through all the chemo side effects from infusion #6, some of which linger for months, and I still have several metaphoric tunnels to navigate this year. The cancer trial and journey doesn’t end with the end of chemo. Although, I am so excited that chemo will end!!! 🎉🎉🎉 I will continue to come in every 3 weeks for my Herceptin infusion for an entire year. (October). Herceptin is a targeted therapy drug for HER2+ cancer cells. But it is not chemo, so no more cold cap therapy either and I shouldn’t have all the side effects that chemo brings. My thinning hair should start growing back and hopefully my eye brows and lashes.

The next “tunnel,” “hurdle,” whatever you want to call it is the biggest one. The first and largest of my surgeries. Here is where I will part with a part of my body that has been with me for nearly 35 years. The part that adolescent girls look the most forward to getting. The part that gives shape to the most womanly curvaceous parts of our bodies. The part that most consider the most beautiful part of the female form. Yes, they take a lot of abuse over the years, with breastfeeding, in my case 7 babies, with stretch marks taking up residency with each pregnancy, and gaining of weight, and with gravity not being kind to this area of our bodies most specifically. My breasts.

So some may think, “you get new boobs!” But with cancer, it’s not like that! I never asked for new boobs, I never wanted new boobs. I was very happy with the ones God gave me, well maybe not “very” happy, but at least they were mine. And every stretch mark tells a mostly happy story. I’ve looked at them through every change in size, shape and pull of gravity, in the mirror. I have grown pretty attached to them and will be sad to see them be cut up and completely changed to NEVER look the same.

I choose to part with them freely and without pressure, knowing I’m making the right choice, so that I hopefully will never have to go through this again. And yes, that’s worth it to me. My husband absolutely supports my choice. Even though it affects him also, no matter what I choose, because yes, he is just that wonderful and genuinely supportive and selfless. He also never wants to see me have to go through breast cancer again or for me to have the risk of metastasis or reoccurrence. And I never want him to have to go through this again either.

Now I will have something very different, with new scars and marks that will tell a completely different story, not such a happy one this time. I will turn it into a story of triumph but it will be tainted with scary moments, sad moments, sick moments, painful moments, sacrificial moments, real life moments.

I suppose I will have to process the loss in my own specific way. Not comparing it to anyone else and how they would feel or comparing it to any other type of loss of limb, organ or part of a person because we are all individuals and process things differently. Our experiences are our own. So understand this….before you start a sentence with, “well at least…” it doesn’t help.

4 weeks from today a breast surgeon, one of the most respected in the state. One that can’t weigh more then 100lbs soaking wet (why do we say that, who weighs themselves soaking wet?). One who is a cute, adorable blond who hugs me tight every time she sees me. One in whom I can see her compassion for me in her eyes every time she looks at me. Not the “feel sorry for you” kind of compassion but the “I’m in this with you and I’ve got your back,” kind of compassion. She will remove both of my breasts in a “skin sparing” double mastectomy.

This is the treatment option I have chosen, to give myself the best possible chance of never having a reoccurrence of breast cancer. She will remove both my nipples/ areolas for the same reason. Along with my breast tissue she will also be removing anything that could be left of the tumor that chemotherapy has mostly or possibly, completely eradicated. I will be deemed “cancer free” after this surgery, if my excised “sentinel” lymph nodes come back clear of any cancer cells, which is the expectation after chemotherapy.

I am 47 years old, and hopefully have many many years left to live and don’t want to go without breasts for potentially 30-45 years! There are so many different choices to make with treatment and surgical options. I chose a double mastectomy to minimize any chance to have breast cancer again. With immediate reconstruction using the DIEP procedure, so my new breasts will be as natural as possible.

This is NOT a tummy tuck my plastic surgeon, a completely different surgeon than my breast surgeon, tells me. Don’t mistake it as such, he forewarned me. The goal is not cosmetic enhancement of your tummy, it is successful tissue transplantation and reconstruction of your breasts which is a long and complicated procedure and is safer not adding unnecessary time to with cosmetic touch ups and elective add ons.

I chose this procedure because I have no desire, and never have to have anything artificial placed in my body. I have not wanted it for cosmetic reasons and still do not out of necessity either. Not to mention the potential risks and side effects that can come with an artificial implant option. That is me, that is how I feel and that is my choice. For someone else that may be what they choose, and that is fine for them.

The DIEP procedure will go deeper than a traditional “tummy tuck” all the way through the fascia to the muscle and in some cases, though they try to attempt a “muscle sparing” dissection, in 5% of the procedures they have to take muscle. The key to success is the vasculature that feeds the tissue. They have to take healthy vessels that are large enough to reconnect to achieve adequate blood flow and circulation to the transplanted tissue. I will have abdominal tissue (fat) and blood vessels placed within my breast skin through the cuts made when my areolas and my natural breast tissue and any cancerous cells that may still be there, are removed. Then the abdominal tissue vessels will be reattached to vessels in my chest to create new healthy living breast tissue. The incision of the abdomen will go from hip to hip and will be just below the belly button area. The incisions on my breasts will be where my areolas and nipples are excised.

There will be other necessary follow up surgeries and procedures, much simpler day surgeries. They will occur three months apart from each other to follow this huge surgery. They will cosmetically complete the look, symmetry, shaping, scar revisions, nipple creation and areola tattooing. So that in the end, I will have the most natural looking and feeling breasts that modern medicine can create while maximizing the hope of breast cancer never returning to wreak havoc in my life again.

My plastic surgeon is an incredibly experienced, kind and humble man with a great bedside manner. He specializes in and has done so many of these procedures that he says in 20 years he has stopped counting, but probably has done 1 a week for 20 years! 😮 The surgery is long. The mastectomy itself, is done by my cute, tiny and adorable breast surgeon whom I love, Dr Kruper, its about 4 hours at the beginning of the surgery. Then my plastic surgeon, Dr Tan, and a second highly experienced micro-vascular surgeon, take over for the dissection and reconstruction. The total procedure lasts 12-14 hours. The hospital stay will be approximately 5 days and the recovery will take 3 months.

Please, if I may ask for your continued prayers for me. Please pray everything would go smoothly today. That my chemo side effects would be minimal and subside quickly. That my body would recover quickly and thoroughly to be strong for surgery. That the toxicity of chemo would not create additional complications or future health issues. That my surgery would be a success and that God would guide the surgeons through that success. That healing would be as painless as possible. That my healing would also go smoothly and with minimal scaring. That there would be no complications. That my husband would be given peace throughout the procedures and strength throughout my recovery. Thank you in advance for all your continued prayers, support, encouragement and good thoughts. You all bless me so much. I am grateful beyond words.

Chemotherapy ends today, but the effect cancer will have on my life is not over. Not by a long shot! But today I am thankful for successful endings. I am grateful for medical science, that despite the toxicity of treatment, can effectively treat the cancer that was growing and multiplying quickly inside of me. So fast I could feel it by touch. That was scary! But chemotherapy stopped it and shrunk it fast, possibly killing it completely. We will know soon.

I am thankful to my Savior who has faithfully walked with me through this journey, and all my journeys, that make up my story and my testimony. Who has guided my decisions. Who upholds me with His righteous right hand. Who shines His light upon me and through me and gives me peace that surpasses all understanding. He fights for me while I rest in Him and enables me to just be still. He fills me abundantly with joy as the trials I face allow me to persevere in my faith, shaping me in maturity and wholeness so I will lack nothing. He gives me strength and makes me brave. He blesses me immensely in the process because He is a good, good Father. Yes, I’m so eternally grateful. He fills me with an anchor of hope as I trust in Him. My cup overflows.

There is hope beyond this!

God, take the glory! All of it! I lay my crown of glory at your feet.

When God Opens a Window (revised)

This is a metaphoric story of my life that I wrote 4 years ago but have updated and revised here.

My whole life I have walked with the Lord. My walk has had many ups and downs, many winding roads and many pitfalls. I’ve had times when I tried to take my own path, and I had to use my God given GPS to find my way back to the right path. There were times I felt alone in my walk and times I felt physical walls blocking my way. A few times I have felt completely waylaid on the sideline but knew Jesus stood over me encouraging me to get back up and keep going, until I did. Sometimes the path seemed too difficult and at times I felt Him even physically carrying me. Then there have been the times where my path was straight and easy, when I have felt His presence as real as anyone walking beside me, holding my hand, walking and talking with me on my journey. Those times have been more rare but so precious.

There is a saying: “when God closes a door He opens a window.” Well in my spiritual house I have had many doors close, even slammed hard in my face. I have found myself looking desperately for the open windows that I thought were supposed to be there and couldn’t find any. I have tried to unsuccessfully pry windows open even when I couldn’t find any that were open to me. I don’t recommend this! Then were the times I would just throw up my hands, retreat back into my house and stop looking for doors or windows, often closing myself in behind more doors.

I have had an occasional open door over the years and even experienced the open window after a door had closed. I have felt God use me in situations and circumstances and have been eager and honored to serve Him and show Him off to others. But I have always wondered about my call and purpose in life. I’ve wondered if I’m getting any of it right? Or was my call just to have lots of babies, work really hard and pour into their lives? Don’t get me wrong, this has been a noble assignment, my crowning call, not one I take lightly, but truly cherish deeply. It will continue to be my calling until I am called home. (Your babies will always be your babies and family just grows).

Often though, I have found myself asking, is that it for me? Then just choosing to be content with that, because it is an amazing and blessed part of who I am. The best part! My legacy is for Gods glory after all!

But these past two years have been a journey like no other. I went from being a mom of seven and a full time nurse, to having only three children left in my charge and a stay at home mom. I have grown up and gained some wisdom and perspective over the years. I understand love is a choice, joy is something we choose and I have experienced true contentment in spite of all my circumstances in life. I can see the fruit that came from some closed doors. Yes fruit, from a closed door! I can see why windows were left closed while I had character shaping that needed to take place, healing to happen, and other things that needed my attention. All along I have known that God has a plan for each of us, me included. Willingness has almost never been my issue, but you can be selectively willing and this is something I am still working on. The struggle between His will and my own. I’m a work in progress. But I have confidence in this, he who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it!

Then about a year ago a door opened, much to my surprise, and I stepped through. I did not recognize it at the time as a door God opened but over the course of the year the One who opened that door became clear. I felt so blessed and excited as I discovered that door and what its openness meant to me! I was eager to step through that door even though I felt safe there on the other side. It wasn’t an exterior door though, it was on the interior where I had retreated and shut myself away along the way. I had even become content and full of joy there. Just as He promises: “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.”

After stepping through the door, I spent a little time in that hallway just enjoying the new scenery, it was nice here in this hallway. I was slightly reluctant to venture out. After all, I could always run back into that safe room if things got scary.

Then over the last two months, Jesus slowly took my hand and He led me out of that hallway into the front room, the whole time I kept my eyes focused on Him as we went.

Then something happened next that I have never experienced to this extent of fullness and grace. He nodded as to have me look where He motioned. I looked around and there I was standing in a room with doors and windows wide open! With sunlight streaming in and so much promise beckoning. Standing there in His embrace, but not as if to say goodbye and set out alone and not clinging to Him out of fear. But as an excited daughter who has grown up a bit, and learned some things along the way. Molded and shaped by the Master Potters hands, who was just given a first class all expenses paid trip as a gift from her Father…and He is taking me on it! His bags are already packed and He packed for me too!! A light load to carry as I’d exchanged my baggage for His yoke. Let’s do this!

What an adventure this will be, both scary and exciting. So many questions? Am I ready? Are you sure you have the right daughter? How will I know where to go and what to do? What will I say and who will I encounter? How will I know who to help along the way?

These questions flood through my mind and He takes my chin and turns it to look into His face, to fix my gaze on Him as He smiles and the questions all disappear. I’m looking into His face, the Word. (In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God).

There it is:

“The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

Then this:

“I repeat, be strong and brave! Don’t be afraid and don’t panic, for I, the LORD your God, am with you in all you do.”

And this:

“Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This also:

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”

So here we go, setting off…abiding in the vine…the great I AM! Yes, the great I AM is my daddy! Oh how I adore and love Him so. I am so very humbled and so excited! What a journey it will be!

4 years have passed and I’ve had many adventures since then in those 4 years and the continuing sanctification process has been so incredibly beautiful to me. God knew I would need this journey to build me up to bring me to the scary place I am right now. The valley of the shadows. I have returned to my “spiritual home” with all its doors and windows. I never had to go far to see the sights and experience the love and grace and mercy of those travels. I find it ironic that much of the past two years I spent right outside in my literal and “spiritual garden.” Learning to be content in His presence and in the glory of His creation. More than that, learning to deeply love all He has created and to grow in that love. He taught me what Christ-like love really means. He opened my eyes to the wonderment and importance of love over all other spiritual gifts. “The greatest of these is love.” You can have all the gifts, all of them, but without love it is all pointless! God is love and so it all starts there.

He has taught me in my garden about planting and growing and pruning and watering and harvesting. Both physically and spiritually. I have felt His face shine on me. I have found peace over and over again.

“The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.” Num 6:24-26

He has shown me the beauty that comes from a life well lived in His presence, trusting Him, resting in Him, loving Him with my whole heart and loving others. He prepared me for this time of trial in my life. He knew from the beginning the preparation I would require to walk well through this valley. He promises to give us everything we need for each day we encounter and tells us not to worry about tomorrow. He promises to walk with us and if need be He will carry us.

He knew I would need to brush off my gardening and travel clothes and step back inside my spiritual house or maybe just sit on the front porch and rest in Him, hope and trust in Him. And let His face shine upon mine and fill me with His peace.

I’m not all closed in now, as before, hiding in some back room. My door is open, the windows too. Gentle breezes and whispers of love and reassurances drift in those windows saying “it will all be ok,” they come from all different places, sometimes the most unexpected places. But always received as gifts from the Spirit of God. Where all good gifts come from.

Sometimes I get visitors to my house and they join me for conversation. Sometimes they need seeds, sometimes water and sometimes pruning. But my loving Savior equipped me for this part of my journey and He guides my hands, my words and my open arms and also who I invite in, to lead them to Him. I can do anything through His strength.

Do I ask how I ended up here? Why do I carry this affliction? Sometimes. But I don’t linger long on thoughts that aren’t peace giving. He has taught me well how to take my thoughts captive. I know that all my days were planned and counted from the beginning and written in His book. And I know I can trust Him with the outcome. His Holy presence is with me and He will never leave me or forsake me. He pours out His love into me and through me as my cup runs over and my joy is complete.

Even my afflictions and the trials I face can not detour my faith and hope in who He is. My faith is steadfast. My hope is an anchor to my soul. My trust is in Him alone. And my joy is abundant and complete.

There is hope beyond this! All to His glory forever and ever!

Power in the Blood

Ringing in the new year had me feeling sorry for myself. Everyone gets excited for the start of a new year. Conversations revolve around fresh starts, resolutions and great expectations for the coming year. All I could think about was how hard my year was going to be continuing on chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer, with a major surgery and several small surgeries looming in my future throughout 2019. It was hard to get excited about the new year and I had slipped into a “woe is me” state of mind. I complained to my husband about this being another year of putting off trips I’d wanted to take and things I’d wanted to do. I lamented again about my precious New York trip at Christmas I had to cancel because of my health condition. I even complained on Facebook about how hard it was to get excited about the new year. I was truly disheartened and in low spirits those first couple days of 2019.

It didn’t help much that physically I was deteriorating, just days after my 4th chemo treatment, as my side effects were kicking in and fatigue was setting in unlike anything I had experienced to date. This time something was different. I was so weak, I could barely stand for more than just a few minutes without feeling like I was going to pass out. I couldn’t walk around the house or climb the stairs without getting winded and my heart rate racing into the 140s. This was not good and it wasn’t going away.

I had a near fainting spell a few weeks before, the week after my 3rd chemo infusion. I then learned that I was anemic and my hemoglobin was dropping with each successive treatment. So with all my current symptoms matching anemia symptoms and not subsiding, I was pretty confident that my hemoglobin had dropped even lower and was responsible for my worsening condition.

After three days with no improvement and barely functioning, I called the nurse triage line at City of Hope to report my symptoms. The nurse wanted me to come in to be evaluated as soon as I could. For several different reasons, we decided to wait until the next morning before we headed to COHs ETC (Evaluation and Treatment Center), a fancy name for urgent care.

I woke up around midnight on Thursday January 3rd and couldn’t fall back to sleep. It came to my mind that I had fallen several days behind on my first5 app, which is my daily devotional and bible reading. Since sleep was alluding me I decided to catch up on my app. I am studying the book of Jeremiah presently and read a chapter each day and then the commentary from the app that coincides with each chapter. I had 4 days worth of chapters and reading to do.

I’ve learned that timing is everything with God. Ive also learned that he will do what it takes to get my attention, even when, and probably especially when I’m in self-pity mode. So it isn’t unusual for him to wake me up to get me quiet and alone with him. As I began to read through these chapters and devotions in Jeremiah, God got my attention in that incredibly personal, “let me speak directly to your heart, exactly where your at, through my Word,” kind of way!

So many times in the past when I have gotten a little behind on whatever study I am doing, and I finally sit down to catch up, the message ended up speaking directly into my situation at that precise time. If I had been “on time” doing my study, the message would have come too early for my circumstances or experiences and I may have missed the bigger impact that the message contained for me. That is what I mean when I say, Gods timing is everything, and this time was no different. If I had been “on time” spreading these 4 days of study out on the days they should have been done, I would have missed the clustered message. God knew the perfect window of timing when he could get me alone and quiet during the middle of the night in my woe-is-me state of mind, so he could speak directly to my heart and lift me up, shift my perspective, teach me a lesson I needed to hear and replenish my joy! He is just so good that way!

These several days worth of teachings spoke directly into my circumstances in huge ways and I won’t go into it all, but the key verse and message that really struck me, was a message God gave Jeremiah to deliver to Jeremiah’s good friend and scribe who was bogged down in self pity. (See the correlation?)

“This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to you, Baruch: You have said, ‘Woe is me, because the LORD has added sorrow to my pain! I am worn out with groaning and have found no rest.’” This is what the LORD says: I will demolish what I have built and uproot what I have planted, throughout the land! Are you seeking great things for yourself? Don’t do it! I will bring great disaster upon all these people; but I will give you your life as a reward wherever you go. I, the LORD, have spoken!'”
Jeremiah 45:2-5

For real…this is in the Bible! I can’t make this stuff up! God was speaking to me directly:

“Rebecca, you say, ‘Woe is me, because of my sorrow and pain! I am worn out with groaning and have found no rest.’ But I, the Lord says: Are you seeking great things for yourself? Don’t do it! I will give you your life as a reward.”

My self focused, poor me attitude was self defeating. God was telling me: “Don’t do it!” When I fix my eyes on Jesus, trusting and resting in him and don’t pursue “things” for myself, but look outwardly at my true purpose in glorifying the Lord and resting in him, than he gives me peace and fills me with abundant joy. Besides, knowing that God is giving me my life as a reward in the midst of what I am going through currently, was extremely impactful having him speak this into my heart! Amen! If I never get anything else or go on another trip…my life is enough!

He asks us to exchange our heavy burdens for his yoke:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

So after spending the night talking with and learning from the Lord, the morning came and I was renewed spiritually, mentally and emotionally and filled with joy and peace and a shifted perspective. I could now be excited about the new year! I easily wrote out my New Years goals and found my new purpose in 2019:

I will not wallow in self pity. I will keep my eyes fixed on Jesus. I will do more than survive, I will thrive. I will rest in Him. I will trust Him. I will give God the glory.

I was so excited, I shared my revelations with my husband as we headed to City of Hope in the morning to have me “physically” evaluated. No longer feeling sorry for myself, I was resting in and trusting God for the outcome.

14 hours is what I spent in the ETC on Thursday January 3rd. My hemoglobin had dropped to 9.4, but not low enough to need a transfusion according to “textbook” requirements. So the doctor was determined to find some other explanation for my new and worsening symptoms, even if it meant chalking it up to, “well you are on chemo!” So after ruling out dehydration and bladder infection, the easy answers he was hoping for, I pushed for a deeper answer. I couldn’t imagine being sent home in such a physically weakened state to live like this.

Drawing on 20 years of nursing experience and being armed with my own background of medical ailments and family history, I was ready to challenge him on every turn. He was a trooper. I was extremely impressed with his willingness to get to the bottom of this with me, exchanging ideas, calling in consults, ordering tests and doing his own research into things most doctors would discount immediately.

To make a very long day and long story shorter, we ruled out anything heart, brain or lung related. Which was good to know, of course, that the most vital parts of my body are in good shape and have been spared damage from chemo. Praise God! In the end, he relayed my arguments and concerns to my medical oncologist who approved the blood transfusion despite it going against the medical norm.

So Thursday evening I was transfused with 1 unit A- PRBCs. It’s amazing what additional red blood cells (the cells that carry oxygen throughout the body) can do for a person in such a weakened state. There IS POWER in the blood! I could physically feel my extremities warming up during the transfusion, my energy was improved almost immediately. After an additional trip to CT (as I said, he wanted to rule out any possibilities) and then being treated for an allergic reaction to the contrast given during the CT scan, I was headed home and to bed. Loaded with IV Benadryl my eyes couldn’t stay open.

Friday I was nearly bouncing off the walls with energy. The first half of the day you couldn’t have got me to sit down. I was talking a mile a minute and full of exuberance. I felt a lightheaded, giddy feeling of euphoria that is hard to describe. I literally felt like I had been infused with someone else’s energy. And in fact I had!

Double fold!

Thursday in the early morning hours I had been filled with supernatural peace and abundant joy and purpose through a different kind of transfusion made possible through the blood of the cross, renewing me spiritually and mentally. Thursday evening I was physically transfused with life giving, oxygen carrying blood that revived me physically. Oh the power of the blood in that day of my life, renewing me in body, mind and spirit!

For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. Colossians 1:19-20

So bring on the new year with all its struggles, pain and challenges. I have a God who will take all my burdens and exchange them for rest and give me peace.

I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13

There is hope beyond this, to God be the glory!

Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens, “It has come at last–salvation and power and the Kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down to earth–the one who accuses them before our God day and night. And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. Revelation 12:10-11