A Year and a Half Ago

I woke up this morning still tired after a night of sleeping and waking and thinking.  My life has changed so much in the last year and a half, and continues to change and move into a new season.  A year and a half ago I lost my job.  But it didn’t seem to matter so much because we were in the trenches of cancer and I was thankful to walk every step with my big guy, holding his hand, praying, listening, hoping.  After the “all clear” words came from the doctor, we went home and just sat in our living room quietly.  The words we had hoped for and prayed for had come.  Now for finding normal.  That was in May and life has continued to move forward as if the year of cancer never happened.  A year and a half ago we were welcoming a new grandson into our lives.  A year and a half ago we were in the midst of planning baby girl number two’s wedding.  A year and a half ago we lost my sweet Daddy.

I began keeping our new grandson when my daughter returned to teaching during this past year.  It has been a joy watching him grow and getting to love on him on a daily basis.  But this past August, when school began again, my daughter decided to put her boy in daycare in preparation for a second baby on the way.  I am told finding and getting into a good, reliable, and desirable daycare is both competitive and difficult.  I had no idea.  So he went to daycare after a year of staying with Lolly.  He loves it and has adapted quite easily.  My man cub is growing up too fast!

So, now, for the last two months I have been trying to figure out what next.  Yes, there are wedding plans still going on for baby girl number three, but that will be over in another thirty-nine days.  But then what?  I guess last night it was on my mind and I would go to sleep, dream, wake up, think about it for awhile, then start over again by filing asleep.  I’ve talked about getting a job, but I’m not sure if I’m even supposed to get a job right now.  I’ve prayed about it, and I get the sense from the Lord that I am exactly where he wants me to be for now.  I’m just having trouble adjusting, even after a year and a half.  I’m trying to find some routine.  I’m trying to write a little each day, even if it is just to blog a short piece.  I’m trying to figure out what the next step the Lord has for me.  I’m trying to establish a regular morning time with Him.  I even got out my daughter’s Kurig and am trying to drink coffee like a real grown up….decaf, of course!  The crazy thing is I can’t remember the last time I had quiet time like this in the mornings.  I’ve been raising baby girls for the last twenty-eight years.  I remember dreaming of slower mornings, peace and quiet, a clean house, time to write and here I am.

For now I will enjoy the peaceful and quiet mornings.  I will enjoy having time to spend with the Lord.  I will enjoy the slower pace.  Maybe I will eventually be able to write about my big guy and I going on adventures.  But today I’ll sip some decaf coffee and enjoy this rainy morning…..and maybe check my to do lists for the wedding, prepare my devotional to deliver to the students on Sunday afternoon, do some laundry, clean the kitchen, make the bed……

For anyone reading this blog, don’t stress over the season you are in at this moment.  If you have a personal relationship with our Heavenly Father, you are not alone.  He is with you.  He will walk with you and guide you.  He will listen to you as you tell Him about your concerns, your dreams, your life.  He truly cares.  Only He can wrap you in a peace that passes all understanding.

 

One Year Ago

One year ago. One year ago we were being hit by one storm after another. But the ultimate storm of cancer came and stayed….and now, on the other side of that storm looking back, I am once again reminded of God’s faithfulness, His provision, His comfort, His healing power. I read back over the blogs of the past year and I see a woman clinging desperately to the Savior. I am reminded of the woman who reached out to touch the hem of His garment and I understand her in a new way. I know myself, that I have tightly gripped the hem of His garment in my clinched fists refusing to let go. We have walked through this cancer journey saying over and over “I trust you” aloud for ourselves mostly, but also to our God, declaring that while we don’t understand, and while we know His plan is perfect, and while we were even fearful at times, we would TRUST HIM, no matter the outcome. Our faith is stronger, our family is stronger, our love is stronger and our compassion is stronger. Today, after a year of diagnosis, biopsies, surgeries, chemo, radiation, doctor appointments, uncertainties, waiting, frustrations and sometimes fear, we got the official words of cancer free. I hesitated to even post this because we have friends and family still doing battle with this evil disease. But I want those reading this who are in the battle to be encouraged, optimistic and strengthened. God is with you and you can trust Him with whatever the outcome of your journey may be. People have stated over and over that “God is good” and it is so true. But if we had gotten different news, and the battle with cancer had continued, the truth is that God is still good. He is good even when things are seemingly bad in our lives and life’s storms are coming at us so fast they are tearing us apart. When we feel like we can’t catch our breath between storms and we are staring death in the face, God is good. He is trustworthy. He is faithful. So wherever you are, whoever you are, whatever battle you are in, trust Him. “Be strong and courageous, do not be discouraged or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

Rock and Roll, Baby!

Last night something was confirmed about me that may surprise many of you. I am not a rocker. I know you are shocked and surprised. I’m not even a poser. (I had to look that term up, fyi) It was evident by my lack of knowledge about the music or words to the signature songs of the band. I spent more time entertained by the people in attendance than the actual concert. My husband and I were given tickets by sweet friends to a concert by The Black Jacket Symphony: A Night at the Opera and The Best of Queen. My big guy was very excited about hearing favorite songs of his younger years. I confess that I wondered what kind of opera the symphony would play. I honestly expected an orchestra. I was wrong! I am not completely in the dark, I do know who Queen is, but I didn’t realize it would be a real deal rock and roll night! You may not believe this, but I’ve never been to a rock concert. It’s true! I know I’ve surprised you again.

Parking was the first step to getting to our night of rocking and rolling….obviously not an easy task in downtown Mobile when a rock concert is about to happen! We finally parked in a church parking lot with a sign that said “Private Parking for…(and I’ll leave the church name out here just in case someone wants to report two rebellious fifty somethings!): Violators will be ticketed or towed at owners expense. I was a little anxious as we got out of the car and proudly walked toward the theatre, impressed by our night of living on the wild side. I secretly asked God to forgive us and please allow the car to still be there when the night was over!

As we entered the door of the Saenger I was asked to open my purse for security. I looked at my big guy and asked, “Are these people famous?” The security guy asked him if he had any weapons. He confessed to a pocket knife and suddenly the guys hands went up and said “You can’t enter with a weapon, sir.” I looked around at the other security people standing ready to pounce, beginning to wonder if the real Queen was in the house. My sweet husband informed me later that the lead singer died in 1985. He handed over his knife, it was obvious to me that it was worth the sacrifice to hear the band! We then walked to another security checkpoint and were scanned with a wand for any other concealed weapons. This didn’t make me feel comfortable about the obvious possibilities of events that could happen if there was this much concern for what people would carry into the concert hall! We finally got to our seats and waited. We were in the balcony, third row, dead center. Perfect view of the stage. I noted the massive speakers hanging from the ceiling, both sides angled right at us. This wasn’t going to be good. There was an atmosphere of excitement all around me. As I watched people, which I love to do, I realized the average age in the room was somewhere in the mid fifties. But the energy was more like a crowd of twenty somethings! I noted the lights, the instruments and party like atmosphere. Suddenly the lights went down and the band ran out. The crowd went crazy. The lead singer belted out lyrics and people were screaming. I looked hard at the singer trying to recognize him. I did not. But then a familiar tune came, Bohemian Rhapsody. I looked at my big guy and said “I know this!”, but my words were lost somewhere in the midst of the screaming crowd and the blasting music. He leaned down and I got as close to his ear as possible and I repeated my words. He smiled and nodded. I still don’t think heard me….but I saw the smile on his face as he took in the loud music and I knew he was having a good time. I found myself watching people more than the concert as they got lost in the music, reliving the moments of the 70’s and 80’s when they first heard the songs. People were standing and dancing, hands in the air and singing at the top of their lungs. These people knew every word. Then I heard a familiar beat….the crowd began to stomp, stomp, clap, stomp, stomp, clap. I looked at my man with shock, it was my high school senior class song! I found myself following along and singing “We will, we will, rock you”. I was no longer a fish out of water. A square peg in a round hole. I was a rocker! They sang Crazy Little Thing Called Love and Another One Bites the Dust. I suddenly felt cool because I knew these songs. I didn’t know all the words, but I knew the songs. At the end of the night, my ears were numb and I honestly was glad to be headed home. I observed something as I left. It was 10:15pm and the crowd that had just been jamming out for two hours were leaving in an orderly manner, laughing and chatting as we exited the nearly 100 year old Saenger Theatre. Forty years ago, these same people would have been jumping up and down demanding an encore still full of youthful energy, demanding to be blown away by the rock band, Queen. We made it back to the church parking lot (along with many other concert attendees) and our car was still there and no ticket on the windshield. Prayer works! We drove home and I listened to my sweet man talk about the band and how good they were and how fun it was to hear some of his favorite songs. I listened and thought how thankful I was for the gift of tickets for us to enjoy a non -typical night out for this “square” chick, and to sit next to my man who has had such a difficult year. All I can say is…..rock on!

PET SCAN Day

Well. Today’s the day. We’ve come full circle in this cancer journey as we sit waiting, in a room full of other cancer victims, to have another PET SCAN. This one even more important than the last. This one will tell us the cancer is gone….or not. But our gut feeling is this cancer monster has been conquered! Our lives have revolved around that frightening “C” word for seven months. 2018 will be our year of woes that was filled with blessings. 2018 will be our year of victory over cancer. I am not as anxious or feel like a deer in headlights this time. I am not afraid. My big guy has faced this giant with courage, with determination, with soldier like strength and I believe he will walk away a conquerer. Some say they are cancer survivors, but i think they should call themselves cancer conquerors! Fighting this beast is an all out battle both physically and mentally! God has sustained us and will continue to sustain us. He is worthy to be trusted. He will hold you up when you feel you are crumbling. He will provide when you aren’t sure where it will come from. He will send one of His children to wrap loving arms around you or to hold your hand and let you cry. He will provide humor to get through difficult moments and He is faithful to walk every step with you. I knew this before….but I am absolutely certain of it now. I trust Him…..no matter the outcome of today.

Thankful

Today.  Today was the last day of the last treatment for my big guy.  Woohoo!  He’s been a trooper through it all.  He has endured eight weeks of five day stays in Springhill.  He has had 114 bags of chemo pumped into his body.  He has had optimistic days and grumpy days. I would probably have had a lot more grumpy days.  We can honestly and wholeheartedly celebrate Thanksgiving next week!  We are so excited.  We are headed to the mountains.  We planned this trip a year ago.  Lynn has always wanted to go to Gatlinburg for Thanksgiving.  We had no idea what the next year would hold when we gave the kids a year notice to plan for this Thanksgiving.  God is so good!  He knew.  He knew every storm we would walk through.  He knew we would desperately need time away as a family to breathe and be normal.   So we are off to a cabin in the woods.  We will sit around a long table eating turkey.  We will laugh and yes, we will probably cry.  But mostly we will enjoy time together away from the normal we’ve been living in for the last year.  We’ve had good days and bad days.  And He has been faithful.  We have been afraid and confident.  And He has been faithful.  We have been optimistic and unsure.  And…He has been faithful.  Because that is who He is.  He is faithful when we are faithless.

Deep breath.  I am thankful for every storm this year.  Every painful moment, every emotional roller coaster, every shaky moment has moved us to walk a little closer to Him, to hang on tighter to His hand, to acknowledge Him in our lives and to trust Him.  He allowed us to experience the love of His people through texts, visits, emails, meals and hugs.  He took away a job that allowed me to walk every step of the way with my big guy.  He allowed a precious moment with my Daddy hours before he went to be with Jesus.  He had his hand on my new grandson born 5 ½ weeks early without complication for him or my precious daughter. And I watched my big guy walk his beautiful middle daughter down the isle for her wedding. There are a few other storms that I won’t mention here, but in each one God was there, holding me up, brushing the hair out of my eyes and the tears from my cheeks.  I have missed more church then I ever have and I have had to step back in a few ministries, but I feel I am walking closer with Him then I have in a long time, because the walk isn’t based on any “works” or “faithfulness” on my part.  I am not sure if this will make sense to you as the reader, but I know what it means.  It means that inner part of me that sometimes gets a little wrapped up in doing, that pride part of me that rears its ugly head concerning being faithful was taken down a notch or two in the  midst of this stormy year.  I cried out and He heard me.  I cried out and He wrapped His powerful arms around me.  I cried out and He loved me right where I am.  Not because of anything I did or because I deserve it, but because He loves me.

God is amazing people.  We have absolutely no idea what the future holds.  And that’s okay.  Because we know He will be walking with us through it.  I trust Him.

I Am Not Invisible

I haven’t written consistently lately.  I didn’t know why, until today.  My focus has been too much on surviving…emotionally.  Then as I was reading a devotional this morning  about the seasons of our life, I began to race back over this last year of an unexpected and difficult season.  Family issues, sickness, financial difficulties.  I have held my emotions in check, for the most part, in the presence of others.  But at night, laying in bed, staring at the ceiling, I have replayed every “thing” that has happened in my life, in our life, over the last twelve months.  Could I have done something different?  Did I do something to cause this?  Is there sin in my life unchecked? How can I fix it?  Instead of figuring out the answers to any of those questions, I just took a deep breath and put one foot in front of the other.  But today, instead of focusing on the difficulties, I have been focusing on the incredible blessings from this year.

Growing up I moved constantly.  If I could guess, I would say that in the first eighteen years of my life, I probably moved somewhere around thirty six times.  I know, hard to believe, but I am not exaggerating.  My parents were like Air Force gypsies.  I don’t think they every considered the impact on me or my brother the continuous revolving door of schools we attended.  I remember at one point, as a teenager, feeling invisible.  I could slip into a school and attend for a time and then slip out to another school and no one really noticed.  That feeling carried over into adulthood.  I always felt if I disappeared, people would never even notice.  I am sure many other people have had similar thoughts.  It wasn’t until we moved to Mobile after Dad retired, that I began to understand what it meant to have deep, meaningful relationships, and it wasn’t until I fully surrendered my life to Christ, that I understood that I wasn’t invisible to Him. I tell you this because those old feelings are still part of me and I fight against believing those lies, but this last year has shown me that people do care and I have experienced such an outpouring of concern and love.  Friends have listened to the details of the craziness of my sister betraying me and my brother and prayed with us.  I watched friends rally around my daughter and her husband when their sweet baby boy came five weeks early, ministering to them with big love.  Friends and family wrapped their arms around us when my Daddy died.  People reached out over and over as my husband was diagnosed with cancer and we didn’t know what the future held for us.  Meals were brought, prayers lifted up, messages and texts sent checking on my man and that still continues.  When I had knee surgery, again meals were brought and visits made.  A sweet friend sent someone to clean my house and even surprised me by paying for my haircut at the hair salon I use.  When my daughter got married a week ago, dear friends were there to decorate and make everything beautiful.  I couldn’t have done it without them.  God has reached out through them constantly telling me “I see you, Dana.  I hear you, Dana.  I love you.  You’re not invisible.”

I am so thankful for my church family.  I am so thankful for my long time sister-friend who has been with me through thick and thin. I am thankful for this year.  I know, crazy, right?  But I have learned so much.  I have learned what it really means to trust God.  I have learned what it feels like to be loved on by the people of God.

Hopefully, we are coming to the end of this cancer journey.  My big-guy goes in for his last treatment on Monday.  We’re almost giddy.  We are believing that when they do the pet scan after this treatment, we will hear the word “remission”.

The seasons of our life can be calm or chaotic, but we can learn from every season we walk through.  God has purpose in everything we experience.  I hope I have been a good student this year.

Laying Down Our Lives=Greater Love

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.                                                      John 15:13

I have been thinking a lot about this verse over the last month.  It has taken on a new meaning for me.  In the past I have read it as if it only referred to the Lord laying down his life for us.  It seemed too unlikely and improbable that this verse referred to us mere humans.  I found it difficult to imagine the average human sacrificing their lives for a friend.  Not that we don’t have a great capability to love others.  I immediately think of the love between a parent and their child.  But to love a friend to the point of sacrificing their own life, I’m not so sure it would be that easy.  I love my friends, but to die for them, I have to be honest and say I’d have to really think about it.

But then my husband was diagnosed with cancer.  It may have even started before the diagnosis.  Maybe it started to become clear what this verse implied during the final days before my Dad died in April.  Friend after friend began to love on us through prayers, phone calls and visits.  Then we got the diagnosis “double hit”.  We left the doctor’s office quietly. We resolved to be brave and courageous, to trust God, to be strong.  We sat in the car silent, trying to process the idea that our world had just taken a huge detour.  Our future seemed uncertain.  Everything stopped right there in the car that day.  We held hands and prayed.  Then we proceeded to try and continue our lives as normal.  But we were shaking on the inside.  We smiled.  We went to church.  Then the pain became unbearable.  For a few weeks, he would sit in his recliner at night, the lights all down low, struggling with the intense pain.  No amount of morphine seemed to give him relief.  I would sit on the couch in the dark holding my breath.  I could do nothing to help him.  We found ourselves in the hospital on serious pain med’s, then surgery, then surgery again.  It was then that this verse began to ring in my head.  Person after person called or texted to see how he was.  Dinners were brought to us as friends sacrificed their own time and energies in providing a meal to us.  Our yard has been maintained for the last two months by dear friends laying down their own lives for us.  Another friend brought faith t-shirts made by her company to our door as a special gift, giving us a profit she could have made.  A sunshine basket appeared on our doorstep full of everything yellow to brighten our day.  The sunday school teachers in the student department  rallied around us, giving their own money to purchase gift cards to restaurants to help us with meals as we go back and forth to the hospital.  Tuesday my big guy goes back into the hospital for a week of chemo, his third, and the love and the laying down of lives still continues.  We know that our friends and even those who don’t know us but share our faith, have lifted up his name to the Lord for healing.  I know that my friends have prayed for strength for me.  I know that we are loved by our friends and family because we could not have walked this far without their constant prayers and reaching out.

This verse doesn’t necessarily refer to dying…..dying to self maybe….but not physical dying.  It means laying down the demands of our own lives to be there for a friend.  To help them in times of need, of sickness, of difficulties.  It means reaching out and wrapping your arms around that friend who is trying hard to be brave and do it on their own and allowing them to break down and shed tears of fear and uncertainty, then reminding them that He is faithful and that He is trustworthy.   This verse is way more than the dramatic sacrificing life for life.  It is the solid, steadfast love of a friend, whether close or not, to sacrifice time and energy in their own life to love on and meet the need of a friend.

So today.  Let me ask you, have you lay down your life for a friend?  I am asking myself this daily:  “Have I chosen to experience no greater love and lay down my own life for a friend?”  We may be in the middle of a stormy year in the Armstrong family, we have gone from storm to storm, but we can still look around us to lay down our own life for a friend.  I don’t want to be defined by this stormy year, I want to be defined by Christ’s love living and active in my life.