Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas - don't miss it

[Disclaimer: some of this may not seem very bright and shiny, and a little bitter, even. These are my thoughts, and to get to a place of healing, understanding, insight, and growth, I must let them out.]

I don't really know where to start; only that I need to speak my mind or I will not ever rest. This was a hard Christmas because I felt like I was strong-arming God, holding him at arm's length to keep him from getting too close...because if he came closer, I might just break.

I don't know if it's the reality or the gravity of our situation that is coming home to roost, but I feel HEAVY. Burdened. Like a person fumbling in darkness.

And the promise that "the people walking in darkness have seen a great light" just doesn't seem real. By real, I mean present. And, when people with bright, shiny lives post "the weary world rejoices," I am cynical. What do they know of weariness? But, further...I want to know...where is the rejoicing?

I am weary. I am weary and I have only had this burden six months - or a year - or 4 - or however far back you want to go. And where is the rejoicing?

Where is Jesus?

When you receive more bad news - on Christmas, no less...then the shiny posts about a Savior coming to the brightly lit, shiny packaged world seems even more revolting. Who is need of a Savior when we are so secure we can worship his coming without a thought of those with less? When we gather and store and pity those who can't, but do nothing to share? We are so full that we miss him, even when he is here; even when he is being celebrated. We want the idea and not the reality.

Oh, this is me. Am I not the world's chief idea-list? I love ideas for the possibility, the fun in dreaming the new world. I have wanted the washed-up, polished, sterile, SAFE Christmas. The happy family memories, the dreams of many more like this...and I am weary because my fear and worry that I truly cannot know, it just pulls me down into a bog. It's tentacles wrap around me to pull me deeper while I thrash and struggle, and I am gasping - desperate for joy while sadness pulls down harder.

And I want Jesus. I want Jesus to take it all away. I want it to be only joy, only hope, only belief - a firm foundation that it. will. get. better! I want Jesus to sit with me and wipe away my tears and tell me the truth that will set me free. I want him to wipe away the gloom that keeps creeping in to steal what little peace I have.

But, I haven't wanted Jesus - not enough to let him enter my fear. Not enough to let it go. Not enough to hand my love, my life, my joy, my fear to him and let him truly come in and transform me. I have wanted to hold on to some semblance of me - for...safety? security? that I ended up barring the door and pulling up the bridges.

I sat in the pews Christmas Eve singing about Jesus' birth, enjoying my family, and reflecting on Christmases past. I choked up thinking about the people who used to be here, sharing their gifts with us, and the shadows that are left in our hearts.

At the second service, I sat in the pew, asking Jesus to come to me. A woman sang, 'O Holy Night,' and it was the most beautiful offering. At first, I teared up at the sheer beauty - but I didn't want to cry at Christmas Eve. It's Christmas! It's supposed to be JOY-FULL! [I think of Lucy: "Oh, Charlie Brown. Don't you know what Christmas is about? It's Santa Claus and ho-ho-ho and presents to pretty girls..."] Then came this part:

The King of kings lay in a holy manger,
in all our trials born to be our friend [cue the heart softening];
He knows our needs, our weakness is no stranger [cue heart breaking]:
Behold your king, before him lowly bend,
Behold your king! 
My king ... born to be my friend in all my trials ... He knows my needs; my weakness - my fear, my worries - they are no stranger to him. Gaze upon your king...and recognize....

Jesus, who thought equality with God was not something to be grasped, made himself like one of us. Being found in human flesh, he humbled himself and submitted himself to death - even, death on the cross.

Attending my third church service in less than 24 hours yesterday morning, I found myself grateful for the Mass. The mingling of the birth with the death. It wasn't simply for Christmas that Jesus came. And, the "new and glorious morn" that dawned with his birth seemed extinguished by his death 33 years later. Christmas was the beginning of a new chapter, but Easter was the true glory. EASTER was the triumph that Christmas heralded...and it took thirty-three years (and a lot of suffering) to burst forth.


....

Sometimes, we have to wait for the dawn to burst forth to glorious day.  Sometimes, it seems like all is lost; that hope has been vanity. Sometimes, it seems like the kingdom is bursting forth at the seems, that the all is here right now - that all things have aligned, and all is right with all things everywhere.

I think, Jesus would say that is not "it." That is not it.

I am it.

I am the Light of the World.

I am the Bread of Life.

I am the Wine of the New Covenant.

I am the Way. I am the Truth. I am the Life.

I am the Peace. I am the Healing Balm.

I am.

Jesus.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

My unicorn

Last week, I gave you some updates about Dan - now I give you some clarification.

One: Dan still has cancer. The abnormal T-cells in his blood is the cancer. The spinal fluid is showing that the T-cells are currently hanging out there...and fewer T-cells are in the blood. So, the chemo approach and dosage has to change.

Dan is not getting the same chemo rotation that he's had in the past. He will not be getting a spinal tap of chemo. Instead, he is getting high dose methotrexate, which will penetrate the brain-blood barrier. This will be delivered through his port, like all his other chemo has been. In order to get this chemo, though, his body pH has to be an alkaline state. [Currently, it's 9:10pm, and we are waiting on Dan to get to 7.1 so he can get the chemo. I don't know if he is normally at a pretty acidic state, but - we sure didn't think it'd take this long.]

Once he's alkaline, he'll get the chemo - which should take 2 hours. This chemo is unique from the others, in that, it will not wipe his body of the blood cells (or whatever chemo does). He will not need to get a shot to boost the bone marrow's production of white blood cells. So, that's good. After getting this chemo, he'll keep getting fluids via IV and his kidney production will be monitored to make sure that everything is functioning properly. He will get released when the levels of methotrexate in his body are 0.1.

So: for those who read this tonight (or tomorrow, prayer knows no time constraints) here are some things to ask for - that Dan will reach the alkaline state soon and chemo will get started. 2) That his kidney & liver keep functioning normally (as they have been), so that he can get released sooner rather than later. 3) That the chemo WORKS and kills those blasted abnormal t-cells.

In two weeks, Dan will come back for a lumbar puncture to measure the levels of T-cells in his spinal fluid. If there are no abnormal T-cells, then he is done with chemo. If there are abnormal T-cells, then, he will have chemo like this until it's gone.

Once there are no abnormal T-cells, then we will move forward with the bone marrow transplant. Some people have asked details about this. We don't know ANYTHING yet. Like, ANYTHING. A request has been submitted with the transplant team for us to have a meeting. Nothing else is in the works - and, it's not the primary focus right now.

At any rate, from where I sit right now, we are not at the end. However, as I keep learning, "the best laid plans of mice and man often go awry." So...who knows? Tomorrow I may have different information for you.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Updates


Sometimes, answering prayers doesn't look the way you want it to.

This week, Dan got a call from our doctor that his pesky abnormal T-cells are showing up in his spinal fluid. This has flummoxed our doctor (her words). He should be responding to those spinal taps of chemo, and the T-cells should be responding in such a way that there aren't those pesky abnormal T-cells.

So, this next round of chemo (which, God-willing, is the last) is going to entail Dan spending 3 (or more) days at the U of M hospital receiving a higher dosage of one of the CHOP+E drugs. How long he stays will depend on how well his body does at excreting the stuff. This dosage is supposed to get past the brain/blood barrier - so those blasted little cancer cells get good and dead.

Cartoon courtesy of the Awkward Yeti; props to the lovely Andrea for sharing [she is not an awkward yeti]
Most likely, Dan is going to need a bone marrow transplant sometime in early 2016. {Note: this is my understanding - from what Dan has relayed to me from his conversation with the doctor, so take it with a grain of salt} My understanding is that the transplant isn't necessarily to get rid of the cancer, but more accurately needed to reset Dan's immune system. Currently, the levels of the Epstein-Barr virus are undetectable (based on the blood work taken every 3 weeks); his red & white blood cell counts have been good (usually in the normal range - again based on blood work) - both major improvements from July 2015.

So, why the presence of the abnormal T-cell? This is the perplexing nature of Dan's case. If Dan still has his immune system, post-chemo...could this all happen again - even with the rigorous nature - even with the preventative spinal tap chemo? I believe this is why our doctor is strongly considering the bone marrow transplant.

[Look I've just written 4 paragraphs without talking about my feelings.]

My feelings. Well, the first feelings were dis - disappointment, discouragement, dismay, disheartened, disillusioned, distraught, distrustful (of God). I mean, wouldn't the miracle of this be that Dan was all better with only chemo? Wouldn't that show God's power the most? Wouldn't that show His love the most? Wouldn't that impress people the most and then they'd want to be friends with the God who takes care of his friends like so awesomely?

right?

Hi. I'm Jessica, and I think I know best.

The truth is - I want that. I want that path of least resistance. (Who wouldn't?)

...and yet...what I really want most for Dan is COMPLETE HEALING. I want his whole body restored. I want him to never be sick again like he has been (the entire time I've known him). ...and, that just might take more than some horrible chemicals. Maybe it requires a complete overhaul. Maybe it requires someone else's blood.

[cue storyline that coincides with the Gospel.]
[but I won't.]
[for now.]
[because I just saw the connection and have nothing ready to say.]


...and just so you know, I have been struggling lately. This news hit me really hard...mostly because I didn't expect it...and it really hit my faith - mostly because I was putting parameters on God - His will and His love for me. If I do that, I will be disappointed every time. That's not who God is, and that's not how God loves. So, to be where I am today, has required some acts of faith - to choose to believe that God can work good in any situation, and to trust that God can work in lots of ways - and most of them are never what I expect.

Oh! and also that God's timing isn't my timing (which, as I said to my brother the other night, is the story of my life - so you'd think I'd stop being so surprised by it's reality).
[Hi; I'm Jessica, and I think I know best.]


Sunday, November 8, 2015

I can do hard things

This is a hard post to write because I don't know where to start. My birthday is Saturday - and we all know how I much I LOVE birthdays. This is not sarcasm; I actually LOVE birthdays - especially mine. Okay, let's be honest, mostly mine. Everyone else's sneaks up on me and I drop the birthday ball. ...but, birthdays always put me in that reflective mindset...and this year (especially) is no different.

I broke down in church today during the Eucharist. All out - tears flowing, snot dripping - crying as I thought about this last year...and the complete juxtaposition that it has been.

A year ago, I was fresh off reaching my weight loss goal (50# down in 5 months!). Dan was 35# lighter; I was excited about my job again; I was helping other people get healthier; life was really good. I got two great birthday celebrations - one with Dan to my favorite Tucson restaurant (Cafe A'la C'Art) before he left for Louisville, one with my closest Tucson girl friends checking out downtown Tucson.

The first half of the year really was all about personal growth in my health coaching business. I realized some truths about what was holding me back from reaching goals, and I learned to confront the chatter that threatens to keep me from being my best self. On top of that, I was helping a lot of people make some positive changes in their lives. The icing on the cake was reaching a goal that I had set for myself to be actively helping about 25 people reach their goals.

Besides the growth in my business, I was also reaching new strides in my own health. When my cousin decided to run a 10K in May, and her sister decided to join her - and then they challenged me, I got on board. At first, I congratulated them for doing it because "I don't like running that much." When Amy challenged me to do it, I thought, "Well, I have been wanting some thing to work toward!"

Training for that 10K is probably one of the highlights of my year. It was just so much fun to send texts back and forth encouraging each other to "do the hard thing!" It was great to commiserate on those long runs that sucked - and celebrate after those runs that result in the infamous "runner's high." Did I mention the 10K was in Iowa - and so were my cousins? Distance didn't matter much.

Running the race with them was the best capstone. It was hard. It was good. It was long. AND I got to surprise my mom for Mother's Day (she didn't know I was coming back to run it)!

My cousin Amy's 8th grade PE class was training for this 10K - that's how the shenanigans started. In their religious ed class, they were reading a book called "Do Hard Things." Essentially, the book challenges people to do the things that seem hard or unpleasant - physically, emotionally, spiritually.

Reflecting on my past year, I realized that is my theme.

The first half was about taking the reigns and pushing myself...and the second half has been holding on for dear life. I mentioned in a couple of posts ago, but it is LITERALLY only by God's grace that I am able to stand and function on a pretty regular basis. If I were to put my feelings into a picture it'd be:

Begin scene - Jessica is riding in the saddle (which is not a place she's comfortable, btw), sauntering along, enjoying the scenery; she gains some confidence, and starts out at a trot, then picks up some more speed, and she's still in control! Look at her behind the reigns; go, Jessica, go! ...and then, something spooks the horse - and Jessica slips in the saddle! Oh no, she's barely hanging on - her legs are flailing everywhere; she has no idea what's happening or how to get up - or off without dying...and she's wondering where help will come from.

And, then help comes, and she's rescued - somehow - she has no idea how...but she seems to be in a safe place now. Though stationery, she still feels like the world is running out of control; like she could fall at any point; like danger is near.

Will Jessica ever get back in the saddle again?

I don't know. Time will tell, I guess.

The first half of the year, I chose the hard thing that I would conquer. I was in control. The second half, the hard thing chose me. ...and it didn't even choose me, it chose Dan. It chose what I love most - who I love most...and even though things are looking good, and Dan is feeling better than he has - I am still scared.

In the Gospel reading today, Jesus praised the widow who gave her two mites because she gave all that she had. Out of her poverty, she gave - and the rest of us give out of our abundance. Imagine the courage that it took for her to give "all that she had". She had to depend upon God to supply her needs because she just gave him her all. Imagine the trust to open her hand and let go of these two coins that meant life. Imagine the love that she must have for him, believing that she matters to him, that he will not let her fall.

That has been the question before me the last six months. Will I let go of my deathgrip (how appropo) on my life, on my marriage, on myself - and let God in? Will I trust him to bring new life into a hopeless situation? Will I let his will be done in my life? ...will I walk by faith and not by sight?

Baby steps. Sometimes, I run. Sometimes, there is so much light and hope in my life, that I just open up my arms and twirl around and can't wait for an eternity of Jesus' presence. ...and sometimes, I am weak. Sometimes, I am afraid that the world will fall around me. Sometimes, I am angry at things I can't even put into words. Sometimes, the chatter wins.

I realized this morning that all I want to do is go back. I want to go back to the first half of this year. I want to go back to that Jessica - strong, powerful, focused Jessica. ...and by showing me that, God gently nudged my heart and said, "Further on, further up, further in, Jessica. I want to take you to a new place. Will you be open to new life, Jessica?"

So.

If I learned anything this year, it's that I can do hard things [through Christ who strengthens me, right Mom?]. I can do hard things - like let God bring new life, and let go of the old.

I was struck by this verse while going about my business today... I find hope in this Word, in the promise that we are made new when we turn to Him. I still fail on a daily basis, but that is what grace is all about -- the "old things" we've done (or not done) pass away; we become, and remain, new. | 2 Corinthians 5:17 #Bible #verse #quotes:

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloweeen!

This year, we got to celebrate our first Halloween as aunt and uncle. As in, the cool aunt and uncle who do fun things - like host a "spooky" lunch for our niece and nephews. The planners that Dan & I are, we came up with the idea yesterday morning - and it turned out awesome and relatively healthy (other than those "cancer-causing" hotdogs we ate). Gotta be something scary to Halloween! ;)


Courtesy of our official event photographer (niece Brenna), Dan shows off most of th\e goods: starting with the platter at Dan's right hand (your left), mummy hotdogs, then jack-o-latern peppers stuffed with veggies, behind the veggies, Rice Krispie treat pumpkins, in the foreground - jello eyes, and we also made clementine jack-o-lanterns.


Mummy hotdogs: Koegel viennas wrapped with crescent roll strips and witches hats. Slice the strips with a pizza cutter. When I would get down to a tiny triangle, I just folded the edge up to make the hat. Bake at 375 for 10-12 minutes. Delicious!

Pretty simple here: cut the top off the pepper, clean out the 'ribs', cut a face into the pepper - stuff with veggies of choice. Cauliflowers = brains, btw.


Jello eyes: follow the 'jello mold' directions on the box. I used a mini muffin tin to make these. The blog where I got the idea used plastic Easter eggs (our plastic eggs all had tiny holes in the bottom = Plan B, stat!). Pour the jello into the tin, add a raisin, chill. You should probably make these more than two hours in advance...but, I put these in the freezer, then fridge for one (and fridge then freezer for the other due to freezer space). Big hit!


If you can, zoom in on these: the piece d' resistance - FINGERS! These came fro the 6-fingered man. Again, Koegel viennas. Cut a 'nail' into one end, then slice areas for the finger joints. To get these to plump well (and not split open), we boiled these. The beauty of the Koegel vienna is that the curve when you cook 'em - giving a much more life like look to these babies. Then, when you add some ketchup...seriously looks like cut up, mutilated fingers.

We don't have a close up of the pumpkin Rice Krispies, but it's easy! Make up Rice Krispies as normal; the recipe I had called for vanilla to be added after melting the butter & mallows - so I also added in a 1/2 tsp of liquid pumpkin spice flavoring. Mmm-fall krispies! At this point, I also added in red and yellow food coloring till reaching the desired color. Then, I sprayed Pam on a big cookie scoop - and used two scoops/pumpkin. Shape into a ball. I added a brown peanut M&M for the stem. The idea I saw used tootsie rolls. Guess what you can find on Friday night at Kroger? A bag full of Tootsie "midges"...I don't think they sell that size retail, anymore.

To top off the "cool aunt & uncle" vibe, put on the kids' costumes:


I am actually wearing Brenna's skirt. I'm all ready for Mardi Gras with that puppy!

...and also have at your disposal, a Halloween kitty:



...who will play with the blue feather from the peacock costume - and also play "catch" with the football player.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

THREE. MONTHS.

While driving home from our chemo appointment today, I realized something. It's been three months (to the day) that Dan received the diagnosis of lymphoma. Three months. 90 days. It seems like a lifetime ago.

Where we are now I could not have fathomed three months ago. We are settled in our own apartment in the most adorable little town. We both have jobs...at the same university, in the same department, with offices in the same suite. Our beautiful little kitten is a giant 6-month old with a crazy ornery personality. We have been showered in love and prayers that have supported us through some dark days.

We are 2/3 of our way through chemo. Our doctor has been very pleased with Dan's progress and decided not to do a PET scan at this point to see if the chemo's working because she knows it is (based on the fact that Dan's spleen is no longer crazy swollen). He started a chemo spinal tap today, which he will get (one) for the last 3 rounds. He was a little nervous about it - because you have no idea what it will feel like. I think he was surprised it was so 'easy'. The doctor was great; explaining the process while she did. The nurse gave Dan a shoulder rub, so he was a pretty happy camper.

So. Three months. What are some things I've learned? I am continually amazed at how I've responded. Many of you have commented to me how impressed you are by my faith through this trial. Here's how my faith has been shaped in the last 3 months:

1) It's not circumstances that make you blessed. This was a hard lesson for me to learn; I really want people to look at my life and think, "Wow. She's blessed; God must really love her. I want God to love me like that."

Oh, such blasphemy in this crazy thought! (I've never spent much time analyzing this. Ugh. Such pride!) i)God doesn't love me more than he loves anyone else. We are loved with an infinite, never-ending love. ii) Our circumstances do not indicate our blessing. Think of the person we refer to as "Blessed" in her title. Mary had a very difficult life. She had to endure public shame, humiliation, the death of her husband and her son's execution, the trial of her innocent son as a criminal, and then (most likely) the threat of persecution/death because of her beliefs. [which brings me to...]

2) I love the rosary. In those early days when I had no idea what to pray or how to seek God, praying the rosary brought me right to Scripture - to the life and miracle of Jesus...to a deeper adoration, worship, and love for Jesus. I love the rosary. Each day, I get to meditate on the life of my Lord. I have learned to surrender my will to the loving will of my Father...to walk by faith.

3) I am blown away by just...the goodness of God - including the provision of such beautiful, faithful people (friends and family) - and the provision of my job. Michigan State is such a beautiful campus (and, honestly, even more beautiful than Iowa State *gasp*). I am excited for the opportunities to do some new things with my job to serve the ANS students. ...and, I am really surprised(?) that I got hired. Not because I'm not the  best candidate candidate - but because I interviewed less than 2 weeks after Dan's diagnosis and I was a mess. I could barely think straight; I was exhausted mentally and physically; I couldn't hold a conversation - I could answer questions, but couldn't think of anything to ask back...and the only person who ever asked me interview questions was the department chair. I knew I really wanted that job after I interviewed, but based on my evaluation of myself - wasn't sure if I did a good job or not. All I can say in response (or explanation) is: by the grace of God go I.

4) You just have no idea what it's [going to be] like. This encompasses a lot of things. You can't imagine what it's like to live through an experience like this - and you shouldn't. When it comes, you just...live it. Cancer is just part of our life right now; now, we don't even really think about it, to be honest. I guess it's like becoming a parent - or adding another child to your family. You can't imagine what it's going to be like - and then, they're here, and you jsut do it.. It's nothing like you imagined - and probably (hopefully) better.

Yes, the beginning was scary because it was unknown. I cried a lot in the first 3 weeks. I don't cry as much now (very little). I learned very early on (i.e. the first day on the road) to be present in the moment - and when those scary "what if" thoughts come to just breathe deep and focus on the view in front of me.

5) I am so in love with Dan. This isn't a surprise, but I show my love (respect) for Dan much better than I did before. ...and I love bald Dan. That was one of those #4 things; one of the things that makes you cry/mourn over before it happens. ...and then it happens. ...and you (he) shave your (his) head, and you (me) stifle a few tears - and you (we) move on. Plus, the bald head is better than looking like a mangy cat. :)  I'm so used to seeing and loving bald Dan, I can't really remember Dan with hair. So, to reiterate, I love Dan...the person - in sickness or health, for better or worse, for richer or poorer...circumstances be damned.




6) I love Jesus. How do you get through the toughest life circumstances? My Grandma Ellen often says, "I don't know how people make it without faith." Here's what I have to say about faith: it is not simply a notion, a hope, a wish for something better. That is not what brought me comfort in the darkness when I was so scared that I could lose Dan. Faith must have an object for it to be substantive. And the object of the Christian's faith is Jesus. Hebrews 12 says that he is not just the object of our faith, but the author and perfecter of our faith. He is writing the story of our lives and is perfecting us through our trials - revealing weaknesses and sins to be transformed through His power and grace of His love.

This has not been easy...and, yet, through the transforming grace of Jesus' presence, it has been so good for us. This has transformed us into more of the people that we were made to be.





Thursday, October 8, 2015

On second thought

There are lots of posts floating around the internet about what you shouldn't do for people going through stuff. And, I don't like those posts because I think it basically says, "Unless you can say/do things in THIS RIGHT WAY, just shut up." ...which is you know, kind of true. Sometimes, the best response is not words - just your presence (see the end). 
But, I really like the end of this post "Stupid Phrases for People Who are Suffering". (If you want to know what you shouldn't say, you can read the rest of the post.) http://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/2015/09/28/stupid-phrases-for-people-in-crisis/
So what do we do? How do we respond?I think those are difficult questions, but the best analogy I have for people in acute crisis is looking at them as burn victims. Caring for burn victims is divided into three stages that overlap.
The first is the emergent or resuscitative stage. At this stage priority is given to removing the person from the source of the burn and stopping the burning process. The big things to think about are fluid replacement, nutrition, and pain management. Translated into crisis care, this means we’ll bring meals, coffee money, and pick up children from day care.
The second stage is the acute or wound healing stage. At this stage, the body is trying to reach a state of balance, while remaining free from infection. During this stage, patients can become withdrawn, combative, or agitated. This stage can be a lengthy and unpredictable stage. Burn victims, like people in crisis, often lash out at those closest to them. Translate this into listening, listening, and listening some more.
The final stage is the rehabilitative or restorative stage. The goal at this stage is for a patient to resume a functional role within their family and community. Reconstruction surgery may be needed. Encouragement and reassurance are critical to the person at this stage. This would translate into going on walks with the person, taking them out to a movie or dinner, having them over for coffee or a meal.
Burn care has a lot to teach us about loving and caring for people in crisis. And those who care for burn victims rarely use clich├ęs — they are too busy caring.
In February, I wrote a piece called Toward a Fellowship of Suffering, and I’ll end what could be a cynical post, with words from that piece.
“There is something about suffering that longs for someone to sit with us through the pain. It’s the fellowship of suffering. It’s the words ‘you are not alone’ put into action. The sitting bears witness to our pain. More than a card or a casserole, the familiar, patient presence of another says to us ‘it’s too much for you to bear, but I will be with you, I will sit with you.'”

Now, to the title of this post, "on second thought" refers to my "feeling all the feels" post. I think that I am finally ready to move from 'Stage 2'. I want to move to stage 3...but, I can't do it alone. I need some friends. I want to work out. I want to serve others. I just don't know how. I need some help.

...and help looks like you asking me to do something. Please don't wait for me to call you...because I probably won't. I will sit in my house (or office) feeling sad.

Feeling all the feels

The first rule of Marriage Encounter: you don't talk about Marriage Encounter.
[oh wait; that's Fight Club...which is the exact opposite of Marriage Encounter.]

The first rule of Marriage Encounter is this: feelings are neutral. They are neither good nor bad.

Feelings are neither good nor bad.


Let that sink in, Feeler. We don't "feel" like that's true. It "feels" like our culture values thoughts and diminishes emotions. If we feel, then don't we need a "good reason" for feeling an emotion?

That's what I've believed most of my life. If I'm an emotional wreck, I've got find the justification for being emotional. It is NOT OKAY to cry the entire day. It is not okay to feel like the darkness is closing in. It is not okay to feel like there may not be any hope left; that all the goodness has been used up.

I've had those days. More than once in my life. And usually, my mode of operandi is to push those sad feelings way down and far away. ...which does not work, by the way. For some reason those feelings become thoughts and those thoughts get so loud that you can't ignore them if you wanted.

Anyway, that's where I've been the last two weeks. If you look at two weeks ago, my grandma died, we moved out of our brother's and into our own apartment...and, the survival mode I have been in started settling more into "real life." I've been at my new job for a month now, and I'm getting into an advising schedule. It's becoming a "real job." I don't know about anyone else, but I can overwhelmed with thinking about "the rest of my life." One of the blessings of survival mode has been the requirement to focus only on today; to let tomorrow worry about itself. "Real life" seems to require forethought, planning, etc. So, maybe "real life" is freaking me out.

Whatever the cause, I have been FEELING ALL THE FEELS this week!

It doesn't make sense.
We got good news at the doctor on Tuesday.
Why would I feel sad?

1) Crying doesn't have to mean sadness. Crying is just my body's way of letting go of the feels.

What I feel...is a mixture of things. Relief, gratitude, fear. FEAR. We got good news; what is there to fear? I think it's a little bit of delayed fear, really. We asked our doctor on Tuesday what "stage" Dan's cancer would have been classified as. She said Stage 3 because Dan had lymph nodes effected above/below the abdomen (in the neck and abdomen).

For whatever reason, that label made it seem 'scarier' - even though Dan has been responding AWESOMELY to treatment and the doctor is very confident. Knowing the stage, just...made me so THANKFUL that God orchestrated our lives in such a way to get an answer in 6 weeks at Mayo and get in so quickly at the U of M with a doctor so committed to getting Dan treated.

We don't know how long had the cancer. But,  my "what if" mind definitely runs to "what if" we had listened to the Tucson doctors? "What if" I thought, 'oh, we're moving to Michigan this summer; going to Mayo doesn't make any sense' and not filled out the request to be seen?  All I can respond is THANK GOD that we didn't! THANK GOD that He kept pressing us. THANK GOD that He gave those doctors the insight that I'd been begging Him to give someone!

I'm very thankful for our doctor. Dan is very comfortable talking with her and trusts her, which is good. He rarely feels that way about doctors. She is going to add a 'spinal tap' chemo treatment for Dan's last 3 rounds. The current treatment does not penetrate the central nervous system (brain/spinal cord) - and the lymphoma can hide out there. A PET scan wouldn't pick up if lymphoma has moved there...it would only be detected in a year or two when a relapse happens. Ain't nobody got time for a relapse!

...which I get. It's just...it sounds painful. I don't want Dan to go through more pain than he has to. ...and yet, just like the initial chemo, I can't take it for him. He has to go through it. I can, though, pray for him, and just be ready for whatever. So, praying friends, even though it seems like we're out of the woods - keep those next 3 rounds in your intentions!

...and I think that's the last part of the feels. It's not over. We're halfway in; halfway through; halfway there. We're in the part of the race where you hit your stride...but you also start to wonder just how much longer there is to go.


So, I'm a feeler. And I've been feeling my feelings today - and that's the only way to relief, I know. I have to recognize, acknowledge my feelings, voice them...write about them, and let God into them. I only know how to 'let go' of my feelings, by letting God into my feelings, thoughts, fears, and hopes. Then, He leads me to truth...and relief...with acceptance.

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” Isaiah 43:1-3

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Swallowed up by Life

I can't take it. I can't take it anymore. I think I am officially about to break into a million pieces...and that's probably okay because Gramma always said, "I love you all to pieces!" She left this world this morning - and she did it. She loved me to pieces. Her passing this morning felt like the straw that broke the camel's back - or the last block moved that caused the Jenga tower to crumble.

And you know what? It's okay. It's okay to cry and be so broken that I can't put myself back together again. Because I know Who can - because of my Gramma Faye...and what better tribute to her than to surrender myself one more time to His loving hands. After all, she who endured more suffering and heartbreak and trials than many I've had the privilege to know witnessed His ability to put her back together again (over and over, in big and little ways).

In thinking of her 'loving me all to pieces', I was reminded of the "jars of clay" or "cracked pot" verse. In looking up that verse (2 Corinthians 4:7), I [somehow] jumped to 2 Cor 5 - a beautiful passage on our earthly bodies/life...and I just thought, "How Gramma!" of this moment. How Gramma to point me to Scripture in the moment of my breaking point.

[2 Corinthians 4]

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”[a] made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.”[b] Since we have that same spirit of[c] faith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Awaiting the New Body [2 Corinthians 5]

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.




For those who didn't know my Gramma, let me just tell you this: the items that I highlighted - those are the things that she would have pressed into me. I can hear her saying:

"I am swallowed up by Life now, Jessica! Swallowed up by LIFE! I am at home with the Lord - and oh, how I have longed for this day! LONGED for this day, Sweetie! and what will make this day so much sweeter is to know that those I have loved, to know that my family will one day be swallowed up by life just like I have been! That is my deepest prayer."

I know it because she told me. Her deepest wish was for her children and grandchildren - and great-grandchildren (and EVERYBODY) to love Jesus - and to know the love and care of Jesus like she had so personally experienced throughout her life.

Writing a 'eulogy' for her has been so hard for me because, outside of my parents, no person has impacted my life like she had. I am the Christian that I am today because of the lifelong witness of Faye Louise Witt Rohrig. She may have had no imprint on my genetic traits - but on my eternal life, her fingerprints are everywhere.

In college I wrote her a letter and asked her how to live out my faith. As a young Christ-follower, I didn't really know how I was to show others that I believed in God or to influence them to do the same. So, I asked the person who is the greatest 'soldier for Christ' that I'd known. (I have the letter she wrote to me somewhere, but I can't remember the specifics)

What was interesting in her response was that she basically said 'it's not a formula, Jessica.' Living your faith is just an extension of loving Jesus. You love Jesus the same you love a person. You pray (talk to him); you read what He has to say (in the Bible); you talk to people that love him; you serve the people he loved (everybody).


John refers to Jesus as the Word in John 1; and she loved the Word. She lived her life by the Word - and she taught me to do the same. She believed that God would be true to His Word (because how could He deny himself?) - so she prayed His Word and she clung to His promises - that they could be true in her life, as well. I walk by faith because she walked by faith. I have followed her example in life and she has led me to Life - to Jesus.

A few years ago, Gramma shared with me the "bookend" of life: being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6) My heart may be in pieces, but I am confident that the same God who worked so much good in her life is working that out and carrying it to completion in the lives of all of us who love God.

I am confident that today, she was wholly swallowed up by life.

I am confident that she no longer walks by faith; today, she sees!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Let go of worry by being faithful in prayer

Today is my beautiful mom's birthday. I wrote her a little Facebook dedication today:

Happy Birthday to my mom! She's one of those people who mean so much to me that I can never really find the words to accurately say it all. She is "my person" when I need to emote - cry, vent, celebrate, worry. She tries to solve my problems (even when I don't want her to) because she cares. She wants the best for me and doesn't let me stay in a mindset that is not based on the Truth/reality of faith. She is a resting place; she is my shopping buddy; nothing makes me happier than seeing her smile and hearing her laugh. Thanks for teaching me to love life and to let go of worry by being faithful in prayer.
There are a lot of things I could expand upon, but I'm going to focus on what is probably her biggest gift to me: let go of worry by being faithful in prayer.

I am a Wednesday baby. You know what that means, right? "Wednesday's child is full of woe." ...and I live that out well. When I first read about 4 personality types (not Myers-Briggs) - the phlegmatic, sanguine, choleric, melancholic - in high school, I could strongly identify with the melancholic with my "internal self' - but I so badly wanted to be the sanguine, my "outside" self. The best way to describe the melancholic is to just think of Eeyore.

My internal self would worry; not all of the time - but, enough. I couldn't sleep the night before leaving for summer camp because I was worried about all the newness + being away from home; I was sick to my stomach the first 3 days I was in Rome (in high school) because I couldn't get in touch with my parents to let them know I was okay; I didn't get a small section of my hair wrapped in embroidery floss when in Italy like all the other girls because I didn't want to come home and have my mom think I'd changed so much on our 10-day trip to Italy/Greece.

I cried several times before starting 6th grade because it was the start to something I couldn't stop - THE REST OF MY LIFE. When opening a pack of 10 pens, I realized that I could use one pen each year - and that would get me through the entirety of high school AND college! (and I cried) Then, I got going with school - and the scary part wore off.

...then I graduated high school. Once county fair was over, the emotions came again. I cried once a day for 2 weeks about starting college/saying good-bye.

All of this is to demonstrate that transitions/changes have never been my strongest, emotionally. I also write this to share how much my mother has taught me over the years that this is no longer the same struggle for me.

My mom and I are quite alike in some ways - but also very different in others. Namely, she does not worry - and I'm not sure she ever has. As the youngest of 6, she got to be the carefree youngest. The parents are too tired from raising the others to put the pressure of being the 'perfect first', so the youngest get to just skate on through life. Although, the youngest can get the 'smothering' effect and feel so doted on that they need to exert their difference, their independence from all 'help' given by parents/older siblings.

It was always remarkable to me that she didn't worry, especially given that my grandmother is such a worrier. So, one day after graduating, I asked her, "Mom - why didn't you worry about me? Even when you knew that I was partying?" She said, "I just prayed for you, and knew that God would take care of you."

This lesson has guided me through my adult life by approaching new situations or life changes with prayer. Though, I am not perfect...and I often pray after the fact instead of first...but still, I do it. The last two months have been one of the most turbulent circumstantially, but also one of the blessed. Rather than worry first, I pray. ...and I pray often...through those prayers, peace stills my soul even though the waves still rage.

Proverbs 31:25 says "She is clothed with strength and dignity - and she can laugh at the days to come." To me, this is my mother. She can laugh at the days to come because she has covered them in prayer, and she trusts that God is true to His word - that all things can work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. (Romans 8:28 - one of the first verses she taught me)

So, happy birthday, Mom! Many more to come!



Sunday, September 13, 2015

Hold On Loosely

Remember that song from 38 Special? 'Hold on loosely, but don't let go; if you cling too tightly, you're gonna lose control?'

As I've thought about adjusting to life post-diagnosis, this has been the phrase that replays. On the big drive, the verses from James 4 about saying, "You should say, 'If the Lord wills, we will go here & do this' - for what is your life? Do you know what will happen today or tomorrow?'" [my paraphrase] 

I don't know about you, but since getting married, I've become quite the planner. I like having a general idea about where we're headed and how we'll make it happen to get there. I have become a strategizer. I have become a bit of a control freak. ...and, honestly, I have become very self-reliant, independent - I haven't needed God to make my life happen. It's like operating on auto-pilot. Deep down, I knew I wasn't living life the way I needed to...while things were fine...life just didn't feel...fulfilled? I don't know; perhaps it was empty, in spite of being so full.

Seven weeks into our new life, I feel very much like a different person. Even in spite of living through this trial, I feel more alive. My relationship with Jesus - and with Dan - is so much deeper, and more full of purpose, love, light, than it has been. 

Life after our first chemo treatment was almost normal. The first two weeks were great. The side effects were minimal; Dan was able to carry on his work - and judging practices - just like 'normal'. There was one day with a low fever, but we were able to manage it with Tylenol and it was gone within a day. It was going so well that I made a trip back to Iowa for a few days. 

...and then the shoe dropped. Tuesday morning, we got ready for work. Dan came in and said he felt a little nauseous, a little achey, and couldn't stop shaking. He just wanted to sleep, but didn't have a fever. I got home from work that night and it was 103.4. After consulting the oncologist on call at UM, we came to the ER in Lansing.

The nice thing about having cancer is that you don't spend any time waiting with the rest of the sick people and you get in pretty fast. By the time, we checked in, the temp was 100.3, and 3 hours later, it was normal. However, being an 'at risk' patient, they wanted to keep an eye on Dan. 

...and now, five days later...it looks as though we will get to check out today. The official diagnosis is sinusitis. The symptoms look a lot like every time Dan gets sick - but, the docs have worked really hard to get this under control - and have done a great job. Our team has been great - and we now have a primary care provider for Dan here in Lansing (and right on campus!). 

It's pretty easy to find the silver linings. Dan is getting an idea about his boundaries, but now the challenge for him is figuring out how to make sure his team gets the guidance he wants them to have - without putting himself at too much risk. What he really needs is an assistant coach (for those on our prayer team who want specific things to ask for - ask for this!). 

We work in a wonderful, supportive department. We're close to family and friends who have stopped in. 

But, I will admit. Day 3 was HARD. HARD. Coming in that morning, I felt so frustrated, abandoned, lonely. It seemed, at that point, like more of the same - like being in Houston, again. So, early in the morning, feeling so sad/dejected, I said to Dan, "let's pray." On Fridays, the mysteries of the Rosary are the Sorrowful - Jesus in the Garden, Jesus being flogged, Jesus crowned with thorns, Jesus carrying the cross, Jesus' death. 

Last weekend, my sister-in-law and I were talking about suffering; she had mentioned something about the cross, and I joked, "yeah; just offer it up?" And she said, "No, sometimes, the point is to just sit with him in the sorrow." 

On Friday, as we poured out our frustrations, our requests, and the things were thankful for before beginning, my mother-in-law called. As Dan talked to her, I just sat there, and entered into each mystery. Imagining myself there with Jesus, I sat with him in the Garden as he struggled with his sorrow, hugged his cross...and just remained. When we did finish praying the rosary, His peace had entered into my emptiness. [and the meeting with the doctors that day was far more promising!]

About prayer, C.S. Lewis said something to the point that it doesn't change God, it changes us. It very much does that. We are transformed by the presence of Christ - and when we are transformed, it can transform every part of our lives. Your prayer may not change God's will - but, your will can be changed to be more in line with His - and isn't that better? 

To attempt to bring this post to a close, here's my point: it's only through prayer that I am able to 'hold on loosely.' Our plans this week got totally up-ended. This was 'supposed to be' Chemo Round 2 week. Here's what I am quickly learning: let go of the 'supposed to'. Hold on loosely to the schedule. 
And also: wash your hands. 

And another thing: when you see people wearing a mask - it's because YOU are the walking germ-bomb not them. We all give those people a wide berth and usually think we don't want what they've got; it's the other way around - they don't want what you've got. So, if you see Dan wearing a mask in the next few months, it's for his protection - so he can carry on with business. 
[also, he shaved his head, and is looking quite handsome, if I do say so myself]

[the other plus side - I've figured out how to get to the hospital; 'discovered' a lovely little restaurant close to the hospital (okay, my bro & sis-in-law highly recommended it first), AND a local chocolatier right next to it - with killer sugar-free dark chocolate peanut butter cups and milk chocolate peanut clusters (for Dan)]

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Sometimes I thank God (cue the music)

If I know one thing, it's that my audience will automatically hear Garth Brooks' voice drawling out 'Unanswered Prayers' when they read the title line. "Remember when you're talkin' to the man upstairs - just because He may not answer doesn't mean He don't care...." While I totally agree with Garth, this post is actually about answered prayers.

Tuesday marked four weeks since d-day (diagnosis day). Four weeks. 28 days. Really? Just 28 days? It seems like a lifetime ago in many respects. I have learned and felt and thought so many things in the last month that I have yet to share here. One of the main things that I am quite sure of, though, is that we are deeply loved and cared for by many, and especially, by God. Your expressions of love, encouragement, and prayers have been overwhelming (in a good way). [Also, please forgive my lack of response sometimes; a few days are emotionally overwhelming and other days are just busy]

Wednesday, July 29 as we headed north on I-17 out of Phoenix and toward Flagstaff, I spent the drive soaking in God's handiwork. Our 14-hour drive that day provided such a diverse landscape - one that I know I will not see for awhile...so, Dan and I spent the drive just relishing the beauty of God's creativity. As we headed toward Flagstaff, I suggested that we pray the rosary.

Wednesday's mystery is the 'Glorious Mystery', which starts with meditating on Jesus' resurrection, then the ascension, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. As we prayed through the mysteries, the Our Fathers, the Hail Mary's, I had a profound sense of Christ's peace. We were surrounded with unknowns - and, yet, I KNEW that whatever the outcome, we would be all right because we would be WITH God. It was an emotional prayer; in coming close to God, I was able to release tears and open myself up to His healing, providential mercy. I also had a very strong sense of our need to pray the rosary every day, and ask others to do the same.

Let's start with Thursday's events: Dan had been running fevers on-and-off and had a slight cough for days. The Mayo hematologist said he could write Dan a prescription for an antibiotic (but didn't); the doctor also gave us his personal cell number to call in case we were getting the run-around with doctors. Dan left a message on Wednesday to see if he could get that AB before we left; no response. Overall on Wednesday, Dan felt pretty good. On Thursday morning, he had a slight fever. I called UM that morning to see what the process was to get Dan taken on as a patient. First, UM needed his paperwork - and then, it might take anywhere from 1-3 weeks to be taken on as a doctor.

On Thursday, while praying the 'Luminous Mystery,' the first starts with meditating on the wedding at Cana, where Mary instructs the servants to 'do whatever Jesus tells them to do.' I asked Mary to move in the hearts of those who could act on our behalf. While praying that first decade (ten) of Hail Mary's, Dan received a call from Dr. Slack (the Mayo heme), who said he would call the prescription into Creston (so my mom could pick it up that day), and also fax a referral to UM. After finishing the rosary, Dan called UM (I think it was about faxing medical records?) - and whomever he talked to actually went through the whole process of setting him up as a patient - speeding up the chance of being seen.

That day we spent a couple hours with some of Dan's close friends from college (who happen to live in Oklahoma - right on the way home). That visit was so good for our souls, though I know it was hard for them. As we got back in the car, I received a call asking me to interview for the Academic Advising Coordinator position at MSU that I'd applied for 6 weeks prior. Getting back on the road, I felt so cared for and at peace, though the road ahead was unknown.

That day I asked our siblings and our facebook friends/family to join us in praying a special 54-day (nearly 8 week) rosary novena. The first 27 days are petitioning for a special favor/grace, and the next 27 days are in thanksgiving - whether the gift has been granted yet or not. While our ultimate petition is for Dan's complete healing from cancer and deliverance from this virus (and we are not quite there), there are so many things that we can be thankful for - and that we can thank God for in advance.

Here's a major one: we are already into Dan's treatment plan. Though we were told it could take 1-3 weeks to get appointed a doctor, we were meeting with Dr. McCoy just 8 days after we first called the UM Cancer Center. She is great; very personable, caring, and giving of her time. PLUS, she's from IOWA!

We were able to get Dan's insurance set up within 3 days of starting. I called MSU's HR department that Thursday we were on the road and let the woman know about Dan's situation. Though coverage was 'retroactive' (meaning it started for Dan on August 1), setting up insurance when working at a university tends to take awhile. Usually, you sign up for benefits after you have university orientation -which usually happens 2 weeks after you start. (Thankfully navigating university benefit systems is not my first rodeo) She said that as soon as Dan was in the employment system, he could sign up for coverage - and then she would expedite the process to get Dan his actual member ID, etc. In the meantime, she sent me the coverage plans, so I could figure out what would be best.

At our first appointment with Dr. McCoy, she said she was surprised that Dan was not sicker than he was given the biopsy results. However, his lab reports that day came back with very low white blood cell & platelet numbers. This is one of the reasons that she moved forward with treatment. That day she also ordered 2 biopsies - one of a 'bugbite' (that had blistered; there's a really rare form of EBV-related, T-cell lymphoma that causes skin to blister when it's exposed to sun), and a bone marrow biopsy. She also ordered a PET scan to show the areas where cancer is.

The results: it really was just a bugbite! Dan does not have any lymphoma in his bone marrow and there were just a few T-cells present. The PET scan revealed 'hot spots' in Dan's neck and in a few lymph nodes on the back side of his abdomen. Though his spleen has been enlarged (the doctor said she could feel it on the 7th), there was NO cancer there! (which is HUGE)

Last week, Dan had a port put in which will allow for easy blood draws and chemo dispersal. Dan had his first round of chemo last Thursday-Friday-Saturday, which went well. He had some slight nausea on Thursday night and Friday morning, but has been eating like a champ, so far. On Monday, he got a shot to stimulate the bone marrow, and is having some slight 'bone pain'. This first round has gone well. The doctor said to expect fatigue to set in on Days 7-10 (which would be today through Sunday) - so we'll see how that goes. The doctor also said that the chemo effects are cumulative, so the last rounds are typically harder than the first.

In other news, we are under contract (again) with our house. Here's praying that all goes well for the next 40 days. ;) I expect there will be some other good news to report, too...

And, honestly, the last 4 weeks have been some of the hardest, yes - but, honestly, some of the blessed days of my life. I don't quite know how to put it into words - and it seems so contradictory...but, the sense of calling, of purpose, of peace - it's extraordinary. I thank ALL OF YOU for keeping us in your heart and in your prayers...because I think we have literally been carried by them.

So, please, join me now, in giving thanks for the next 4 weeks. Honestly, I have noticed in my thoughts just this morning a 'laziness' - to not say the rosary because things look good. Isn't that so our nature?

I've often scoffed at the Gospel message about the 10 lepers Jesus cleansed. Only 1 came back to thank Jesus - and he asks, "Where are the other 9? Weren't ten of you healed?" How quick we are to move on; to stop; to forget. Please, join me in this disciplined exercising of gratitude.

"More than ever, I find myself in the hands of God. This is what I have wanted all my life, from my youth. But now there is a difference; the initiative is entirely with God. It is indeed a profound spiritual experience to know and feel myself so totally in God's hands."  (Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ)



Thursday, August 20, 2015

Surrender

The Gospel readings this week started on Sunday with those who'd been hanging out with Jesus saying, "Lord, this is a hard teaching!" That theme carries through the week.

On Monday, the young man asks Jesus what he must do to gain eternal life. Jesus instructs him to keep the commandments; 'all this I have done; what must I do to be perfect?' Jesus replies, 'Sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will be perfect.' He went away sad because he was very rich.

Tuesday, we have the classic 'rich man vs. camel' parable.Yesterday, the parable of the vineyard owner who gives everyone a job and pays them all the same wage - regardless of how much/little they worked. Today, the king gives a wedding feast where the invited guests fail to show up, so everybody gets an invite with one condition: wear the clothes I give you.

For years, I have heard these parables and read them, and often thought, "I don't get it." or "this doesn't apply to me, I'm not rich." Tuesday, as we drove to our day's appointments, we listened to some different meditations on the readings (via the Laudate app - it's free, and I HIGHLY recommend it; I use it every day). One meditation focused on the question, "What are you carrying?"

"What are you carrying, dear Jessica? What burdens you so, today?"

Immediately, I pictured this in my head: me, struggling to carry Dan.

Dan has this game that he likes to play: the "I passed out & you try to get me to safety" game. I don't know how, but he is able to make his whole body just go heavy and he makes try to move him. It is impossible. Then he laughs and says things like, "if I passed out on you, you would move me like that?" And I tell him it's a stupid game and not funny and we shouldn't 'play' at things like that.

And that was this picture: me with all the weight of Dan upon me trying to move forward...but finding that I could not; that the weight, the burden was too much for me.

What do you need to give me so that you can walk? What burden do you need to surrender to my care?

But, Dan? Didn't you give him to me? You want me to let go?

Well, dear one, how are you doing with that? Does he enjoy being carried much? 

Well, no. He wants to walk his path.

So, does your effort to carry a man who can walk - and wants to walk...is it helping either of you?

Well, no. But, I want to help him. I don't want him to have to do this alone. I want to keep him from as much pain as possible.

I know you do; and I gave you the heart of a helper - and he is not alone. I am with him; you are next to him - but this path, you cannot walk for him. He must walk his path; you must walk yours. You cannot carry him, but I can. And, dear one, let me take this heaviness, so that you can walk beside him. Because, let's be honest, right now, you aren't getting anywhere but frustrated.

Yes. Yes, you are right. Oh God, help me to trust you. Help me to trust you with my most precious cargo.

Dear one, your beloved is my son, too. As dear as you are to me, and he is to you - so, he is to me. I know this road does not make sense, but trust that I will make this path straight. Trust that this path will bring about a greater glory than either of you can imagine. I do not promise easy, but I promise you will find LIFE. Do you believe that?

Yes, Lord.


Truly I say to you, it will be hard for one who is burdened [rich] to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again, I say to you that it will be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is burdened to enter the kingdom of God. 
I picture it like the entrance is only big enough for me...and if Dan is in my arms, we can't fit. That doesn't mean Dan doesn't get in - it just means that I can't bring him. He must choose of his own accord...and he must enter alone.

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and said, “Who then can be saved?”Jesus looked at them and said, “For men this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” 
It is a hard teaching to swallow; it is an act of faith to surrender the ones you love, the identity you cling to for purpose and definition. Why is it faith? You trust that you will receive it back, that what comes next could be better, even if the road is hard. You trust that the One who calls you is faithful and will do just what He says He can & will do.

Thank God for Peter asking that question, we then all wonder as we take this step of faith:

Then Peter said to him in reply, “We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?” 
Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age,when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones,judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 
And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life.But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
[Matthew 19:23-30]


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

At the midnight hour

God judged it better to bring good out of evil than to suffer no evil to exist.
St. Augustine

It's interesting that Julie Bernal said to me that 'this is your baby, right now.' Because, this is my 4th sleepless Monday out of the last 5...and I wonder will I ever see a full night of sleep again. Isn't that what all new parents go through? 

4 weeks ago, I had a sleepless Monday before Dan's biopsy; that led to praying the Rosary and finding comfort in knowing Mary knew the pain & anxiety that I was feeling. 3 weeks ago, I had a sleepless Monday before we loaded up the house and we met with the hematologist. I spent that night researching docs at the U of M, praying that we'd be able to get in and move on with answers. 2 weeks ago, I think I actually slept. :) 1 week ago, I was up about this time thinking about my interview, presentation and hoping I would be coherent enough to string words together in a coherent, intelligible manner. 

Today, I don't know... well, I mean, I know today is port-day. Today, we get some education on what to expect with treatment, though we still don't fully know what's going. I think all of those who love and care about Dan just want to be doing something to make it better for him. None of us are really good at just sitting by and letting someone else take care of it...we want to help. 

People say things like, "Take care of yourself, so you can take care of others." Isn't that easier said than done? I think we all need someone to take care of us. We each have that person who allows us to just 'rest' - to just 'be' in their presence...to be undone, to be just enough as our little self. 

...and if you don't have that person, then I suggest you find a cat. In the midnight hour, they'll let you pet them while they purr on your lap...and they'll look into your eyes, and they'll know. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

What I have feared has come upon me

This line from Job 3, perfectly sums up my reaction to Dan's diagnosis. When the hematologist at Mayo confirmed to us that Dan had a blood disorder which had become lymphoma, my fears were confirmed. Just a few days earlier, I had said to a friend at work, "I just really hope it's not cancer because cancer is scary; people die from cancer."

And isn't that our fear? Isn't that why we would wish, "anything but that?"

In those first moments in the room, while I cried and Dan held me (I'm not sure that he cried)...it was the confirmation of the fear. The scary thing had come upon us. It was here. This thing that I've pondered before, "I wonder how those people got through that"...now, I was that person.

The first thing I said to Dan in that exam room was this: "From this point now, everything is new. We are new. Everything from the past; all those expectations that we may have had in getting married to each other, those are dead and gone. We are new; today we move forward in a new life - a new purpose."

While going up to the appointment that day, Dan said to me, "I don't think your life is better since you married me. I think my life is better - but I think that I have not delivered my end." I shared with him that in perfect honesty, I don't even know what my expectations were 4 years ago; in coming to peace with living in Tucson, I think I started to let go of expectations. Though, I hadn't let go entirely of all expectations; it is certainly no secret that I long to be a mom - and I have been mad at God, and yes, frustrated with Dan, that we are childless.

In that room, I realized that with cancer treatment (though we still do not know what our plan will be), fertility is often compromised/lost. I wanted Dan to know that I would never hold that against him. What he needed to know is that we are in this fight together; we are one - and God is with us. All things are new. Our expectation of today is that God has given us life & breath in this moment, and we will live in worship of Him for his gift. It is time to live our baptismal promise: to walk forward in this life in newness of life.


I called my mom shortly, crying...sobbing as I voiced my fears to her. She cried with me, and I could feel her longing to hold her child. I confessed to her that I had no idea how to proceed - how to call people...because I desperately wanted people to not just know, but to pray. But the thought of having heart-wrenching conversation after conversation was just too much. So, she promised to take care of that. Then, she shared with me a verse that had been on her heart that day from Joshua: "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and take heart; the Lord your God goes before you - and He will fight for you."

These words were like sweet nourishment to my parched soul. I shared that I had been in a drought of faith; skeptical of God's interest. ...and I reached out - and clung to these words for all the hope  that they contained; with all the faith that I could muster, "Yes, God; PLEASE, I beg of you; PLEASE, out of your great mercy - FIGHT FOR US. PLEASE, though I am the least of your faithful ones, PLEASE, FIGHT FOR US."

At this very moment, Dan had run into one of our friend's parents in the Mayo hospital lobby. This is just one of the many "God-moments" of providential 'coincidence'. He had told them of his new diagnosis, and as I walked up to them - she spoke, what I believe, prophetic words of hope for us:
Pray the rosary daily; ask our mother for help; her love is so great.
To Dan: I know that you have faith, that you believe - but through this, your faith will become active - loud, alive, vocal. It won't be something you keep to yourself anymore. You will share your story. Glory in your story; God is using this to bring redemption! This will be the end of your constant sickness. Complete healing will come.
You can't do your job the way you want to - a good job, if you aren't well. You must focus on your health.
To us: This will be the crowning glory of your marriage. [looking at me] This is your baby, right now. [then she asked, 'Do you have children?' I shook my head no (probably with tears in my eyes) and she said:] But, a baby will come - lots of babies. This is not the end. This is the beginning of your story. 
 
 



Saturday, August 8, 2015

A very good place to start

For our friends in blogland/Facebook who haven't heard, last Tuesday (July 28), Dan was diagnosed with EBV-related T-cell lymphoma. Last Tuesday was also the day that our house was loaded up and shipped to Michigan. Last Tuesday was also the day that we were to get started on our northeastern journey.

Since the diagnosis, I have meant to start writing about my thoughts, prayers, feelings, etc. Many of you have asked that we keep you informed, and I intend to do so.

The thing is, I don't know where to start. I feel like July 28 was eons ago...and, yet...it was just eleven days.

So, I guess, let's get you caught up on our lives. The last thing I wrote about was Dan's hospitalization in Houston in mid-March.

At the beginning of the week, I was so confident that we were going to leave Houston with answers. Instead, we just left with more questions. A list of doctors to follow up with in Tucson... ...and in Tucson, Dan had appointment after appointment after appointment. None came up with answers - none even seemed interested in finding answers - just "come back in 6 months." By then, I was fed up with that answer.

Dan mentioned to our primary care doc about going to Mayo after being diagnosed with an ear infection toward the beginning of May. He told us we could certainly go, but didn't seemed convinced that we really needed to.

So, in mid-May, I filled out the online form for Mayo's self-referral. Dan was scheduled for an appointment on June 17. (a month later)

Toward the beginning of May, Dan was invited to apply for the Academic Coordinator position with the Institute of Agricultural Technology/Animal Science at Michigan State University. Part of his duties would include coaching the livestock judging team, teaching, and advising the ag tech students in livestock management. While Dan has many dreams, being able to be part of the team at MSU would definitely fit into one. For us, it would allow us to be close to family - to become part of their lives, to watch our niece and nephews grow. The one thing that Tucson just really didn't provide for us.

Dan interviewed for the MSU job on June 12. He was offered the job on the 19th. He accepted by the 22nd. Our plans for a move just 5 weeks later started in earnest.

Dan's first appointment at Mayo was with an ENT specialist due to all the sinus infections he'd been having. During that visit what she noted (that I remember) was that she didn't think Dan was having sinus infections and 2) that Dan's case was definitely a complex one - and we should have had a longer appointment. She wanted us to see an immunologist and didn't think a visit to a hematologist was necessary.

The next week, I think he had 1 or 2 appointments at May for different tests - blood work, biopsies, CT scans. (honestly, the weeks have blurred together for me) During the first week of July, he went up to Mayo 3 times. On July 11, we met with an immunologist who said that we didn't need to see him, we needed a hematologist. But, we couldn't get one until September...so, that obviously wasn't going to work. He also lectured Dan on the importance of not going to Michigan, and instead staying to focus on his health. Also, this doctor gave Dan a pneumonia vaccine...and he proceeded to have a weekend of fevers [because he doesn't have an immune system that can support this type of 'assault' - although the doctors didn't know that at this time]

On July 14, we met with an ENT surgeon who was going to remove a lymph node and a mass behind the lymph node. At that time, we were feeling super frustrated with Mayo because we felt like we were getting the run around. NOW, (hindsight being 20/20 and all) we see that they were running a hell of a lot of tests in a hell of a short period of time. At that time, the ENT team on Dan's case thought that perhaps Dan has an immunological disorder and this biopsy would help reveal that.

On July 14, we left Arizona for 6 days in Iowa where Dan was judging my county fair. While there, Dan met with my parents' chiropractor. Besides being a chiropractor, I think the best way to describe her is a 'healer.' Her assessment of Dan's health was right on with what his doctors' had been finding. Later that week, I met with her - and I daresay that her work on my emotional state has been one of the things that has allowed me to get through the last 11 days. In my meeting with her, she told me that Dan's systems are essentially "maxed out."

Dan's surgery was July 21. We ended up missing our flight out of Omaha on July 20...which caused a series of events that ended up with us spending the night in Dallas. While at the hotel in Dallas, I couldn't sleep...I was so nervous about the state of Dan's health, and honestly, afraid.

Now, for me, up until this point...I was just so angry. And, to be honest, this anger kept me from God. I just didn't feel like he cared. I felt abandoned. I felt like I was the only one who saw, who heard, who cared.

And that night, I couldn't sleep. I was wracked with anxiety. I got up to read - and I knew that instead I needed to pray. But, I felt like I was so far from God - and that He just simply couldn't understand the agony of knowing something is wrong with a beloved one. So, knowing I needed to obey this urge to pray, I started praying the rosary. It was Tuesday - the day of Sorrowful mysteries (for the non-Catholics, that's the passion of Jesus)...and immediately, I was in tears knowing she could identify with my fears. ...and, I slept.

That morning while flying first class to Phoenix, God revealed to me the role that I had in Dan's healing. For the first time in months, I believed that God was going to work about healing in Dan's life - a revitalization that we haven't yet witnessed. A fried of mine had been telling me that she saw Dan whole and healthy in Michigan - and, honestly, I couldn't share her hope at the time. I wanted it to be true, but was so skeptical that it could be. On that plane, I believed it could be possible.

The tumor that they removed from Dan's throat was about a square inch and was residing on the nerve in Dan's neck. Because of its placement, the surgery took twice as long - but the surgeon removed it masterfully.

That following Monday when we met with the surgeon (that, by the way, was the day that our entire house was packed up), it was apparent that she was very concerned. I am so thankful to God for her concern because she was able to get an appointment THE NEXT DAY with a hematologist. (which seems unheard of with Mayo) She didn't really fully grasp the report, but impressed upon us the importance of being seen by a hematologist at the University of Michigan (a research hospital) and not at a local hospital. We left her office thinking that Dan had either a blood disorder or lymphoma.

The next day, all our stuff was to be loaded into a semi; into our car and pick-up, and we'd give the ol' "Sayonara!" to Tucson. It was hot. We had a bunch of crap still not done from our need to leave the house Monday to get to the surgeon appointment. The movers packed up things they shouldn't have (and not what what they should have, we found out later)...and I was an emotional mess. We got everything packed up due to my sacrificial in-laws who ventured to Tucson on Monday in order to help us drive Dan's truck to Michigan, and my awesome best-friend, Anne Marie.

However, we got on the road to the hematologist late (and this time it wasn't my fault). So, I suggested we call Mayo to let them know. So, Dan does...and the receptionist says they cancel all appointments that are 10 minutes late. We will be at least 15 - maybe 20 minutes late. Dan tells her this is his only chance and he MUST meet with the doctor that day because he is leaving town. She said she'd call him back after talking to some people.

At this point, I have my "last" pissed off breakdown. I yelled at the injustice of it all; I hit my almost-empty water bottle against the steering wheel...and then, I did something that I hadn't done much of, lately, I asked God to get us in, to let us see that doctor.

...and Dan called again. ...and the receptionist said that whenever we would get there, the doctor would see us.

Thank you, Jesus.

...and the turning point begins here.

#fightfearwithfaith