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2012 turned out to be the hardest year on record for our family that I can remember.   We have had several crisis points in over two decades of marriage, but generally they came one a time, spaced by a reasonable distance.  We didn’t have that luxury this year.  The first thing I want to do is praise God for getting us through it, and thank all the family and friends who prayed and encouraged us!  Truly so blessed by so many brothers and sisters in Jesus.  You are all a gift!

The Big Move

A year ago in December we made a whirlwind move to the city from a rural town.  We had wanted to move for many years, but one day God just picked us up and got us here, it seemed quite literally.  There was no way to deny that He was in it from start to finish.  I had a keen sense of the Red Sea parting, and how all the pieces had fallen into place, being prepared years ago for this moment in time.

We moved into a house owned by some wonderful friends in one of the most amazing neighborhoods.  The city trail system that follows a river is accessible right out the backyard gate.  Huge old trees cover the gigantic lot.  One day out walking I took these pictures  and my Hobbit nerd family and I kept saying how it looked like we imagined the Shire in J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories.  (I don’t always compare my life to Tolkien’s stories.. but often!)  One day walking home through this beautiful green winter, I realized that in their peaceful idyllic life, the Hobbits had no idea about the evil brewing in Mordor.  I looked at my innocent young children and felt glad they didn’t know much yet about the evils in the world, but I had a sense of foreboding.

After the move I thought hardship was having to clean up the mountain (literally) of trash and filth left by the previous occupant.  Or the one-month ordeal to replace a broken fridge.  The five days without internet service, now that was tough!  ha.  I was so overwhelmed with all there was to do and take care of, not to mention our own house we had rented out presented us with constant issues that needed attention and repair.  The first few weeks after the move were overwhelming, but we were just getting started.

Now – I don’t want to make too much of all this – because it isn’t a drop in the bucket compared to what many people are going through right now.  But maybe someone will be encouraged knowing we are all facing trials together.  No one is exempt, but sometimes it’s easy to feel like we are all alone while in the valley.

Round 1

Actually before I even took those pictures out on the trail, the adventures had already begun. My father-in-law suffered a heart attack and needed bypass surgery.  His wife passed away a year prior, so we brought him home for his recovery.  We had already taken in a roommate in our 3/1/1 house so our total occupancy reached 8 people.  At this point I wondered what it would cost to rent a port-a-john for the back yard!  But we finally started to remember to always take a survey of everyone’s personal needs before any bathroom use lasting longer than two minutes.  My personality thrives on quiet solitude so naturally God puts me in a house with lots of people!  He has a great sense of humor like that.   But I was SO thankful God had brought us into a location where we could help with all the doctor visits and after-surgery care and also so thankful my father-in-law is still with us!

Round 2

While my father-in-law stayed with us, my oldest daughter, who had come back to live with us before the move, called to tell me she was pregnant.  I had been bracing myself for this for a few years.  These things happen, and I knew it would turn out for the good even if it wasn’t ideal.  She is on her own spiritual journey (and not nearly off the deep end as I was at that age).  I prided myself in trying to be loving and understanding –  you know, this walk of grace.  When she told me who the father was – my grace walk just evaporated into thin air and I instead found myself wallowing in hurt and rage.  I don’t even wish to explain the details, but he had crossed the line with us – and she knew it.  No matter how I turned it over in my mind, I could not fathom why she would have gone back to him.  She had broken up with him and we believed she was finally in the clear.  (I cannot stress to you enough the mental sickness involved with this young man.)   After she stated she wanted to work things out with the father, we decided that choice meant she could not stay here at all.  We even changed the locks because we didn’t want the father having access through her to our house in any way.

Knowing that this person was now forever connected to my family – and the thought that my first grandchild would have this person for a father, felt like more than I could bear.  I sobbed my eyes out.  My daughter and I had terrible “How could you do this to us?” and “Why can’t you just support me and be happy for the baby?” kind of fights.  I assured her it wasn’t the baby that I had  a problem with, but who we would have to deal with as the father for the rest of our lives.  God reminded me of Hosea – and of Himself.  Taking on the sinful flesh of humanity with all our perversion and filth.  He reminded me I was no better than this person I had come to loathe.  It took a few weeks for me to hear Him through my rage, but eventually I did.  Maybe what came next put everything into perspective.

Round 3.1

While helping my father-in-law recover I thought, “So THIS is why He brought us here so quickly ”  Well, yes.  And no.  A few weeks later my oldest son you might remember from this post about the Hebrew Roots Movement and Children, came to us very distraught about a medical problem.  We thought it was minor, and sent him to the urgent care clinic we have been using for the many years we have not had health insurance.   The doctor diagnosed it as a simple infection and prescribed an antibiotic.  I had no thought it could be anything else.  Less than a week later while sorting through boxes of keepsakes unearthed in our recent move, I came across a stack of birthday cards saved through the years for my two oldest children.  I sorted them into his and hers piles and asked Jesse if he wanted them.  He took them from my hand and at that moment a chilling thought came into my mind, almost as an external voice.  “He won’t have any more birthdays.”   I nearly had to sit down but I did my best to completely ignore it as some strange trick my mind was playing on me.

After a week on antibiotics his condition had not improved but gotten worse.  On his way to work one afternoon he called in and decided to pull back into the clinic.  A different doctor on duty sent him to the Emergency Room for a sonogram.  I began looking up possible conditions online and there were many easily treatable conditions for his symptoms.  I was sure they would find something simple and even if it required a surgical procedure, he would soon be fine.  My husband had gone to meet him at ER and called me with the sonogram results.  We then first heard the “c” word… as a possibility.  He had an appointment with a urologist the next morning.

Cancer has hit older members in our family all too frequently.  We have lost friends as well, as I am sure most people have.  It’s a terrible epidemic in this country and my husband and I often have it in the back of our minds that it could happen to us too.  But when it comes to your children, your mind just doesn’t go there.  We sat in the urologist office waiting to see him with our minds racing.   One of the big question marks was our lack of health insurance and, “How are we going to get him the care he needs?”

The doctor came in and said that surgery was necessary no matter what the cause of the mass, and the sooner the better.  The tissue would be sent to the lab and we would not know anything until the results were back.  We told the doctor our insurance situation, and he immediately offered his services for free!  (Unspeakable gratitude!)   We only had to work out a deal with the surgical center and the anesthesiologist.  We got it all worked out for him to have the surgery the very next day!  A large tumor was removed, but we had to wait two weeks for lab results. (read.. “two weeks of sheer agony”)  The doctor was out of town the following week, and his Physician’s assistant we saw on the first follow up visit was not willing to be the one to tell us the news, but from his vague avoidance of my questions, I had a pretty good idea.  The blood work I now know showed high cancer markers, but his answer to us was the pathology on the tissue samples had not come in yet, so they were not “sure”.  To keep us busy in the mean time they sent us off to get his first CT scan.  Thankfully, we had the funds available for this as well.  (Self pay rates are a fraction of what they normally bill for these procedures.)

That week I decided I wasn’t waiting another week to “be sure” before starting the application process for a health network our county has for lower-income residents.  Jesse was considered his own household, so application and qualification were simple.  However I feared a long wait time for approval.  I feared everything at this point.  All we knew was it was “maybe” cancer.  I have always tried hard to avoid panic unless sufficient evidence warranted a valid freak-out meltdown.  But not knowing, and wondering how serious and how far it had gone for those weeks left too much to the imagination.  I found much comfort in knowing that God moved us here, where medical care was accessible to us.  The county we came from didn’t have programs like this.

Round 3.2 – God sends a Praying Man

I also wanted someone to pray for his healing.  Of course we prayed for him – but I prayed for God to show us who He wanted to have pray.  A few days later, coming out of  Home Depot, my husband ran into a Christian friend he had not seen in years.  I remembered my husband telling me about him many times – the discussions they’d had on the job sites about God.  This man had a rare, clear faith.  He went on to tell my husband this day how God had given him a heart to just pray for people, and how he was getting discouraged, asking God to open doors for him to do this more, because it seemed that nothing was happening.  Jeff told him what we were going through, and he prayed right there in the parking lot, God answering a prayer for my husband’s friend as well!  But I felt for all of us, it would be really great if he could come and pray for Jesse in person.  He agreed to come, and it was such an encouraging experience and the Holy Spirit covered us in His Presence in a real way.  We asked for total healing, as we had seen happen with our younger son.  My very first post on this blog five years ago was about an incredible answer to prayer we had for him.  But we expressed total faith in God regardless of the outcome.

I kept thinking at the next appointment they would tell us the scan results showed no cancer at all!  I really believed God could spare him this.  Many people believe healing is a guaranteed thing if you have enough faith.  I have learned to trust in a totally amazing God -not in outcomes.  With Him, there is no losing outcome – no matter what.  At this point in the experience I knew that and stayed fairly brave.  But I will also fully admit I would like to be gifted with more faith also!

Getting him qualified into the county health system to start receiving care, and to get that first appointment with an oncologist in a really over-burdened system, drove me to urgency once we had the diagnosis.  The CT scan showed that the cancer cells had spread beyond the tumor into lymph nodes and one lung.  I took the application papers directly in person to the cancer center, not the general eligibility office.  I walked straight into their office with no wait and had approval for him in half an hour.  Then I called repeatedly asking when his first appointment would be.  I am so thankful for their prompt responses because it wasn’t until very late in his treatment that we found out he was actually stage 3.  (They had told us Stage 2 and it wasn’t communicated to us when they changed the assessment.  We only found out when we discovered he had one more round of chemo than we had thought.)  Every moment mattered at that point – especially since the tumor he had seemed to have grown very rapidly.

Even though they assured us this form of cancer (testicular) was highly treatable with a 90% cure rate, there are always exceptions and risks.  The “what if” questions hounded me daily.  He had to undergo another surgery for the chemo port then treatment began.  I watched him suffer physically and emotionally.  But he stayed very strong spiritually and really glorified God through the experience.  I however still cannot bear to even go back and look at the pictures of those days.  My baby with a bald head and a swollen face from the steroids.  Even now I don’t know why I can’t just be thankful instead of feeling the pain of it.  Maybe someday.  I talked to a cancer survivor the other day who had been through years of treatment.  She told me her own experience was nothing compared to seeing her own son go through it (and is also okay now).  I guess it’s a mom thing.

Round 3.2

About half way through his treatment, influenza came to visit.  I got sick first, and wasn’t sure what I had – because it wasn’t severe, but I suspected it might be.  We immediately sent Jesse to stay with a relative because his immune system was so compromised.  The next day I ended up in ER, with what amounted to an anxiety attack brought on by the perfect storm of stress, lack of food, and a bad reaction to some medication I was taking for my symptoms.

While waiting to see an ER doctor we got a call that my youngest was also running a high fever.  Already wallowing in anxiety, and not really knowing what was wrong with me, I sent my husband to take our younger son to the doctor.  (Husband deserves a gold medal for endurance this week.)  The bizarre thing is that neither the hospital nor the family doctor ever diagnosed the influenza.  My husband and younger son got very ill with high fevers for several days.  My pregnant daughter miraculously never did – even though she had been helping.

We thought we were in the clear, about ready to allow Jesse to come back home – when he called and said he had a fever.  The phone lines to the cancer center were down and even our house was without power because of a spring storm.  My phone was about to die, and I had no way to charge it.  I told them to head for the hospital (he was staying about an hour from the hospital) and I would drive to the cancer center to see if I could find someone to talk to.  I found patients and employees waiting in the foyer, their building also without power.  The infusion nurses who knew us said, “Take him to ER stat.”  If cancer was scary.. having the flu with cancer scared me much worse.  We got him in and triage admitted him with no waiting into an isolation room.  He spent the next week there, and I did too.  For the first time we had a positive ID on the influenza virus (which I was already sure of) but thankfully with hospital care, and prayers, his case never became severe.

Round 3.3 and 3.4

A few weeks later, just as we thought things were about to calm down, Jesse rear-ended someone at an intersection and totaled my husband’s work truck.  We didn’t care about the truck, just SO thankful he was not hurt and back in the hospital again.  The same day we got a letter in the mail that a creditor was suing us.  We were not at all proud of that situation, but not in a position to remedy it either.  Ironically, the insurance money paid out from the accident covered the legal fees for that too!

God is good.. ALL the time.

Every time something turns out for the good, people say, “God is so good!”  But do I have the ability to say that if things don’t turn out the way I want them to?  Our friend who was staying with us lost her mom a few weeks ago.  When God answers our prayers as “no” or “not right now”.  We are not often inclined to praise Him.  But I KNOW He is – even if my own strength and faith fail.

In every step we could see God’s hand moving and providing.  But I can’t say I stayed on the upside of faith through all this.  I got to a place where I felt every thing I’d ever claimed about my faith was a farce.  Every thing I’d written, everything I said I believed…  of no consequence.  Not that God wasn’t real.  But that maybe I didn’t really know Him.. not really.  And maybe I was a little angry too.  I could not read the Word, or pray.  I could only breathe in and breathe out – and even that was a challenge at times.

But as I write this, every single situation had an amazing turn of events, or a protection in the storm.  It only came within a certain distance, but then only to yield something good!

Through all of this trauma, my daughter and I reconciled.  The attempt to “work  it out” with the father only lasted a few days.  She came home and was an incredible help to us.  She finished her Associates Degree in Graphic Design in spite of pregnancy and the chaos here, and on October 1st I had the privilege of attending the birth of her beautiful baby girl, who in God’s mercy, looks exactly like her mother and no one else.  🙂  (I pray for her daddy… I just don’t want him to hurt them physically or emotionally.)  But even this proved to be a bigger adventure than we expected when her midwife dropped her from her care a week before her due date.  We had to scramble for a provider and a hospital at the last minute.  That insane few days would take more pages, so I will spare you, but mom and baby are fine thank God!

Our roommate has moved on to her next adventure, but we still have 7 people in our house.  Thankfully, one uses diapers so that’s only 6 competing for bathroom time.  I am thankful for all these people in my house – and surviving this year together has definitely drawn us closer.  As of his last CT scan, Jesse’s cancer is still in remission and the doctor feels it safe to remove the port for chemotherapy.   Oh, and Jesse’s birthday was celebrated with great glee and thankfulness, and the voice of the enemy was shown to be a liar!

I also finally was able to have a surgery I had needed for three years and that is the exclamation point of praise on this year.  My condition was the initial motivation to move in the first place, seeking access to health care.  That huge mountain in my life became a mole hill rather quickly after the move.

Both my walk of grace and my faith had faltered through all this, which is why I could barely stand to face this blog at all.  I didn’t even feel I had a right to speak anymore – even if I’d had a word to say, which I mostly didn’t.  But when they say faith is a fact, not a feeling – I knew this was true.  I believed the fact with my whole heart even when I couldn’t feel a thing.  I knew He was there.  He showed us He was over and over.   We have so much that is new and better ahead.  I have no idea if 2013 will be easier, or harder.  We don’t have any guarantees about what tomorrow holds except that He will never leave us or forsake us, even to the end of the age.   May He richly bless this year in fruitfulness of love for Him.

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