When Suffering Becomes a Gift

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We are handing in the keys to our temporary home tomorrow.  After almost 11 months, this place is no longer needed.

The most intense part of my husband’s Leukemia treatments are behind us.

We spent 3 weeks at our real home this month and returned here this week for Bob’s check-up and biopsy.  He’s still in remission and we are going home for good now only to return for periodic cancer checks.

As I walk through the rooms of this small apartment packing up the last of our belongings, I can’t help but think back on all that’s happened here.  There were many days of uncertainty.  Many lonely nights for me as Bob spent days, weeks, months of his own lonely days and nights in the hospital for treatment.

There were dressing changes, IV magnesium and antibiotic infusions done here and long periods of time when all Bob could do was sleep in this space that we called home.  And all I could do was feel helpless — with only a prayer in my heart — as I watched him go through his suffering.  There were several emergency trips to the hospital after the bone marrow transplant, because of infections, virus’, graft vs host rashes, low blood pressure and a fall that ended up with a stitched forehead.  Then there were the re-admittance to the hospital times, because those side effects and illnesses became serious.

And there were times when I looked up and asked, “Where are you God?”  There were times when Bob cried out, in familiar to us words,…”My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”

And that’s when Christ identified with us.  That’s when His presence became more real.  That’s when His compassion flowed into our hearts and uplifted our spirits.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.  For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.  2 Corinthians 1: 3-5

And that’s when suffering becomes a gift.

So we leave this place changed.  We are forever changed and forever grateful knowing that God won’t waste our pain and grateful for this apartment that so often became our holy ground even in the middle of the not so wonderful times.

God doesn’t waste a second of our suffering.  There’s purpose in everything and the hardest of times, those times of trouble prune away the unnecessary to make room for the necessary.

Blessings,

Nancy

( I shared how this apartment was provided for us here: Your answer could be right around the corner and a little of our holy ground experience here: An Unexpected Gift)

Coming Alive Again

It’s a crazy mixed up world we live in.  All you have to do is turn on the news to realize that.  Then there’s our own personal challenges added to the mix.  And…well…that can make us feel overwhelmed.  But there’s still beauty to be found in the middle of the broken.  My camera helps me seek and find it.  I’d like to share another poem that I wrote, several years ago, that was just published.  Go figure…just published after all these years!  Another surprise for me.  I thought I better hurry up and post this since spring is going to shift into summer soon…

Coming Alive Again

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In spring there’s a freshness

and a beauty unfolds,

all that was sleeping

awakens for us to behold.

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There’s a sigh of relief

that winter has ended,

even the birds are aware

of all that is splendid.

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Woodland animals awaken,

peeking out their faces

slowly at the beginning,

from their resting places.

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Everything comes alive

like a rebirth,

a sense of anticipation

fills the whole earth.

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Dormant flowers rise up

to feel the sun’s warmth,

brown grass turns green

and color comes forth.

colors of spring

Gray skies become blue,

clouds look like marshmallows,

a tapestry on the ground

that is no longer fallow.

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A colorful picture

and a marvelous sight —

when the world around us

is no longer black and white.

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Written by:  Nancy Janiga

All photos taken by: ©Nancy Janiga

Holding On

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I wrote the following words on January 11, 2015 in my piece titled, Our Spring is coming

“We are looking forward to the end of this storm, this winter that we are in.  We are looking forward to seeing all the signs of spring and new life…The crocus’ poking up from beneath the snow, the sun shining brighter, the patches of snow disappearing and the grass greening.

We are looking forward to spring with the hope of being home where we can live out what the medical staff is calling our new normal.”

As spring and the promise of new life arrived, we received the results of Bob’s spinal fluid and bone marrow biopsies, CANCER FREE!  Two of the most beautiful words that we’ve ever heard!

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Through the sovereignty of God and our son, Scott, agreeing to God’s plan through his bone marrow donation, Bob received a second chance at life; a rebirth so to speak.

After 8 months in this medical community, we thought by now we could make plans to return home but Bob is fighting an intestinal infection.  The transplant knocked down his immune system so it will be an uphill climb for a year from the date of his transplant.  The complete recovery process, at times, is grueling.  What would be a minor illness for you or me, becomes serious for Bob.

What we have learned through this experience, right from the beginning, is that we never know what tomorrow may bring so we must hold tight to the ONE who holds tomorrow in His hands.

In the middle of our own medical odyssey, my dad had a heart attack and a stroke and is recovering nearby.

We’re a little battle fatigued but remain hopeful.

Our hope lies in the one who holds tomorrow in His hands and those hands are holding both of the special men in my life…my husband and my father.

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I wrote a poem years ago that I completely forgot about until I received a letter in the mail recently.  The letter came from a mission publication stating that they were going to publish my poem.  It was an unexpected surprise.  A gift of God’s timing.  Here are those words:

Rejoice and Be Glad

Springtime brings new energy
And all nature is refreshed;
The veil of winter lifted,
Feeling by the sun, to be caressed.

The earth begins to come alive
As presenting a new song
And all that is within us
Begins to sing along.

God paints the earth with greenery
And colors every flower,
Showcasing birds against blue skies
With a demonstration of His power.

Somewhere deep within the heart
There’s a joy we can’t contain;
Surrounded by spring’s newness,
Hope and happiness remain.

Skipping to the beat of spring
Floods the soul with peace.
After the wilderness of winter,
God brings us sweet relief.

God is bringing us sweet relief slowly from our winter wilderness.  What was buried beneath the winter of our souls, is emerging stronger, resilient, joyful and thankful.

Many of you have been part of this second chance at life for Bob — especially through your prayers — and for that we are thankful.  We are thankful to God and to all of you.  And now we wait in hope for God to clear up Bob’s infection and make his recovery complete.

Blessings,

Nancy

A New Perspective

“It is not the ‘ministry’ you could have ever anticipated or chosen but we are confident in God’s ability to help you live it out!” (from a dear pastor and his wife)

window xx wdpI pondered those words as winter released its grip.

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I think God gifts us with creativity to help us cope through the messy parts of life.  I find that my photography is a way to count my blessings.  I capture most of my photographs indoors now.  I keep snapping and pondering…

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It’s been 2 months today since I posted here but I haven’t been stagnant.  What have I been doing?  Besides taking care of my husband, through his cancer and transplant journey, and finding stillness in my photography, I’ve been praying the Lord’s prayer.  Everyday.  Often several times a day and finding power to live out this ‘ministry’.  My prayer, the words that I learned as a child, take on new meaning and perspective these days:

Our Father who art in Heaven 

( You are my Father.  A good and gracious Father.  A Father that I can approach with the truth about my feelings, even weep and find comfort when I need it the most).

Hallowed by thy name

(You are worthy to receive all my praise.  You are high and exalted and I worship you and thank you for allowing me to grieve my way to acceptance.  I praise you for understanding me from the inside out).

Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven

(May your will be done here in this place (here on earth) where Bob and I live.  Thy will be done.  In releasing my life to your will, it frees me — frees me to give thanks, and leads me to acceptance and in thanksgiving and accepting your will I am surprised by JOY).

Give us this day our daily bread

(Daily bread.  We have enough to eat.  Thank you.  But we need more.  Give us what we need today…peace, patience, endurance, stamina, faith, hope, love, comfort…Give us yourself!  You are the bread of life and in receiving you we receive life.  Abundant life comes by living in your presence.  As my brother, Jim, said to me, “The Lord doesn’t just provide what we need He is what we need”.  And, Lord, you are enough).

And forgive us our sins  

(Forgive me for the sin of fear, despair, or looking back on life as it once was…that life that we left.  Bob’s illness took us out of our comfort zone and we found that comfort zone lacking in many ways.  It’s only in the valley, the trials, the storms that we experience the truth about our Christian faith and what it truly means to follow you.  We understand more fully what you meant when you said:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple”.  (Luke 14:26)

Even our own families and the familiar can become idols.  We have given up a lot, left family, home, possessions, Bob’s health, friends, church, and now we’re living in a medical bubble in a strange city.  At times it feels or seems like we’ve given up everything …and as hard as that is…it is also freeing).

As we forgive those who sin against us

(Sometimes it hurts when those we thought would be there for us are not or cannot.  Is that a sin against us?  I’ve tried to sort that out, Lord.  When our hope lies in what others do or don’t do, it robs us of peace and joy.  Many do not understand the weight we carry.  Forgive them for they know not what this is or what it’s like. Until we walk in another person’s shoes, we cannot fully grasp the truth.  It is the same for me; for us.  I acknowledge that I don’t always understand what others are going through.  We need to forgive one another!  That frees us to love).

And lead us not into temptation

(Lord, help us not to look at life through our earthly eyes.  Keep our focus crystal clear through our Spiritual eyes.  That first step toward sin often comes through what we see and perceive that we need.  Keep our eyes holy).

But deliver us from evil

( Lift us out from under the weight of the evil one.  Remove his activity in our life and let us not fall into his trap of believing that you are not able to heal. You can and still do and we rest in our prayers for Bob’s healing.  Let us not be lured into self-pity, bitterness over circumstances or lack of trust in your plan and purpose.  We trust and believe in your sovereignty).

For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen!

(And may our lives and all we do and go through point to you.  May you receive glory).  Amen.

Blessings!

Nancy

New Year; New Hope

bob on beach(I snapped this photo of Bob at the end of January 2015 on the gulf coast of Florida).

Someday, once again, Bob will enjoy the simple pleasures of God’s creation that he loved so much.  I cherish the above photo because to me it’s filled with light and hope.

My one word for 2016 is HOPE.

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After the last 5 difficult months and many more difficult months ahead, 2016 is still filled with so much light and hope

Bob had his bone marrow transplant a couple of weeks ago on January 13, 2016.  As many of you already know our oldest son, Scott, donated his bone marrow to save his dad’s life.  What a gift!

Bob’s discharge from the hospital was on January 27.  Just 2 weeks after the transplant.  The doctors and medical staff stand amazed that the engraftment of the new cells began about 4 or 5 days sooner than anticipated and that allowed his discharge to happen sooner also.

What has been impossible for us to do or the medical staff to do, continues to happen.  We know and hold on to the fact that nothing is impossible with God.

God is shining.  God is receiving the glory through our journey and even though we still have a hard road ahead we know we are not alone and His mercy will sustain us.

Bob is weak.  His immune system is compromised and won’t get better for many months.  The immunosuppressants (or anti-rejection meds) also lower his ability to fight infections so he must be protected like a new born babe.

In many respects, he is like a newborn, with new life and new hope.

One of our favorite verses since Bob’s diagnosis with the chronic form of Leukemia in 2014 and on into 2015 when it transitioned into the more serious acute type of leukemia has been Lamentations 3: 21-23:

hope

Because the Lord’s steadfast love never ceases, we have hope for 2016 and beyond.

Blessings,

Nancy

(To all of you who are praying for my Bob and for our entire family…THANK YOU!  That’s what is moving the hand of God and helping us through this difficult time.  Although we know God knows all things, sees all things, and is present with us, he wants us to pray and uses prayer in a mysterious way to carry out His plan.  We are grateful for the many prayers going up for us).

Our spring is coming

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They are telling us that we’ll be here until spring.  Who would have thought that we’d be here, in this place, longer than we would be home in the time span of a  year?  It could end up being a total of 8 or 9 months.

They tell us we’ll be living a “new normal.”

There isn’t anything normal about this.  Cancer isn’t normal.  We weren’t created for it.  God has given us life.  So we fight for that precious gift daily.

Jesus wept at Lazarus’ grave.  He weeps with us too.  Our sorrow becomes His sorrow.

The truth is this world is fallen.  We were created for life~for right here forever~but it was stolen away from us.  Now we live with glimpses of paradise but this world isn’t paradise.

Part of the fall brought with it sickness and disease.  It has affected Bob.  He is fighting for his life and until the Lord tells him to quit fighting here~and welcomes him into his eternal home~he fights on and I fight alongside of him, because life is a gift!

God has a plan in all of this and it’s unfolding.

Summer, Fall, Winter…  The seasons changed.  And so have we.

It has brought us back to a vulnerable childlike place.  But isn’t that exactly where God wants us?

We don’t experience His presence unless we are humble, vulnerable, like little children crying out to a parent.  And what good parent ignores a child?  And what good papa doesn’t quiet the cries of his children?  Abba, our papa cares.  He’s a good Father.

Bob and I have a question that we ask each other often.  That question is…  “Is it time to lament?”

You see one night when things looked bleak, when we didn’t think we could go another step and we were tired of being strong, I said, “Christians have lost the art of lamenting.  We need to lament.  It’s not an option.  It’s a necessity.”

So lament we did.  Lying in bed we cried, cried out to God, not with fancy words or prayers.  No, just with the truth of how we were feeling.  And you know what?  We fell asleep in the arms of God.  And the next day brought peace and answered prayer.

We are looking forward to the end of this storm, this winter that we are in.  We are looking forward to seeing all the signs of spring and new life…The crocus’ poking up from beneath the snow, the sun shining brighter, the patches of snow disappearing and the grass greening.

We are looking forward to spring with the hope of being home where we can live out what the medical staff is calling our “new normal.”

Blessings,

Nancy

(Transplant day is Wednesday, January 13, 2016.  Scott’s bone marrow will be harvested that morning and Bob will receive the infusion that afternoon.  Thank you, our friends, who have been so faithful in prayer.  We love and appreciate each one of you.)

An Unexpected Gift

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This place so far from home, the one we live in close to the hospital some may call isolation but we call it holy ground.

It’s a new normal.  A place stripped of most of our possessions but here in the quiet we have found God to be more than enough.

His presence is often experienced the most in our deep nights of the soul.

We are experiencing Him in new and profound ways.

That’s a gift.

Cancer.  My husband’s cancer has caused us to go deeper with God, to experience His peace that passes all understanding more frequently.  Especially in times of fear when we feel lost and alone and cry out to Him.  It may not happen immediately but He always lets us know that He hasn’t abandoned us.

We will never be the same.  You can’t go through something like this and ever come out on the other side of it the same as you entered into it.

Often God’s mercies are wrapped in unexpected ways.

Look at Jesus.  Away in a manger no crib for a bed…

Who would have thought God would wrap His most precious gift of love, grace and mercy in swaddling cloths?

Who would have thought God Himself would come to earth in such a lowly, humble way?

Truth is His most precious gifts often come wrapped that way.  In ways that we would never expect.  His gifts are perfect and right on time.

We prayed for 4 months that a bone marrow donor would be found for my husband.

Many have prayed.  Perhaps you prayed too.

The news came that a donor could not be found through the registry.

More chemo.  More waiting.  More praying. More hoping.

Then the miracle came.

Our oldest son, Scott, tested as over half a match.

Not perfect but good enough.

It’s good enough for a haploidentical bone marrow transplant.

These types of transplants have been done successfully at the University Research Hospital where the transplant will be done.  All transplants come with benefits and risks.  It’s not easy by any means but we trust God with the outcome.

On January 6 my husband will enter the hospital.  His immune system will be suppressed through more chemotherapy and radiation.

On Januray 13, Scott’s bone marrow will be harvested and given to Bob through an IV.

My husband, Bob, will receive the gift of life through the son that he gave life to.  The son we gave birth to is giving his father a second chance at life.

Who would have thought that the answer; the gift would come through our son?

We celebrate the most precious gift ever given in Jesus this month, the one who has given us life eternal.

And we receive with grateful hearts His precious gift of mercy wrapped in the most unexpected way through our son, Scott and we thank our son for his most special offering.  Certainly it’s the best gift that he’s ever given his dad for Christmas.

We are going to have a Merry Christmas knowing that our God knows what He is doing and although a perfect donor match could not be found He is going to give Bob a perfect transplant.

Merry Christmas!

Nancy ❤

( The photo was taken of an angel adorning our beautiful European Cyprus Tree.  Both the tree and ornaments were sent to us by some dear friends)

Our Hearts Are Being Refreshed

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It’s early.  I woke before dawn and watched daylight break through the darkness.  I glance at the cup a dear friend sent to me and read the prayer printed on it.

“May God grant you courage, and through His grace provide the peace that lies in knowing He’s always at your side.”

More than ever I need to know this.  We, my husband and I, need to know this.

My friend sent two different but special mugs.  One for me and one for Bob.

The other mug says:

FAITH, is being sure of what we hope for.  Hebrews 11:1

Our hope is in the Lord.  Our hope is knowing that He will give us strength and courage to walk through this valley.  And as the prayer on the cup says…and through His grace provide the peace that lies in knowing He’s always at our side.

We believe.

Bob went to sleep with those words on his lips last night:  “I believe.”

There have been bursts of glory knowing God is near as His overwhelming presence carries us.  It’s actually more than knowing it.  We’re experiencing it.

We arrived here in this place, 170 miles and three hours away from our home, at the end of August.

It is the beginning of December now and we are still here in our home away from home.  In this apartment 2 miles away from the hospital where Bob is being treated for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, we are living our new normal.

Bob spent 34 days in the hospital during his induction treatment.  Now he is having his treatments out patient as we wait for news about a stem cell/bone marrow transplant.

A donor match hasn’t been found.

We’re running against time and soon the transplant team will be making a decision to do either an umbilical cord blood transplant or use a 1/2 match from a family member in an attempt to save Bob’s life.

Chemotherapy alone will not keep the aggressive fast growing cancer in remission.

Without the quick decisions and chemotherapy program that Bob’s doctors designed for him, he may not be here today.

We were whisked away within days to begin his treatment.  They didn’t waste any time.

Bob is in remission receiving chemo to keep it there until a transplant can be done.

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A couple of weeks ago, we found flowers on the doorstep of the apartment where we’re living.  A gift from friends back home.  I clipped and arranged them, put them in a vase and they have been giving us many days of joy.

As we look around at the gifts and cards that so many friends have sent we’re overwhelmed with gratitude.

My sister and her husband have been coming at least once a week.  Dave stays with Bob and Judy takes me out for a while.  My other sister, Diane and her husband Andy visit and Diane meets Judy and I for lunch often.

The doctors and nurses ask me, “What are you doing to take care of yourself?”  It’s easy to forget that if I don’t take care of myself, I won’t be able to care for Bob.

My sisters have been lifesavers for me, rescuers who won’t let me slip into depression or neglect my emotional or mental health.

Our sons; our daughter-in-law ~ ~ they’re like life-saving medicine to our hearts.

My brothers, my parents, many friends ~ their cards, their calls, their texts, their visits, their prayers are bathing us with hope and courage. We have an army of prayer warriors standing with us in prayer.

We arrived here in the summer…

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Saw the beauty of autumn come…

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then slowly slip away…

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and stood amazed at the winter wonderland of our first snowfall…

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Through the seasons of change and waiting, we are refreshed by the love and prayers of so many people.

In the fights of life, people can be conduits of great joy and deep refreshment.  Margaret Feinberg

There are many friends and family members fighting this fight with us.

Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.  Philemon 1:7

Blessings,

Nancy ❤

(All photos were taken by me in or near our home away from home.  I believe God has given us the ability to find and create beauty in the middle of this messy often painful world.  I hang tight to Him and to His promises and will continue my search for beauty through my lens)

When God sends messengers

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My husband, Bob, has been in the hospital for a little over two weeks. He’s already had 4 rounds of intravenous chemo and they just changed his oral chemo med tonight. The oral chemo targets the Chronic Myeloid Leukemia.  The intravenous chemo targets the Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.  The CML mutated into ALL but the CML still exists.  The doctors tell us that both cancers have the Philadelphia Chromosome, which makes his condition rare and difficult to treat.  Since they don’t have much data to fall back on with this rare combination, his medical team came up with what they are referring to as a “hybrid treatment plan.”

He’ll receive round 5 of intravenous chemo this Thursday.

All his blood counts are in the range that the doctors expected them to be this week and overall his doctors are happy with how Bob is responding.

About 4:00pm yesterday, Bob’s chemo nurse told him that he would be receiving another chemo drug by injection on Friday and that his doctors would explain more about it in the morning.

Bob wasn’t expecting to receive anything on Friday so the news was overwhelming and hard for him to hear.  He slipped into depression.

I wasn’t there when he heard the news. I returned at 5:00pm.

I usually park in the parking garage but decided to go in the emergency entrance when I got back to the hospital.

As I entered, there was a man sitting in a wheel chair by the door. He looked at me and asked if I was a volunteer. I said no. He asked, “Do you work here?” I replied, “No, I’m on my way up to the 5th. floor to visit my husband. The man asked, “What’s your husband’s name?” I responded, “Robert”. “Can you give Robert a message for me?” he asked. I nodded. Then he said, “You tell Robert that I’m praying for him and to keep the faith!” I smiled, thanked him and told him that I’d definitely give him the message. As I approached the elevator, he yelled out “You both keep the faith!”

How can we not keep the faith when God sends messengers (perhaps even angels) to encourage us daily?

Bob’s words after he heard the message? “Our God is good. He is reminding me that He’s right here with me and He’ll never leave me.”  His spirits lifted.

Peace returned to Bob’s heart and he rested well last night.

Blessings,

Nancy

(I snapped the above photo from Bob’s hospital room)

Your answer could be right around the corner

hills 3 x - Copy wdpI tossed and turned most of the night knowing what was ahead of us in the morning.  At 5:30am, my eyes opened.  I stared at the ceiling for a while then rolled over and closed my eyes.  My husband’s arm wrapped around me and grabbed my hand and gave it a squeeze.  This would be the last time we’d be this close for many months.  As tears rolled down my cheeks, I drifted off to sleep for half an hour.

Bob’s cancer is mutating. He not only has Chronic Myeloid Leukemia but, through a bone marrow biopsy, his doctors detected Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.  An extremely rare combination. The only hope for a cure is through a bone marrow transplant or what is commonly known today as a stem cell transplant. That process begins today.

We will travel 170 miles from home where he will enter the hospital for a month to receive extensive chemotherapy treatments — both orally and intravenously to try and bring both cancers into remission.  This will begin the process to move him toward the transplant.

I’m moving into an apartment near the hospital where I will be close to him.  It could be 6 months or longer before we can return home.

It’s been a whirlwind.  We just heard the news last week and we’re already being whisked away.

Bob has a wonderful medical team at one of the best hospitals in our state but our trust is in God.  He has been our guide and strength through this long and winding road.  If we had to depend on ourselves, we’d be incapable.

We heard the news on Thursday and they wanted him admitted the following Monday.  Where will I live?  How can we manage this so far from home?  Those were questions that I kept asking God.

We stopped at a café to eat lunch after we met with the medical team last Thursday.

Scrambling through the internet looking for rentals, proved futile.  We were trying to find a place, in a college town, near a University Hospital.  Bob’s doctors and staff at the hospital told us that it would be extremely hard to find an apartment there.

Concern for Bob flooded me.  I didn’t want him admitted into the hospital on Monday with this weight on his shoulders.  His concern was over me having to deal with this alone after Monday.

We had to get back to our home 170 miles away to get ready, pack and prepare for Monday.

As we left the café, we turned the corner and drove less than a block and saw a “Now leasing” sign.   We pulled in.  They had a 2 bedroom apartment available.  The people living there were moving out on Monday.  It was the only unit available.

The leasing agent showed us the place, in a quiet and quaint area, and said it was ours if we could give her a deposit that day.  We did and it’s now ours.  The extra bedroom will come in handy for family visits.

Our answer was right around the corner!  God had the place picked out for us long before we knew that we would need an apartment in that area.

He hasn’t brought us this far to leave us and we know that ultimately He is in total control.  We are leaning on Him for strength through this storm and praying for Bob’s healing.

God is good.  He’s always good even in the middle of a storm.

Blessings,

Nancy

(I took the photo in this post in New Mexico a couple of years ago)