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

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)

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)

Bless and be thankful continually

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“We bless you, Lord.”

I heard those words flow out of the mouth of someone praying once.

And those four words got me thinking.

Does God need our blessing?

I know I need his blessing.  I need his blessing to live.

I’m blessed when I inhale my first breath of morning air.

I’m blessed with my first sip of coffee and with my first spoonful of Cheerios.

I’m blessed with a warm shower and my bar of dove sudsing up my washcloth.

The clothes I put on are his blessing.

His provision.

Sustaining grace.

The sunshine.

Shelter.

Rain that soaks the earth.

Plants and flowers that bloom in my yard.

Everything.  Everywhere.  I’m surrounded by his blessings.

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.  Jonathan Oatman, Jr

We sing, recite and teach children and grandchildren to sing and recite these or similar words.

But are we conscious, really conscious of even the simplest of blessings?

We need his blessing to survive.

Does he need or want ours?

The Orthodox Jews blessed God.  So did Jesus.

If we look closely at Jesus’ prayers and even the Apostle Paul’s, we see clearly that their style of prayer was one that continually blessed God.

That prayer style was passed down from Moses when he told the Israelites to focus on the Lord and to not forget that he is the source of all that they have and that he alone sustains them.

When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which he has given you.  Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God.  Deut. 8: 10-11.

Moses didn’t want the Israelites to rely on God only in their lean days but to also acknowledge him in their abundance — especially when things were going good.  That’s when it’s easy to forget about God.  He was stressing the importance of blessing God always and in all circumstances.

Blessing God with short bursts of prayer shifts our attention to him…the source of all blessings and to keep him foremost in our line of vision and in our thoughts.

Praying before meals often becomes a mindless ritual but what a great time to really pause, think, focus, and remember God’s blessings that we received throughout the day and to bless him for them.

Jesus took the bread and gave thanks — the original translation says, Jesus took the bread and blessed…not to bless the food but to bless God for the food…in other words, to thank God.  Some translations sneak in the word ‘it’ as if Jesus was blessing the food.

Maybe that’s where we’ve gotten confused with what praying before meals is really about.

Jesus was giving God thanks for the food.  He was not blessing the food.

The original Hebrew word for bless is barak which means “to kneel.”

I get the image of kneeling before him in total surrender and worship when I think of the word barak.

To bless God is to give him thanks.

We can give thanks before meals and not only then but continually all day long.

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Even during painful situations, we can thank him for the specific ways he sees us through them.

“Bless (thank) you Lord for…

We can write them down, focus on them, take our eyes off of our circumstances and place them on him and bless his name.

Life gets hard at times but God is good.  Always good.

Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name!  Bless the Lord , O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagles.  Psalm 103: 1-5, RSV

“Oh, Lord, we bless your name.”  And we can say it over and over, because there isn’t a second in life that hasn’t been saturated with his blessings.

Oh, Lord we bless (thank) you for________.  You fill in the blank and I’ll bet you will be able to fill in more than just one blank.  Count your blessings name them one by one.  Count your blessings see what God has done!

Be blessed!

Nancy

When Ink Drips and Camera Clicks

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I put my pen to journal and begin to write, I see an oriole outside my window and I grab my camera.  I click to capture the moment and return to my writing.

With my mind and emotions wrapped up in so much lately, I finally feel my soul return to its rightful place.

The uneasiness began last week with a phone call.  It was a peaceful day, we were enjoying the sunshine, the newness of spring and Bob’s cancer wasn’t in our thoughts.

My husband doesn’t let it define him and as I walk this journey beside him I won’t let it define me either.

We go on, not thinking much about it, finding joy in the simple things.  Then reality breaks through and we must face it once again.

Bob’s cell phone rang while we were having lunch at a small cafe.

“The Leukemia markers have increased a little in your blood,”  came the words over the phone.

“It looks like you may need another bone marrow biopsy but we’ll check again in a few months.  For now, just stay on the chemo med and we’ll explore further at your next visit.”

I study Bob’s expression, watch him for a few days.  He remains strong, steadfast (at least outwardly) and is hopeful that the markers will go down again, if not with the medication he’s taking now, then with another one.

My heart and prayers surround him and if there’s any way to test the oneness in marriage and to experience it at a deeper level it’s in times like this.

So together we wait, pray and wonder.

This past year has been like a roller coaster ride through the steep upward climbs and the wild racing down and then back up through the twists and turns of this crazy journey of medical tests and doctor visits.

After the latest blood test results, the what ifs, the uncertainty, fearful thoughts, the all-consuming questions race through me.

I get stuck there for a couple of days.

But today I grabbed my pen, my journal and a hot cup of coffee.

Here I sit writing my prayers, my thoughts, my dreams for me; for us.

One by one I write out the gifts that I’ve been given in life.

Not just the big ones like God, faith, family, friends, provision…those are obviously important but I’m recalling and writing down the little things today.

I’m focusing on all those small miracles that we often overlook and how in the overlooking we forfeit great joy.  It’s the simple pleasures in life that surprise us with the greatest joy.

So my focus shifts from the what ifs and fearful thoughts to being present in the moment and enjoying the gifts God has for me today…a gentle breeze blowing through an open window, waking up to the orioles singing on my deck,  spring flowers popping up all over my yard, the patter of rain on my rooftop, the sunshine poking through tree branches after the rain, barren branches finally sprouting leaves, the smell of coffee brewing and sugar cookies baking, the wonder in a child’s eyes, a child’s laughter, singing, praying, the sunsets… and on and on the list goes.

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Gifts.

And when we give thanks for all the little pleasures surrounding us our eyes open to glimpses of God’s glory everywhere.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.  Psalm 107:1

Even in the midst of this crazy, mixed up, messy, often painful world there is beauty and grace that moves us into thankfulness and being thankful produces joy.

The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.  Psalm 28:7

We can’t give thanks and be fearful, angry or miserable at the same time.  A thankful heart doesn’t have room for that.

Daily we need to find those peaceful places where our bodies, minds, souls can rest.  At least I do.

I’m an introvert.  I thrive and recharge by being alone.

There’s been a flurry of activity surrounding my life lately and unless I can escape into moments of solitude I’m a wreck and when I’m a wreck I can’t fully be there for my loved ones and those I deeply care about.

This introvert finds solace and peace through being alone with her thoughts, her God and her journal.

I not only find peace as my pen drips ink into words on journal pages, I’m also drawn to give thanks through savoring moments with a click of my camera.

Both are gifts.

Whether I’m recording through words or photos, I’m drawn into the presence and wonder of God and, for me, that has become an act of worship.

…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things…and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)

Blessings to you and yours,

Nancy