Learning to feast in yesterday’s joy

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time or know me personally, then you are well aware that my dad is fighting lung cancer.

The past few months have been challenging, both mentally and physically. There have been many ups and downs. Sadly, more downs that ups but as I’ve learned there’s always joy…..even in the hard difficult days.

Last Thursday, Ned was moved from Pardee Hospital to the Elizabeth House and placed under Hospice Care.

Over the past few days, there have been ups and downs but relatively decent days. Decent days are the ones where we see progress.

The Hospice doctors have worked diligently to get his nausea and pain under control. They’ve eliminated a lot of his medications, which in turn, have helped his symptoms.

Tuesday I walked in and was astonished and amazed. Ned was eating, talking, laughing and joking. He was weak but he felt good. It was an amazing sight, to say the least.

However, with this battle that his body is fighting, I’ve learned to keep my plans loose and flexible. A last minute call can change the course of my day in a split second.

At 9:10 Wednesday morning, my Mom called. As she was on her way to the Elizabeth House, she received a call from the doctor. Ned, at some point last night started having trouble breathing. He was having such a hard time, they had to load him up on morphine, to calm him and do breathing treatments. Needless to say, Mom asked if I could come because she wanted me to talk to the doctor. I was happy to go!

It wasn’t easy to go knowing full well that I wouldn’t be walking into the same room I did Tuesday. It doesn’t matter that I’ve seen him this way before. It hurts. It makes me sad. It hurts because I know deep, deep down he wants to feel better. He wants to have the yesterday back. Honestly, I want the yesterday back. That’s not reality.

Once gone it can never come again. It makes me think of when he and Mom were first married. He would pull out his guitar and sing “Yesterday” by the Beetles. First line of the song, “Yesterday. All my troubles seemed so far away. Now it seems as though they’re here to stay. Oh, I believe in yesterday.”

I think if we’re honest, a lot of us yearn and long for yesterday. What I’ve learned through all of the ups and downs, especially with Ned’s illness is most times the “good” yesterdays give enough hope and power to get through the today. It’s truly all about the perspective.

A dear precious friend of my parents sent me an email last week with this great little nugget of truth attached.

“The trials of the Journey will be lost in the joy of the Feast” Max Lucado

You see, if we look for joy even in the horribly terrible hard days, the good days will be your feast. The ones you hold out for, the ones you hope for and the ones that give you joy to continue the journey.

I’m learning to feast…..

A crazy idea

Ever had someone present a crazy idea and ask you to be a part of it?  In December 2012 Ned announced that he would be planning a 35th Anniversary shindig for he and my mom.  A surprise shindig for her.  Stunned at his announcement, I thought, “Who does this?”

Ned, that’s who.  When I questioned his sanity, he simply stated, “Well, I doubt we will be around for 50, so I want to do it now.”  Fair enough.

This all came about after Ned successfully battled prostate cancer and had received a clean bill of health.  In fact, after his diagnosis and recovery, he did a lot stuff with great intentionality and fervency.

As with everything, he planned, Kristi and I helped.  He’s an avid planner and sees everything through to completion.  No stone was left unturned.

Fortunately, both Ryan and Matthew had leave and both were in Charleston, at the time. My brother and his son, Zach, were also able to make the trip from their home in Eugene, Oregon.  It was a family affair.

The event turned out beautifully.  They renewed their vows with all of their family and a multitude of friends.  A blessed occasion.

Little did I know at the time how special that event would be for me.  I still thought it was a little hair brained and crazy.

Now, here I sit four years later to tell you, that day has been etched in my memory for life.  You see, I didn’t know at the time what God knew.

First of all, last March, Ned was diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer.  The initial diagnosis was bleak.  No chemo and he might live 4 months.  Chemo would give him 9-15 months life expectancy.  Suffice to say, he is now almost 17 months after being diagnosed and he’s still with us.

Secondly, it would be the last time my family of 6 would be in the same place, at the same time.  Yep, that’s right.  My two older boys have not seen one another in 4 years.

The anniversary took place in June and at the end of July, Ryan would be transferred to Groton, Connecticut to serve on the USS Pittsburgh.  Within about a month of his arrival, he was already doing short “under ways” in preparation for a 6 month deployment.  In the meantime, Matthew would remain in Charleston for the next 1 1/2 before being transferred to Hawaii.

Folks, let me tell you.  I am proud to have two boys serving our country but it’s hard on families.  Time and distance, coupled with little or no communication, makes it difficult. If it’s difficult for me as a mom, think of the wives and children affected.

What at first seemed to be a crazy idea was one of the very best things Ned has ever done. I am grateful and thankful for his persistence in following through with the celebration!

Disappoints will come

And this hope will never disappoint us, because God has poured out his love to fill our hearts. He gave us his love through the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to us. When we were unable to help ourselves, at the moment of our need, Christ died for us, although we were living against God. Very few people will die to save the life of someone else. Although perhaps for a good person someone might possibly die. But God shows his great love for us in this way: Christ died for us while we were still sinners. Romans 5:5-8

At some point in our lives we all face disappointment. There's no escaping and no way around it. It's going to happen. It's not even a question of if. It's a matter of when.

A few years before the disappointment of losing my father to melanoma, I had a life altering blow.

This blow happened by way of a cute little character, "The Pillsbury Doughboy". (Pictured above).

I loved the commercials. A talking, little white doughboy that would giggle when when touched in the belly.

My mom found out that you could order them and so she did. She kept telling me that I would have my very own Doughboy. Anticipation, coupled with lofty ideas of the fun I would have with my very own doughboy, were immediately shut down the moment he arrived.

I ripped into the box. Fully expecting this little guy to talk or at least giggle at the push of his belly. (I was only about 4). He did nothing. Not only did he do nothing, he was hard and plastic.

I'm not sure how long I cried over my disappointment but clearly I haven't failed to forget. I remember the devastation. Felling deflated. Unprepared. Utterly disappointed.

That's what disappointment does. It leaves us feeling depressed, confused and sometimes overwhelmed. We struggle to find the answer to why. Why now? Why me? Why, oh why?

Luckily, my disappointment didn't last long, at least not my first recollection of letdown.

The thing I've learned, is that often disappointments come as a result of our expectations. You see, I had these lofty expectations because of the commercials with the cute, lovable doughboy.

Isn't that what we do with people? We place undue and lofty expectations on people, especially those closest to us. Our spouse. Our children. Our parents. Our closest friends. And when they fail to meet our expectation, we get disappointed. We feel letdown. Angry. Hurt.

And then the worst of the worst happens, we get disappointed with God. He fails to answer our prayers or so we think. A loved one dies. A marriage falls apart. A child goes astray. Infertility. Abuse. Financial ruin. The list goes on and on. Again those feelings of hurt, anger and disappointment consume our thoughts and our minds.

Having spent a good portion of my younger years and even into my early adulthood being utterly and overwhelmingly shattered by lofty and unrealistic expectations, I am fully aware and attune to these feelings. And I would be lying if I told you that, from time to time, they still creep in.

What do I do when I'm feeling disappointed and letdown? The first thing I do is look to see where I was placing my expectation. People are going to let you down every time. You simply cannot put your full expectation in them. No matter how good they are, we are all human. We are going to mess up.

Secondly,, I take every ounce of frustration and tell it to God. Sometimes, I even wrote it out. That includes when I am feeling like my unanswered prayers are bouncing off the walls or when he says, "no". When I do this, I am reminded of his great promises to me!

You know what happens when I am reminded that He loves and adores me? Or that He will be with me wherever I go? Or that this life is only a temporary dwelling and He is preparing a place for me? I am thankful. I am grateful. I am humbled. I become overwhelmed with joy and peace. Disappointments and trials are gonna come. It is what is. It's how we respond that will change everything, even us. He is our hope.

Miracles happen

The picture above is the reason I know that prayer works.  It is effective.  It is powerful.  Miracles happen when people pray.

Look closely at the two men in the above picture.  One is Ned, my dad, who has lung cancer.  The other is my Uncle Howard who has colon cancer.  Both of these men are still, by God’s grace and through the effective prayers of His people, alive today.

If you will remember my earlier post, “The best $6.00 money could buy” was about my Uncle Howard.  Even when I wrote that post, it was uncertain what his future held.  I knew he had a desire to see his youngest grandson graduate from high school because during my visit with him, he told me so.  He just didn’t think he would live to see it happen.  Quite frankly, I don’t think anyone did.

Guess what?  He did get to see his grandson graduate.  Today.  He was there.  God gave him the desire of his heart and I’m so very thankful.  This is nothing short of a miracle.

And then there’s Ned.  His original diagnosis with lung cancer was 9-15 months with chemo treatments.  Guess what?  It’s been 15 months since chemo began.  Wait.  There’s more than that to the story.  Chemo began in March 2016.  We asked people to pray specifically that the chemo would deplete the fluid in his right lung.  It did.  In fact, after only 6 months of treatment, his lung was completely clear.  He was given a break from chemo and for the past 7 months. Every 8 weeks has been having CT scans to monitor his lungs and the possible return of cancer.

Sadly, the most recent CT scan showed cancer in the lymph node in the mediastinum.  This week he will begin a second line treatment that will consist of Keytruda, immunotherapy instead of chemotherapy.  The hope and prayer are the immunotherapy will thwart the growth and/or spread of the cancer as effectively as the chemotherapy with fewer side effects.

It is not by accident that these two men are still alive today.  It is because folks have been praying.  It is because God is a God of miracles and He is a God of love.  Also, He is a God who ordains our time and regardless of what statistics may say, God has the final say.

Every day is a miracle.  It is a gift.  Live in the miracle God gives you today and don’t get so caught up with tomorrow.  It may never come.

Was it worth it?

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.

Today marks the 43rd year my Daddy was called Home. The day that once brought me such pain, with each passing year, restores my hope and my joy. How can this be? Over the years, I was just enduring the pain, I am now learning to embrace it for what it is.

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.

My Sweetest Sorrow

Forty-one years ago today was the beginning of my “sweetest sorrow” or “the great sadness”.  I was seven, an innocent child, with the weight of the world on my shoulders.

The cancer diagnosis came when I was one and my dad was thirty.  A mole mom discovered on his back.  They removed the mole and it was malignant Melanoma.  After successfully removing the mole they had to continue cutting around the perimeter.  Finally, after leaving a crater sized hole in my dad’s back, margins were clear.

He was told by doctors at the time if he didn’t have any recurrence for two years, he would be fine.  Close to the end of the two-year period, he had a spot on his leg.  The Melanoma had returned.  This time, however, it had spread.  Chemo would be necessary. So, the arduous process began.

Every month for a week at time, he would travel to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem for treatments.  This continued for approximately four years.  In late February of 1976 while waiting to be checked-in, he told my mom that he couldn’t feel his legs.  Immediately, they rushed him for x-ray.  A large tumor was pressing on his spine.  It was inoperable.  My dad was paralyzed from his waist down.  He knew the end was drawing near and wanted to be closer to home.  The decision was made to transport him to Pardee Hospital in Hendersonville.  This would be his home for the next seven weeks.

We would visit frequently.  My dad had a pull-up bar in his room.  He still had strength in the upper part of his body and could pull himself to an upright position.  We called it his “monkey bar”.

On the evening of April 4, 1976, we went to visit.  Daddy was very weak and didn’t have strength to pull himself up.  He talked and laughed with us like normal but then as we were leaving he asked me to come hold his hand.  He looked at me with his beautiful sky blue eyes and told me how proud he was of me.  He told me how much he loved me and then the very last thing was, “Honey, you’re the oldest and I need you to help your Mama take care of your sister and brother.  Now, you be a good girl and remember I love you.” Then he kissed me.

Here I sit, forty-one years later and it still rips my heart into tiny little pieces.  I was given a task by my dying father that I could not fulfill.  I was far too young to take on responsibility of my younger siblings but at the time, I was determined to try.  I wanted to do what my daddy asked me to do.  I wanted to be his good little girl and I wanted him to be proud of me.

It wasn’t long after he died that I realized that I wasn’t able to live up to the promise I made to him and I began to feel like a failure.  Yes, at seven, I was a failure, a flop, or at least in my mind.   Thus began the compartmentalization of my heart.  I took each hurt and disappointment and tidied it up and put it in a box in my heart.  I shoved and stuffed for as long as I can remember.  In my mind, I yelled and screamed at God asking “Why”?  Why did my daddy have to die?  Why did you not answer my prayer?  Why did you send someone new into mom’s life?  Why?”

At night, I would bury my head under my pillow and cry myself to sleep.  I couldn’t let anyone see my misery, especially not my mom.  It was much easier for me to conceal than to feel.   Because I was hiding my pain, my anger grew.  It was intense and, at times, quite explosive.  In fact, this anger I carried into my relationship with my first husband, my children and even with Terry.  Oh, I had control over it, most days, but when it came out, it was ugly.  (My kids can attest)  The sad thing was I never really understood why I had these horrible explosive outbursts and most of them happened over the most random incidents.

I didn’t understand until I read “The Shack”.  Now, before you tune me out because you don’t agree with the book, hear me out.  As I read the book, it was as if God was taking me back to “my shack”, “my sweetest sorrow” or “the great sadness”.  Just as Mack, in the book, learns how to trust God with his deepest hurt and pain, I had to learn the same thing.  I had to allow myself to feel the grief of my father’s death.  I had to learn to let God help me work through the feelings of worthlessness and failure I felt for not being able to fulfill my dad’s wish.  What I really had to learn was to get over the anger I held in my heart towards God.  This was a pivotal moment.  It was the recognition that my anger towards God for letting my daddy die was the reason I burned so fiercely with anger. I had to let that anger go.  The only way to let it go was to tell God all about it and allow him to begin the healing process.

Remember, I told you in my post, “Binding Wounds”, that most of the time we don’t want the wound to be pulled apart because it hurts too much.  Well, it hurt like hell.  I felt as if my whole entire soul was being ripped apart.  It was.  It needed to be.  I needed to feel the pain of being seven and losing a most beautiful life.  For the first time, I grieved.  I grieved not just the loss of my dad but the loss of my innocence.  Through the grief of “my sweetest sorrow” I began to heal.  I began to be able to feel the anger subside.  Do I still get angry?  Sure, I do.  I just don’t have the feelings of irrational rage.  Most times, I am able, with God’s help, to prevent an outburst before it happens.

For years, this day has been much harder than tomorrow, the day my daddy died.  It was hard because I never wanted to talk about what happened the night before.  I didn’t want to share my deepest hurt because it hurt too much.

My prayer through sharing this story is that it will help you to understand a little more of who I am.  I am wired differently and think differently because of the events that happened in my childhood.  My hope is also that my story will benefit others.

I am here today sharing this story only by the grace of God.

“The Lord says, ‘I will rescue those who love me.  I will protect those who trust in my name.  When they call on me, I will answer.  I will be with them in trouble.  I will rescue and honor them.” Psalms 91 14-15