The Choice We Have When Life Happens

Last week proved to be full of unexpected and unplanned deaths. Beginning with my neighbor, who was only 64. She suffered from a massive stroke on July 5 and was unable to recover. The unexpected drowning of Molly Greene, a lady I do not know, personally, but mutually connected to. Finally the unexpected death of Geoffrey Tennan, a man I knew and loved. Not one of these deaths were expected or anticipated. Life is full of unexpected, isn’t it?

Things happen in life that take us by surprise, lead us into shock and devastation and will do one of two things, draw us closer to God or fall away. I’ve been in both places. I can assure you that the first is far greater than the latter but if I’m being honest, the latter is an easier route.

It’s much easier to become angry with God when things don’t go the way we planned and the reason I fairly simple. We didn’t get what we wanted. Things didn’t go as expected and as Lysa TerKeurst says in her book, It’s Not Suppose To Be This Way, ”Humans are very attached to outcomes. We say we trust God but behind the scenes, we work our fingers to the bone and our emotions into a tangled fray trying to control our outcomes.”

Y’all it’s so easy to trust in God and His goodness when things are plotting along well but when tragedy, an unexpected illness, job loss, financial crises, or betrayal weaves its way into our lives, praising God is generally the furthest thing from our thoughts and minds.

However, because I have been in both places and I know the power anger had over me for so many years. I paid a significant price for my anger and I still marvel that God sought me out and lifted my feet on very solid ground. Psalm 40:2. I have been determined not to allow it to take up residence again. Oh, it wants to and it’s sometimes a daily fight but my God is stronger and He will battle for me.

In any case, over the past eight years, if I listed all of the things that have happened, which were not part of the outcome I perceived, you would be amazed, like I am that, I am not a walking basket case. Albeit, at times I reckon I am and that I am just being completely held together by a God who loves to laugh and say, ”Yep, that one’s a little cray, cray but I love her anyway.”

Here’s what I know and have learned. You cannot trust someone you do not know. If you don’t spend time alone with God, you will never get to know Him. If you don’t pray and ask Him to reveal himself to you, you can’t possibly understand that ”All things (good and bad) work together for good to those who love him and are called according to his purpose ” Romans 8:28 For me personally, I have to drown out the noises and get alone and still and quiet. (Yes, I did say quiet which will come as a shock to those who really know me)

What I have learned by spending time in His presence is that I can praise Him in the hard times of life. I can trust His heart and know that He has my back. Not only that, but He knows what is best for me.

When Ned was diagnosed with cancer, it rocked our world. The diagnosis was bleak. I remember falling to my knees in prayer before the first visit with Dr. Anthony, his oncologist, and begging God, ”Please God don’t let me become angry. Please keep my heart at peace. Help me to see the good and keep my hope in you. I know you will do what’s best.”

Can I be frank and honest, I tried to muster anger at times. It would’ve been easier emotionally because it was downright hard to remain hopeful and at peace with where things were. But every time I felt anger start to boil, something would happen. A prayer would be answered. A precious memory made. A good report. Something. I could stand back and say, ”Wow, God, look at what you did!” The praise kept the anger at bay and filled my heart with gratitude which in turn changed my attitude.

And so it is with you, are you struggling for peace? Do you want to understand? Has your world.been turned on its end? Are you angry with God because you think He’s the cause of your pain and heartbreak? You will not find answers in any self-help book. You will not find answers by constantly talking to people or going to church or attending a Bible Study or even through a counselor. You must seek to know Him. You must learn to trust Him and you must get alone with Him because you can bare your soul to Him. He already knows and cares for you!

Always On Time and Always at the Right Time

Again, I find myself amazed that God poured out these words four years ago. Interestingly, He knew in July of 2015, what we would learn in March 2016, Ned would be diagnosed with Atypical Stage 4 Lung cancer.

You know what? God came to us during that storm. He quieted our souls and we trusted in Him. He continues to pour out his goodness on Mom as well as the rest of our family.

Has it been easy or welcomed? Absolutely not. Would we have chosen things differently? Absolutely yes! But God, in His Sovereignty knew what was best and stood beside us the whole way.

So many people I know have been going through some very significant storms in their lives. For some it’s financial, others relational, illness, others loss of loved ones, and others emotional.

As I have been praying for these dear ones, God continues to remind me that He is with us in our storm. We may not see him but He is there and He will come to our rescue but only when the time is right and always just at the right time.

This picture keeps coming to mind for several reasons. Let me share the story behind it.

Mount Arbel is the place where Jesus retreated to go pray, while he sent his disciples on ahead of him, on the Sea of Galilee, to Bethsaida. While the disciples were on the sea, a squall or significant storm came. They were terrified. Jesus watched from the mountain top. He knew they were in the storm. He knew they were afraid. He knew they needed Him but He also knew they needed to go through the storm. (Mark 6:45-52)

Rick Warren says, “He’s letting you go through this storm for the same reasons he sent the disciples into the storm — to say, ‘I’m all you need. I can handle anything. I will come to you in the ninth hour. And I’ll come walking on the very thing that scares you the most. I’m not asking you to come to me. I’m going to come to you. You need to stop being afraid, and you need to totally trust me in faith.”

Look at this picture of Amy taken from Mount Arbel. The most fascinating fact about this is that from Mount Arbel you can see the entire Sea of Galilee. Just a great reminder that Jesus sees the whole picture. He sees all that life is throwing at us and He will come to us in our storm. We must believe in Him.

A Letter to my Seven Year Old Self

Please don’t misunderstand when I share this. I am not searching for sympathy. This girl imposed enough of that on herself when she was younger. I also used it as an excuse for my poor choices and bad behavior.

Why am I sharing?

Maybe this will help someone else. Maybe there’someone out there who’ve walked in my shoes. Maybe you too, have felt worthless or useless. Maybe like me, someone has made a promise they were never meant to make and it’s caused confusion and delusion. I don’t know, maybe someone just needs to hear that ”You are loved and worthy.”

This to me was a freeing exercise to do.

To my Seven-year-old self,

Little girl, you’ve placed the weight of the world on your shoulders. You have chosen a burden and responsibility much too great to shoulder. In fact, you can’t possibly do this. Not only are you not an adult, and trying to do adult things, you need to allow others to care for you.

I know you made a promise to your Daddy the night before he died. I know you intend to keep that promise. That’s how you are. You always strive to do what you say you will. But your Daddy didn’t mean it in the literal way you took it. He just wanted to reassure you that he had faith and confidence that you would do the right thing by helping your Mom, not trying to take his place.

Sweetie, you spent many hours angry and frustrated because you were a child trying to be an adult. You didn’t always enjoy the carefree life a child of seven often does. You grew up way too fast.

Your anger translated into hidden tears at night. It also wedged a gap between you and your Creator, God and your family members. Often times you would burst into fits of rage and no one understood because you never let anyone in your world. You kept it bottled. Plastered a smile on your face and pretended all was well.

You didn’t break the promise to you, Daddy. He is not disappointed with you. Your mom isn’t disappointed with you and your siblings are not disappointed with you. You are so loved.

Was it worth it? …..Absolutely

I’ve been avoiding this post like the plaque. A few weeks ago when God began churning my heart, I told Him, “Not now”. Yes, like I’ve said before delayed obedience is disobedience and I disobeyed.

I think as I write you will see why I avoided writing. However, the urge is so great within me, I can no longer resist.

As you know my biological father died when I was 7. He died from Melanoma and you can read some of his story in my blog post, My sweetest sorrow.

Now, we are at another crossroads with cancer. My stepfather, Ned. He was diagnosed 18 months ago with Stage 4 Atypical Non-small cell adenocarcinoma lung cancer. It sucks. I’m just not going to sugar coat anything about it.

A few months back, well technically a few years ago God began to stir this thought and idea about these two men I have had to privilege of calling Dad.

First, you must understand the first to understand the second.

Mack, my dad, had a strong enduring faith in God. He hoped beyond all hope that one day a cure for Melanoma would be discovered. Knowing full well it would not be in his lifetime, he allowed the doctors at Baptist Hospital (Wake Forest) to try new treatments on him. He was their guinea pig. His philosophy and mindset was to aid in the research and help others in the future.

Another thing to understand about my dad is that he never shied away from sharing his faith. He firmly grasped and held tight to his belief in Jesus. He had strong convictions about sharing his faith and the above picture is a treasure straight out of his Bible. His desire was to see that no one would perish without knowing Jesus. His chief goal in life.

I believe that through his death his chief goal was reached and realized. When Jesus tells us in John 15:13 “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Bear with me while I explain.

When Mom and Ned began dating Ned wasn’t really living out a full life with Christ at the center. He had made a profession of faith but wasn’t really living a life totally reflective of Christ.

As their relationship began to grow so did his love for Jesus. Eventually leading up to his rededication. In perfect Ned style, it was not a haphazard decision, it was done with intent and passion. A decision he will tell you was the best choice he ever made aside from marrying my Mom.

The reality here is that without my dad having died, Ned may have never been able to experience the blessed life that only Jesus can give. If you ask Mack if it was worth dying for he would say, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

—————–—————

That was the original post from September 11, 2017.

When I wrote these words, Ned was still with us and it would only be another six weeks until God would call him Home. Today marks 43 years since my Daddy has been in Heaven. In the past, this particular day has been such a painful hard day, but not today. What’s different?

My attitude. What I’ve realized with both Daddy and Ned was they were willing to embrace the process, to endure the pain to receive the victory. They both knew earth was their temporary dwelling and they both knew where they were going. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus did for us on the cross?

He soul agonized over having to endure the cross. He begged God for another way. When He knew there was no other way, He simply said, ”Not my will but yours” At this point, He embraced the process. He endured the cross. And when he spoke, ”It is finished” is His declaration of victory.

You will never get to the victory of the cross without enduring the pain and you’ll never be able to endure the pain without embracing the process.

I found this devotion in my Dad’s Bible. I wonder if it was something he had before his diagnosis or if he found it later. I don’t know the answer but what I know is that He bravely witnessed for the Lord and many lives were changed…….mine included.

That was my ”Today”

Brad Paisleys, Today, is probably one of the best songs ever written and sung. It’s such a great reminder that if we can hold on to special memories today, those memories are what will get us through tomorrow.

And I don’t know about tomorrow 
Right now the whole world feels right 
And the memory of a day like today 
Can get you through the rest of your life.

I’ll eventually get back to our Lexington trip but I keep mulling this post over and over again. I know from previous experience when these thoughts don’t go by the wayside, I am supposed to do something about it and so I’ll write.

It was the most gut-wrenching day of my adult life. The moment when the Hospice Doctor tells me, you need to call the family in. ”Ned’s time is short. I don’t know if he’ll be here more than 3-4 days.”

Just to clarify, I asked, ”So, you’re telling me that I need to call my sister to come back and I need to try to get my brother here from Oregon and any of the grandchildren that can come?”

”Yes, and I wouldn’t linger.”

I graciously thanked him and called Kristi. Call one. Check.

Knowing full well that David would unlikely be up a little before 6 his time, I called anyway. I held firm and didn’t get shakey with my words. ”You need to make arrangements to get here ASAP! And please call Zach and let him know.” Call two. Done.

Breathe. Focus. Breathe……reality set in. I had to call my children. All of a sudden, like a tidal wave, I collapsed screaming and crying into Terry’s lap. ”I can’t do this. This is too hard. I can’t call the kids and tell them their Papaw is dying. I can’t. I just can’t.” The weight of it all finally took its toll.

Gently rubbing my back, he said, ”It’s ok. I’ll call them.” I cried harder. I ugly cried. Every ounce of what I’d been holding back was now gaining momentum and no matter how I tried, it wouldn’t stop until it all filtered out. When it was over, I dried my tear-stained eyes, blew my nose and announced with all the confidence I could muster, ”No, it’s something I need to do. I’ll call them.”

The first call was to Ryan. I knew he was working and I wasn’t about to leave a message of such magnitude. I just left a message asking him to return my call.

Next up was Alex. Keep in mind. Matthew was deployed. I would later have to contact him through the Red Cross. Alex had just seen Ned a few days before. He wasn’t shocked or surprised but he was quiet. Knowing he had classes, I tried hard to keep things as upbeat as possible. He would be home tomorrow and that was good enough.

In between, calls, Ryan called me back. He knew. I didn’t have to tell him. I did anyway. Sometimes, its just good to give reality a voice. Hard. But good. Immediately, he asked, ”Mom, are you okay? I know all of this has been hard on you.”

Tears fell as I assured him I was okay. Truthfully, I was okay. His sensitivity made me cry a little.

Finally, I called Amy. There’s never a good time or a good way to do these things. I knew her schedule and she was finishing up classes and would be heading to track practice. With every ounce of strength, I could round up, I said, ”Amy, they’ve only given your Papaw a few days to live. You’re gonna need to come home.” Silence. Dead Silence.

Sniffling she said, ”Mom, I’m crying and everyone is seeing me cry cause I’m walking in the courtyard. I’ll have to call you back. I can’t talk right now.”

It wasn’t long until she called me back and I could tell she’d still been crying, ”Mom, when I told Cale (her coach), he told me to skip practice and come home.”

I pleaded with her to be careful.

An hour and a half later, she arrived. Safe and sound.

It’s what transpires within the next hour or so that touches my heart in ways I cannot even begin to describe.

Amy’s main focus was to attend to her Papaw. He was still coherent but wasn’t talking much. A few words here and there. A nod of the head. Maybe a smile or two. She asked him if he wanted some ice cream. He nodded and she took the spoon and began feeding him. She would ask, “Papaw, do you want another bite and he would nod.” After a little while, he threw his hand up for her to stop and clamped his lips together, indicating that he was done. No more.

Sweetly she leaned close to him and said, ”See Papaw, I can feed you just like you fed me when I was little.”

So, if I’d had a lot of tears left in me at that point, I would’ve been balling like a baby. What a tender and precious moment my baby girl had just experienced with her Papaw.

As it would turn out, Amy fed her Papaw the last meal he ate. It would be a memory etched in our minds forever. A precious memory.

It makes me so grateful for the early morning hard because, at the end of the day, God gave us such a great gift. The gift of His perfect timing and placing us at the right time and place. I think today, that’s what He wants me to remember and He wants me to tell you, His ways are always perfect. He is always on time and His goodness abounds in rich mercy and grace.

Where Hope is Found

On Saturday we celebrated Popaw’s 92nd birthday. Due to an early morning fall and trip to the ER, nothing serious, our plans changed from going to Moms to celebrating in his room at The Bridge. (The assisted living facility where he resides.)

As I rounded the hallway towards his room, a flashback filled my mind’s eye and suddenly it was last year, Friday, October 13, 2017.

Ned had been transferred from the The Lodge to The Bridge. His room, not by chance, was directly across the hall from Popaw’s. It was his first day there.

I was scheduled to meet him and Mom back at the hospital for an echocardiogram. I was there 15 minutes early. I sat down and waited. Surprised by the fact they weren’t there, cause Ned is never late. Always early. Never late. I hemmed and hawed a few more minutes before calling Mom. She didn’t answer. So the next best thing, call Ned.

“Hey, are y’all on the way to the hospital?”

“No. Your Mom’s gone to Walmart. I bet she forgot.”

I put him on hold, Talked to the receptionist, explained the situation. Told her I’d go get him and bring him back, She assured me time was not of the essence and not to rush to get him back.

Got back on the phone with Ned and told him I’d be there in a few minutes.

Don’t you just hate it when they tell you not to rush and you rush anyway. I mean he was already late and I hate to hold people up. I wheeled my car into the parking lot at The Bridge. Briefly I thought of leaving my vehicle unattended under the breezeway but decided to park instead. Good thing I did.

To be honest, I was half expecting to see Ned in the downstairs lounge area waiting for me. Simply because I had told him to stay put in his room and I’d come get him. He wasn’t there. Hopped on the elevator and went to the 2nd floor. As I rounded the corner, I noticed that his door was slightly ajar. I walked in and he wasn’t there. His walker was there…..but no Ned. I peeped in Popaw’s room and he wasn’t there. So, I began my descent down the hallway and thats when I saw him. He was staggering and holding on to the railing with one hand. It was apparent he had no idea where he was. He saw me and said “I was trying to get to the elevator to find you”. Yeppers, he didn’t listen. He didn’t stay in his room and if he’d been more familiar with his surroundings would most likely have been waiting for me.

He was so weak he could barely walk. I gave him my arm and told him to keep using the rail with the other hand. We made it back to his room. Exhausted, he sat down in his wheelchair. I told him we didn’t have to rush to take his time. He began complaining of nausea. Vomiting and nausea were his latest symptoms. He stood to grab hold of the walker and suddenly hurled everything in his stomach into the sink. He sat back down. I finished cleaning the portion of the mess he couldn’t clean. Then I told him I was calling to cancel his appointment. He agreed.

We continued to sit there for a spell before he got sick again. After the next episode, he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “Can’t someone tell me what’s wrong with me?”

I have to admit. I almost broke. I couldn’t break, not in front of him. It took every ounce of effort and will in me not to burst into tears. The past seven weeks had been such a roller coaster for all of us, especially for him. He’d been poked, prodded, X-rayed, and examined more times than I can count.

I looked at him and said “I am doing all I can to help the doctors figure out what’s going on. I’m trying the best I know how.”

At that moment, we both knew it was the cancer invading his body. We knew it wasn’t going to get better but as long as the doctors gave us a shred of hope, we clung to it. It was all we had.

As it turned out, his stay at The Bridge was short lived. He was there two nights. They couldn’t control his nausea and vomiting and had no choice but send him back to the hospital.

As I’ve reflected on this day, I am reminded that Ned was never without hope. Although there were times when the cancer and side effects from the drugs, looked bleak, hope was always present. There was hope for the drugs to eradicate the cancer. There was hope when the cancer went dormant for awhile. There was hope when the cancer returned that it was still treatable. Even when the new drugs failed to deliver and his problems surmounted, he still had the hope of eternal life with Christ because of his decision to place his faith in Christ. It’s the same with all of us who believe. Our lives may feel like they’re falling apart but Jesus is the hope of the world. He is the reason we can have hope to face another minute, another hour, another day. It is only this hope that assures us of our eternal destination.

Dear friends, if today finds you without hope and in what seems a hopeless situation, turn to Jesus. He is your only hope.

A loss of innocence

A “loss of innocence” is a common theme in fiction, pop culture, and realism. It is often seen as an integral part of coming of age. It is usually thought of as an experience or period in a child’s life that widens their awareness of evil, pain or suffering in the world around them.

I’m just going to go ahead and give you fair warning.  This whole subject makes me want to curl up and cry like a baby. Honestly, I have a time or two.

I’m not sure at what age I realized that my life wasn’t normal and did not look anything like others my age.  I think my awareness began long before it should have.  I know by the time I was four, I was keenly aware things were not like my peers.

By the time I was one, my mom discovered a hideous mole on my dads back.  She encouraged him to have it checked out.  He did and it was malignant.  Melanoma. They removed a large portion around the perimeter of the mole. The portion was so large, it looked like a crater to me.  My little hand fit in the crevice of the dug out space.

Getting clear margins and feeling hopeful, the doctor said, “All should be well if you see no signs within 2 years.”

Nearing the end of the 2 years, another spot appeared.  This time, the cancer had spread.  Chemo would be necessary.  Considering the year was 1972, the best facility for treatment was at Baptist Hospital (aka Wake Forest Medical Center) in Winston Salem, NC.

Thus the journey began.

An entire week, every month, my dad would go for treatment.  Sometimes we would go but not often.  My dads brothers were gracious enough to take turns driving him and picking him up.

In addition, my aunt and uncle who lived in Winston helped with his care as well.  Days turned into weeks and weeks into years.

His body was worn and beaten.  He allowed them to try new treatment drugs on him in hopes to help others, not himself. He knew his time was coming to an end and so did I.

I think my mom tried as best she could to keep life as normal as she could but let’s be real, how many 5-6 year olds do you know whose parent is on chemo and gone for a week every month?  I didn’t know any at the time.  Not one of my friends and I’m not even sure they knew or understand how different my life was than theirs.

I learned, even then, to pretend that I was tough and strong. I could be like the others. You know, “fake it till you make it”. All the while, the voices in my head were screaming, “You’re different, You’re not like them.”

Then it happened, during a routine eye exam in Kindergarten, my teacher discovered I was not seeing 20/20. She informed my Mom. Mom took me first to an optometrist who had no couth told me I needed glasses pronto.. In fact, he was such a nice guy, Mom and I both left the office in tears.

Fortunately, we were given another recommendation and that’s when we met Dr. Gleaton. Not only did he have a terrific personality and calming nature, he also explained the necessity of glasses. Unlike the previous bully, he told me I had a “lazy eye” and would need to wear a patch over my good eye to strengthen the lazy one. By the time we left his office, I felt good about having glasses. Until I actually wore them for the first time.

Oh, the sneers and jeers. The jabs. The taunts. The snickers. I sat on the bank with tears streaming for what seemed like hours. Day after day. It made me see how cruel this world can really be and I was just six.

Now the voices were louder and eviler than before. Not only did I feel different. I felt unattractive, unworthy and yes, even unloved.

Here I was a kindergartner with a dying father and now being made fun of because I had to wear glasses with a patch.

Want to know what I learned? It’s called stuffing. Yep, just hide what you really feel and pretend you don’t care, even if your heart is being ripped to shreds.

On one hand, my father was sick and dying. I saw the cruelty of the disease stripping away his energy and zest for life. I saw how the chemo weakened his strong body. I had no one I could talk to, no one who understood. I don’t even know if anyone had any idea how aware I was.

Then my friends basically turned their backs on me., except one. It was just plain hard being a six year old for me.

Do you know what that year at the tender age of six created? A little thing called insecurity, which actually isn’t so little at all. Insecurity has followed me most of my life. There have been times when I’ve felt less insecure than others; but it’s always there, lurking about, waiting to pounce like a lion.

I have these voices that tell me time and again:

  • You’re not good enough
  • You’ll never be pretty enough
  • You’ll never escape your past
  • You are not worthy

What I’ve learned over the past 26 years, is that these voices will come but they don’t linger very long. I have weapons to fight against them now. I have the voice of truth echoing in my ear:

  • You are God’s workmanship (Ephesians 3:20)
  • You are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14
  • You are forgiven and free (John 3:16)
  • I paid a very high price for you and I say you are worthy (I Corinthians 6:20)

A loss of innocence at such a young age has always been a challenge for me. There was a point several years back when I heard or read something to the effect that it is important to grieve the loss of innocence when it’s been stripped from you. I’d never really contemplated the need to grieve over what was taken from me as a child; however, the more I thought about what was lost, the more I realized I needed to grieve. By taking time to grieve, it has given me some real insight to how this substantial loss has influenced and affected many areas of my life. A life that God is in the process of helping me break free

An Unforgettable Life

I always say that when you believe in God, there is no such thing as coincidence. Everything is ordered and ordained by God, including discovering my Senior writing project from 1987. I found it yesterday and I know that it’s what I am suppose to share with you today.

A little back story before I get to the rewriting my story from 1987. I dearly love my Mom. She and I are not what some mothers and daughters are. We are not besties. We never have been. She always desired to be my best friend but we have always been vastly different. However, that doesn’t mean we’re not close. I would do anything for my Mom and she would do the same for me. I have a vivid memory. It’s scary sometimes. I remember vividly when my Mom was pregnant with my brother and when my dad died. I remember hearing her cry at night, when she thought I was sleeping. I felt her grief and agony when Daddy died. I had to be strong. I had to be brave. I had to hide my tears because I knew my tears would bring her more grief.

Doing this project during my Senior year of high school, really helped me express and release a lot of feelings I harbored and stuffed over the years. While this did not bring ultimate healing for my heartbreak over losing my Dad, it helped start the process.

I am now 49 years old, I turned in the final draft on May 18, 1987.

An Unforgettable Life

By Kelly Reese

I can remember back thirteen years ago when I was carrying my third child.  Many sleepless and restless nights, I lay crying for fear of my baby’s birth and my husband’s death.  Yes, it is still very clear in my mind.

When I first felt the flutters in my stomach, I ignored them.  Then the weeks and months passed, and the fluttering was still there.  My mother said, “Ann, you are crazy if you think that you are pregnant.  There is no way.  You are just overworked and tired from Mack’s illness.”  So I decided that she was right, until I went to the doctor.

The doctor informed me that I was over three months pregnant.  I was terrified.  “What will I tell Mack?  What will he say?” were my thoughts.  I hoped that it was just a dream, but it wasn’t.  When I told Mack the news, I wept frantically.  He put his strong arms around me and looked at me with his big blue eyes and said, “Don’t worry, God will take care of us.  God has given us a gift.  He has a purpose for this baby.”  His reassurance and understanding gave me temporary relief; however, I was still scared to death.  I was more frightened my husband would die before the baby was born.

For three months I cried, until I finally accepted the fact that this baby was coming regardless of what I wanted or how I felt.  Mack was always supportive, although his condition worsened.  The girls helped as much as they could.

My oldest daughter, Kelly, was six at the time.  She knew that her father was dying and seemed to understand why.  In fact, sometimes I think she understood more than I gave her credit.  Maybe she understood even more than I did.

At the end of the nine months, the baby finally arrived and Mack was still alive.  The night before David’s birth was restless and uncomfortable.  I knew the baby wasn’t going to wait much longer.  It was almost as if he were saying, “Mommy, it’s time for me to live in this world, but I’m scared.”  The next morning I had to go to the doctor. Immediately, he sent me to the hospital.  That afternoon, June 23, 1975 fireworks could have exploded, even though, it was the 4th of July, as excitement and jubilation filled the room.

After cleaning the baby, the doctor brought him to me.  I asked, “What is it?”  The doctor refused my plea and handed my the baby wrapped in a blanket.  “Find out for yourself, ” he said.  With Mack by my side, I carefully unwrapped the small bundle of joy, and to my great surprise it was a little boy.  I cautiously glanced at Mack, who stood with tears in his eyes, as he said, “I told you God had a plan.  I may die before morning, but at least I know I have a son.”  His joy in trusting God made me feel ashamed of my reactions before David’s birth, and I began to cry.  Then I looked at the baby, and he looked at me with glowing blue eyes as if he were saying, “Mommy, I know how you felt, but you love me now.”  And I did love that miracle in my arms.

The months passed quickly and David grew strong and healthy as Mack grew weak and frail.  David’s birth brought such joy into our lives along with many changes.  The girls helped me take care of him and Mack as much as they could.

Mack became weaker and weaker.  The doctors knew his time was drawing near.  But Mack wouldn’t give up without a fight for his life.  He knew that he couldn’t change the circumstances or make them go away, but he refused to give into death.

Seven weeks before his death we were taking a trip to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem.  After arriving, Mack’s legs began to get weak.  By the time the nurse arrived to take him to his room, he was paralyzed.  They kept him in Winston-Salem for the next week; then upon his request, moved him to Pardee Hospital in Hendersonville.

I spent many hours traveling back and forth to the hospital, taking the children at least five times a week to visit him.  In fact the visited him the night before he died.  Evidently he knew he wouldn’t see them any more because he told the children how much he loved them.

The next morning I left early for the hospital.  When I arrived, I knew that it wasn’t going to long, especially when I heard Mack saying things that did make sense.  Then with those radiant blue eyes he looked at me and said, “I hope that one day they will find a cure, but it won’t be while I’m alive.  I love you, Ann.”

Mack died on April 5, 1976; he was thirty-six year old.  David was nine months old. Later in the day,  I thought, “Lord, I’m too young to be widowed and left with three small children.”  Then I remembered what Mack told me, “With faith in God, miracles can happen.” I turned around teary-eyed and watched my little miracle sleeping soundly in his crib, knowing that my husband was right.

After two years I remarried; but since the beginning of my last pregnancy, I have had an unforgettable life

Give me a few days to gather my thoughts and I will share what I had to say about the man who raised me and I call “Unforgettable”

Learning about the Good Shepherd

I had a plan to write a New Year’s blog which was obviously interrupted. That’s the thing I’ve learned, sometimes God stops me. He puts ideas and thoughs on hold or changes the direction of my writing entirely.

As 2017 came to a close, I was reminded of how it began. Laughter and joyous celebration. The anticipation of a new year. The thankfulness in our hearts because Ned was doing well and looking forward to sharing another year with him.

As we moved into February, I  felt the spirit of God working and moving in our lives. During this time, I received an unexpected text from a dear One asking me to pray about starting a Bible Study with her.  I didn’t need time to think or pray about whether this was God’s will or desire.  I had already been praying for a year and a half for God to open up the doors for a Bible Study.

In March we began our study with Finding I Am by Lysa TerKeurst. In this study, like the title suggests, we were encouraged to find and explore the I Am statements that Jesus makes about himself through the Gospel of John.

The most memorable declaraione for me,personally, is the following:

I am the good shepherd .

John 10: 11-18 New International Version (NIV)

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

It reminds me of my deep need for a shepherd. One who protects me from danger. One who looks for me if I lose my way. One who calls my name and I hear his voice and I know Him and He knows me. Most importantly one who is willing to sacrifice His life for me. I am just a sheep in desperate need of shepherd.

It’s no coincidence that at the time we were studying this particular statement that Ned’s condition would begin to turn iffy. His breathing quickly becoming more labored. CAT scan would reveal swollen lymph nodes. Bronchoscopy and biopsy confirms cancer has returned. His fear. Mom’s fear. Our greatest fear confirmed. Our hopes quickly dashed. Disappointment set in. But wait! There is hope. Hope is always there. Why? Because Jesus always there. He is our Good Shepherd and He will never leave us, even in the most trying and difficult of days.

A few days before Ned’s CAT scan would reveal the swollen lymph nodes, Alex graduated from Blue Ridge Community College with his Associates degree. Mom and Ned were able to be there to celebrate with him. Ned was complaining o shortness of breath but still managed to walk a mile to watch Alex graduate. The blessing and joy of being there for Alex, outweighed any struggles he was having that day, Again, the Good Shepherd providing for his sheep.

At the close of May, our daughter Amy would make conference for WCU Track & Field . Mom and Ned were unable to attend this event. However, Terry and I were able to go for the two-day event and watch as Amy finished 9th in Hammer Throw, 7th in Shot Put, 8th in Discus and Javelin Throw, We had a more cause to celebrate and see how Jesus was graciously caring for us.

The molecular testing on Ned’s biopsy showed that he was. “Great candidate” for the drug Keytruda. His efficiency PDL-1 rating was 90% indicating the overall response of his cancer to the drug would be favorable. The overall side effects were substantially fewer, a lot less than his previous chemotherapy treatments. Overall response of current patients using the drug e was also favorable.. Obviously there were risks and they were clearly and audibly disclosed. I sat in the office with Ned as Kate Kennedy, Dr. Anthony’s P.A., discussed them. The percentage of severe risks were extremely low, The drug, by all appearances, would be a perfect match for him. On June 13th I sat with him while his first treatment was administered. He was excited at the possibility of this new treatment being just right for him.

It wouldn’t take but a few days before Ned developed a rash and intensified cough. Side effects, common ones, from Keytruda. Fortunately, the initial dose of prednisone cleared his rash. It didn’t do much for the cough. After the second round the rash returned and the cough remained. It was irritating and uncontrollable at times. There would be random outbursts. Periods of lull but nothing completely diminishing the cough. This time they gave him more stronger dose of steroids and added some cough suppressants. The cough becoming a total nuisance began causing pain in his right side and back. But it was too early in the ballgame to make a judgement call on the effectiveness of the Keytruda. We all felt highly confident in the advice and assessments given from. Dr. Anthony and Kate. We knew Ned was in good hands. Another wonderful provision from our Good Shepherd.

The day after Ned’s third round of Keytruda, Alex went over the visit. He was leaving for college on Friday. He came home and said, “Mom, Papaw is pitiful. I’ve never seen him so weak. Something is right”. I told him it was probably just due to the treatment from the previous day and I would check on him the next day.

Wednesday was a better day. I didn’t get too worked up. He said he just felt tired and if he could get rid of that “stinking aggravating cough, he would feel better”.

I decided to start researching every medication and supplement he was currently taking. Looking at all the common and non-common side effects. Dang! Getting that involved in drugs and their side effects will cause you to question the value of medication.

On Friday, Alex and Amy both went to visit before Alex’s departure. They came home saying , “Mom, Papaw isn’t well. He’s so weak he struggles to get out of his chair.” Now, one thing to understand about my kids is they’re not the melodramatic type. If anything they are fairly low key and don’t get worked up quickly. So, I knew it wasn’t good,

We decided to go by on Saturday before we took Amy to school, just to check on him. He said he felt a little better but I wasn’t convinced. He looked terrible. His side and back were in excruciating pain. He wasn’t able to sleep in his bed. He found more comfort on his chair or the couch. When we got ready to leave with Amy, she bent down to give him a kiss. That wasn’t good enough for him. He said, “Hang on, I’m getting up so I can hug you before you leave.” At that moment, when I watched how challenging it was for him to stand, I knew things were on a downward slope. This just wasn’t our Ned or Papaw.

Due to taking kids back to back days to college, Terry and I already decided to forgo driving to Greenville to church. We went out for a celebratory breakfast and predetermined to go check on Ned. Before we got to our breakfast destination I got a picture test from Mom. Ned was sitting slouched over at the table. Arms crossed and head down. Caption read: He tried to come sit and take his meds.

As soon as we get there, their dear friends are already there checking in. They had seen a substantial decline since Thursday. They were concerned. We were all concerned. Ned was being stubborn and refusing to let Mom call the doctor.

Did I tell you that Ned met his match for stubbornness when he crossed paths with me? If not, he did! I didn’t just insist he call the doctor. I called for him. With him in the background saying, ” I don’t know why you’re bothering to call. There’s nothing they can do.”

Dr Anthony was quite perplexed when I shared with him the radical decline. He tried to get Ned to go to the ER. Ned convinced him that he didn’t need to go and would be ok until he saw him the next day. Reluctantly, Dr Anthony agreed.

Thus began the poking and prodding to find the cause. After researching Ned’s symptoms and side effects Keytruda as well lab results. It was discovered that Ned’s body was not tolerating the Keytruda and it was creating an adrenal insufficiency.

Obviously, Keytruda would be stopped and full intent to go back on chemo drug Alimta. However, the symptoms needed to be managed first. The only problem with symptom management was the need for other drugs. The need for other drugs constituted various other side effects. Yet, hope remained.

A bone scan revealed 3 distinctive spots not present during a previous bone scan. The cancer was now metastatic and would need to be addressed sooner rather than later. However, Ned’s body was not strong enough for treatment due to the side effects from Keytruda. Keep in mind the side effects Ned had were not common. Only a very small percentage of patients develop these issues. Like the rarity and uniqueness Ned’s cancer, his body reacted to drugs the same way.

On September 13, Kristi, my sister would call and FaceTime me to show me how pitiful he was. He had barely talked, wasn’t eating, couldn’t get comfortable. He and mom sitting on the couch. He was slumped over and she was sitting with her arm around his slumped shoulders. I told Kristi that I was calling the doctor.

This call would result in EMS coming to get him. He would not return home. Well, not his earthly home.

At some point, God will probably open my mouth to share about the last 6 weeks of his life but many parts of that story are still raw and painful. Suffice to say, he was blessed with good care everywhere he was taken. Jesus, the Good Shepherd continuing to provide.

On October 29, God called him home and he gladly went. His body was tired. His fight was long and hard. We Had hooked beyond all hope that God will heal him here on earth. God said, “No! His work is done here and I want him with me”.

All during and through Neds illness and death our family witnessed a huge outpouring of deep love and support from family, friends and former co-workers. Again, The Good Shepherd giving us all we need. Protection. Food. Love. Comfort. Sacrifice.

The key thing about Jesus, The Good Shepherd, is that he was willing to lay his life down for yours. When dark shadows refuse to reveal light. When the tests are screaming bad news. When your bank account is dry. When your hope runs on empty. When you feel like you can’t go on. Remember. Jesus paid it all. He felt everything you are feeling. He’s the only one who fully knows and understands. Because of the high price he paid for us, He is our hope. He is our joy. He is our Good Shepherd, if we’ve put our hope and trust in Him by inviting Him into our hearts.

Look how David so eloquently describes the Lord as his Shepherd.

In closing, 2017 will go down in the yearbook as one of the most difficult years on record for me and for my family.  However, even through the most challenging times, the many tears we cried, watching our loved one lose his life, Jesus was and continues to be our constant source of strength and hope.

A big thank you to all who continue to read my blog.  I’m not sure where 2018 will take us, but I know that God already has it mapped out.  As He leads, I will continue to write.

Laugh….Cry….Have one heck of a day!

Last night I went to Hendersonville First Baptist Church to hear their Christmas musical. I already had plans to attend but after an earnest plea on Facebook looking for a church whose music ministry might be performing a Children’s Christmas musical, I discovered that this musical was multi-generational.  Children, youth and adults all come together and sing together.  I was excited.

On Wednesday I asked Mom if she wanted to go with me and my friend Tima.  She said, “Sure.”  My heart was happy she wanted to go too.

Excitement and elation filled my thoughts throughout the day. It had been a long time since I went to any musical.  In fact, probably the last Christmas musical was one my children and I participated in at Biltmore Baptist Church 11 years ago.  The last Christmas Children’s Musical was “Mayhem in Bethlehem” presented at BBC 11 years ago.

Joy filled my heart as those precious children sang.  So filled with wonder and awe, the joy beamed from their faces into the crowd.  The innocence of youth. Lifting their voices high with praise to God.

As I sat there and listened, I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.  I looked up through the Adult Choir and I saw him standing there.  Tall and proud to be a part of it all.  Ned.  There he was.  Only he wasn’t there.  Instead of him being in his familiar spot, his friend and prayer partner Jim was there.  It was at that point I realized the sides had shifted.  The bases and altos now sat where the tenor and sopranos sat and vice versa.  I realized as the night wore on, it didn’t matter how the seating arrangement was.  He was there or at least I could see him.

As the evening drew to a close, Karen Scoggins along with the choir sang “Amazing Grace”  Now, if you’ve never heard her sing, trust me, she’s got pipes.  This dainty precious soul can sing.

I knew Mom was crying.  I didn’t dare look.  Our friend, Linda, reached over to console her.  Tima had her hand on her shoulder.  Still I dared not look.  Tears were already starting to form and I knew I might not be able to control them.  As the final verse started, Mom was holding Linda’s hand and said, “I know where he is and I know I’m going to see him again,”  Well, great.  Thanks Mom.  Tears festered and started to fall softly.  Finally I glanced over in her direction and said, “Did you not bring any Kleenex?”

“No, I didn’t” She replied.

Linda asked if everything was ok.  I told her we didn’t have Kleenex.  She offered her scarf.

As the last song started, I began thinking about Mamaw and I began to smile then chuckle. I had to control myself from laughing out load.  That’s about as difficult as keeping the tears from free-falling.  For those of you who know me, I laugh a lot.  Sometimes I squirrel laugh, that’s what my kids call it and sometimes I just laugh hard and loud; of course, according to Ned, nothing about me was ever quiet.  Why was I having to fight hard to keep from laughing hysterically?  Because I could just hear my precious Mamaw (Colleen) saying to me and mom, “You dummies!  What do you mean coming without bringing Kleenex?”

You see, my grandmother, well she was always prepared for the best and the worst.  She had Kleenex in every purse she owned and in about every pocket of every coat she owned.  She also had other things too, like certs, certs and more certs, tylenol, Advil, cough drops……you name it she had it.  Obviously, mom or I neither one takes after her.

Jimmy Valvano says, ” If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”

Well, these days I’ve been doing a lot of laughing and crying.  I’m not pretending it’s not raw and I’m not pretending it’s easy when you lost someone you love, especially around the holiday season.  What I am telling you that for everything there is a season and that’s what God’s word says.

Ecclesiastes 3 suns it up beautifully:

There is an occasion for everything, and a time for every activity under heaven: a time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to tear down and a time to build; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance; a time to throw stones and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace and a time to avoid embracing; a time to search and a time to count as lost; a time to keep and a time to throw away; a time to tear and a time to sew; a time to be silent and a time to speak; a time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.

I have seen the task that God has given the children of Adam to keep them occupied. He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also put eternity in their hearts, but no one can discover the work God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and enjoy the good life. It is also the gift of God whenever anyone eats, drinks, and enjoys all his efforts. I know that everything God does will last forever; there is no adding to it or taking from it. God works so that people will be in awe of him. Whatever is, has already been, and whatever will be, already is. However, God seeks justice for the persecuted.”

‭‭Ecclesiastes‬ ‭3:1-8, 10-15‬ ‭CSB‬‬