Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Year 2016

Jan. 1, 2016                                        

Like most families, our family is lazy today.  Relaxing, watching the Buckeyes, eating too much.  I have a weird, comfortable feeling of contentment today.  I had not planned to blog again just yet, but I am overwhelmed with the desire to reflect on the year behind us and look with anticipation on the coming year.

Our family has just come through an immensely tough immensely tough three years actually. If you have been reading my blog for the last few years, you understand what I mean.  When I really consider what we have endured since this time last year, I am overwhelmed at God's grace to give us joy in the midst of any of it. But, we made it. There is a song by Natalie Grant, a contemporary Christian artist, that says, "This is what it means to be held, how it feels, when the sacred is torn from your life and you survive."  I always thought these were powerful lyrics that would mean a lot to someone who could really relate to them.  Now, we can and they are true.  Not only did we survive, but I feel that we thrived through it. Through this year's tough life lessons, we grew spiritually, became a closer family and learned so much about ourselves.  We even managed to have fun together.  Every year right before Christmas I make a family video.  It is a slideshow that has pictures of our family's important events and crazy moments throughout the year set to music with silly captions.  Nobody sees the video except me until New Years, when we all sit together and watch it which has become one of our favorite traditions.  This year's video was especially tough to make and I almost chickened out, considering it would have to contain pictures of Kacie's last days.  However, I knew it was the right thing to do to go through with it and, in the process of making the video, I experienced some healing.  I also was reminded of our family's tenacity and resilience demonstrated in the pictures of my kids laughing and having fun together.  It is exactly what Kacie would have wanted us to do.  I am so proud of all of them and so grateful for my husband who walked with me and held us all up through all of it. Tonight, we will all sit together and watch the video with laughter and probably some tears.

I thought that I would be very emotional last night as the clock turned to midnight considering that I cried myself to sleep the night before.  The emotion comes in waves and gets worse the more I think about it.  I have always sort of felt sad on New Year's Eve especially when I hear Auld Lang Syne, even though I do not have a clue what the song actually means.  But, in the midst of the screaming and hollering that was going on around me, I was not emotional. I felt an odd sense of acceptance of the passing year and hope for a fresh start.

Like many people, I have made several goals for this coming year. Three big resolutions and lots of other things I want to do and accomplish.  I don't have a great track record of keeping resolutions but I pray that this year will be different. My reasons are different and my resolve is different. I am not the same person I was a year ago and for that I am thankful.  With each passing year and with each trial I walk through, I am being transformed.  It is a painful process sometimes, but it is God's way of accomplishing His will in our lives, as we read in the book of James.  I pray that this coming year is filled with continued healing and restoration.  I pray that reflecting on our journey will lead us to increased wisdom, the opportunity to share it with others and a greater capacity to serve.  

There is no way of knowing what lies ahead for any of us this year, which can be a scary feeling. I pray for peace, safety and an uneventful year but if God has different plans for us, I pray that we can continue to walk through life with the assurance that He will be there and that His grace is sufficient.
 I pray that we can live out the words of Paul, "for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me." Phil. 4:11-13

To my family and friends, may you have a wonderful 2016 and may you seek Christ above all else.  God bless and Happy New Year!  

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Evolution of Christmas

The time period between Thanksgiving and New Years has always been my favorite time of the year.  I love everything about it...I love the decorations, the lights, the music, the movies, the fellowship with family and friends, and the overall feeling of love and good will.  It is a time to reflect on how thankful we are for all that God has given us and to celebrate the birth of Christ.  My house is so cozy this time of the year and usually people just seem happier.  For my family, this year is very different.

We are in the middle of a season of "firsts" without Kacie.  Our first Thanksgiving without her silly antics as we cut up the bread for stuffing and watch the Macy's Parade.  Our first year of Christmas shopping for only five kids instead of six. Our first time ringing in the New Year with a very new way of looking at things. Our first time trying to celebrate with a heart of grief. I thought that I would be much stronger going through this season but it turns out that it has been much harder than I anticipated.  Not only is Kacie not here anymore, but it seems like everything about our Christmas is different this year.  Even the 65 degree weather outside (in Ohio) is a huge reminder that my ideal Christmas is not in the cards.  As I sit here and reflect on all the changes that have happened since last year, I find myself reminiscing about Christmases past and how Christmas has changed for me through the years. 

This is Me...

I don't really have a whole lot of memories from my childhood, but I do remember Christmas.  We had presents galore, tons of traditions and always so much fun.  As I got older, I sang in the choir at church for years and always loved the candlelight service on Christmas Eve. For as long as I can remember, my family has always had an amazing Christmas party. When I was a kid, we would sing songs as my uncle played the ukulele or my aunt played the piano and we would harmonize along with the Osmond's. It was a huge deal and the best part of Christmas. As my loved ones passed away, things changed.  No more ukelele, no more piano.  Many family members have been added and many are gone; the party has evolved along with our family dynamics.  We still have it but feels different now that we are all older. 

My mom always made Christmas really special in our house.  She is a big part of why it is so special to me now I think.  She taught me and my siblings all the Christmas songs that she had listened to as a child. I have watched the same Christmas shows and movies for the last forty years and, in turn, have passed those things onto my kids.  I love those aspects of Christmas that are consistent in my life, yet even those have changed some as each generation has added some new music and shows to the list.  Hearing my kids sing along to Andy Williams and the songs from White Christmas thrills my heart but Harry Connick, Jr. and Michael Buble Christmas music has been added to the list of traditions that my kids will hopefully pass on. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, Elf, and Hallmark movies are just as much a part of our season now as Rudolf and Charlie Brown...and the B.E. Taylor Christmas concert has also now become one of my favorite Christmas traditions.  

The way I have decorated has also changed as I have moved from house to house; my porch has changed, my tree has changed and my taste has changed. A
lthough there are certain special items that will always be displayed no matter where life may lead me, Christmas in our house looks different and will continue to change as we grow older.  

Aging has already brought about many changes regarding the holidays.  When I got married, Christmas changed significantly.  I had to merge my traditions with his and compromise on the way we celebrated.  This meant I didn't always get to do the things I was used to doing and going to the places I was used to going.  For me, this was tough. I had to learn to embrace change and let go of some traditions that were dear to me while learning to value someone else's traditions and ideals.  I think most people can identify with this.  

Having been married more than once changed things even more. Now, the way we celebrate has to be a mixture of several different families' traditions.  It also means that we have had to start our own traditions with our kids in a way that works for our family.  For us, Christmas looks different each year and that is hard to get used to.   The kids have to split time between different houses and parents which makes traditional Christmas mornings few and far between.  Since our kids are all older now, there is no more Santa, no more milk and cookies and not many toys.  The kids are not always excited to spend time doing family things or watching old movies and the old songs that I am so used to do not have the same nostalgia for them as they do for me.  Being deeply rooted in family traditions, seeing the changes as our lives change is difficult to accept for me. 

For the last several years, Christmas has undergone major changes in our lives.  Two years ago, we spent Christmas in a hospital room on the cancer floor of Children's Hospital.  We ate hospital food instead of party food and watched our daughter suffer instead of shop. Our kids were scattered and scared. Last year, Kacie was on hospice.  

I had to shop for her knowing she would not be around to even use the gifts. I cannot begin to explain how difficult that was.  Our Christmas morning was full of heartache and tears yet somehow was also full of joy and peace.  In the midst of the underlying sorrow we were all feeling, we watched movies and shows, baked cookies and strung popcorn.  Last year, my best Christmas memories ever were made even though we faced the most difficult circumstances that a family can face.  

This year is even more different than ever before for us.  Kacie has been gone now for seven months and the grief is overwhelming. The practical aspects of Christmas bring tears as well.  When shopping, I found myself reaching for things she would have liked and then realizing I did not need to buy them.  I still hung her stocking even though I know that it will never again be filled. This year, putting up the decorations felt different...the songs and shows have taken on a different meaning. 

This year, due to unforeseen circumstances, our always highly anticipated family Christmas party was cancelled. This year, because we are a blended family, four of our children are spending Christmas with their other parents. To accommodate this, we already opened most of our gifts with them before they left.  On Christmas morning, only my oldest (who is not a kid anymore) will be home.  Without Kacie, there an apparent void that will always be present even when we are all home.   We are experiencing a lonely feeling as we anticipate the coming weeks.  For the first time ever, I find myself ready for Christmas to be over and struggling to enjoy the season. The traditions and family events that I have depended on all my life have left me empty this year and I find myself searching for strength and hope to make it through what is usually the "most wonderful time of the year."

As I have spent time pondering all this, a very important lesson emerged.  Seeing the changes that have occurred  since celebrating Christmas as a child, I realize that change is always going to be a natural part of life.  Christmas and its traditions will continue to evolve as life brings about changes and challenges.  I treasure the parts of Christmas that I have been able to hold onto all these years, but I know that there was much of it that I also had to let go of.  As much as I love tradition, especially at Christmas, I realize that most of the things that I have grown to love and cherish about Christmas are not the most important parts of the season at all.  

In the midst of all the changes, there is only one thing about Christmas that has always been and will always be constant and that is Christ.  Christmas is celebrated because Christ came to earth as a baby in order to set us free from our sin.  He came to change all of eternity.  Christ came to bring us hope, to bring comfort, to bring joy.  Christmas is ultimately not about our traditions, our music, our movies, decorations or parties.  It isn't about Santa or trees or family gatherings.  All of those things can bring happiness and make Christmas more fun, but they are temporary and insignificant in the grand scheme of life.  They can leave us empty when we are faced with the most difficult times in life.   True joy only comes through Christ.  I have learned that we can celebrate Christ even in a hospital room or with a heart that is overwhelmed by grief.   We can celebrate Him even when we are lonely or when things just don't seem to be going right at all.  No matter what circumstances we find ourselves in each Christmas,  no matter how much Christmas changes for us,  no matter how tough life gets, the hope found in Christ is enough to carry us through.  This Christmas, when everything else seems to be missing for me, the true reason to celebrate still exists.  I am sure that next year, the traditions I have come to treasure will be a little easier to celebrate and will once again enhance the Christmas season.  But this year, I needed to remind myself that those things are meant to enhance the Christmas season, not be the centerpiece.  When all the other aspects of Christmas evolve, only Christ remains unchanged. At Christmas and each day throughout the year, may my heart be sustained only by my Savior. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

"Good Grief..."

Good Grief.  Seems like an oxymoron...Even when Charlie Brown says it, he is being sarcastic and cynical, although he is my favorite cartoon character ever.  Kacie went through a phase where she said this all the time and it was sometimes so annoying.  I wish I could hear her say it again.  What can possibly be good about grief? I would like to say that  I have a magical, inspiring answer for that question, but I don't quite yet. Grief sucks (excuse my language).   It has been a little over two months since Kacie died and it seems like the intensity of the grief gets worse over time instead of better.  Everybody told me that this would be the hard part and they were right.

 Kacie's funeral was beautiful and there were people everywhere to lean on.  I had plans to carry out and family to entertain, thank you notes to write and equipment to return.  Not to mention that I had just watched her suffer more than anyone I had ever seen and there was a strange feeling of relief when it was over and she was safe in the arms of God. Those days right after her passing went by very quickly and way more easily than I imagined.  There were parts of it that were extremely hard, like seeing her in the casket for the first time and for the last time; for the most part though, God gave me exceptional strength through that time.  My husband was a rock for me.  He made all the hard plans so I didn't have to and I could not have gotten through it without him. I was so worried about my other children and how they would do. I am so proud of them for the grace and courage with which they handled losing their sister.  The moment when we all held hands and walked toward the grave site is burned into my memory as the moment when I knew that we would all help each other through the tough days ahead.

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Now comes the hard part.   Life goes on around us.  The people who came during the funeral days are gone.  Our chalkboard in the kitchen is once again filled to capacity with appointments and activities.  I stand looking at it knowing that we have to keep living and move forward but at the same time it feels like someone punched me in the stomach and I can't breathe.  How do we begin finding a new normal? How do we go from a life that revolved around cancer and its effects on our entire family to a life free of hospitals? How do we go from living in constant fight or flight mode to letting our guard down and relaxing?  More importantly, how do we go from a life with Kacie to one without her?  I have lost loved ones in the past, including my pap who was one of my favorite people in the world but to lose someone who was such a huge part of my everyday life is different.  Losing someone I took care of 24/7 is different.  Losing someone I gave birth incomprehensible.  There is a huge void in our family now. I still don't even know how to answer when someone asks how many children I have.  Do I just say "six" and leave it at that or do I begin to explain the situation and end up in tears?  There are constant reminders everywhere that she isn't here anymore.  Everything reminds us of her whether it be seeing something in nature or even going to church.  It helps to think of silly things she used to wear or say and we find ourselves constantly saying, "Kacie would have loved this."  Unfortunately though, the same place in my brain that houses the good memories of her is also filled with innumerable painful ones. Most of the time, those are still the freshest in my mind.

For months before she died, I kept asking other parents who had been through the same thing how the anticipitory grief beforehand compared to what it felt like after they were gone. The pain of watching her suffer and get progressively worse and the fear of what my family was about to go through was so intense that I could not imagine feeling any worse.  They all told me it is "just different." It is different and in some ways easier because she is not in pain anymore but balancing that feeling of reassurance with missing her is so difficult.  I am never more than 30 seconds away from tears and I don't know how long that will take to get better.  So many things are hard right now for me.  I am having difficulty socializing because some days I don't want to talk about it and everybody naturally asks.  Even church is a struggle right now for the same reasons coupled with the fact that all the music and many of the scriptures remind me of her.  The nights are especially tough.  I try to stay awake until I am so sleepy that the thoughts and images don't have time to stay in my head very long before I fall asleep.  Although I love to write and I know that I should be capturing all the raw emotion of this time period, I have found it nearly impossible to let myself think about it long enough to make sentences.  I wish I had written down all the details of the weeks and moments before she died and what I felt like the next day, but I just couldn't.  The easiest way to get through the days is to NOT think about it so writing about it was just too hard.  I have been praying for the strength and wisdom to write so that I don't waste this experience but just haven't felt moved to do it. Then,  I was awakened from my sleep before sunrise this morning by my thoughts.  I knew I had to get up (and trust me, I'm not a morning person) and write. I am praying it makes sense and has value for someone who needs it.

I really don't have inspiring things to say about how my family is just breezing through the grief process. The only thing I have to offer is transparency. It is the hardest thing I have ever been through and hope to ever go through.  Each of us is handling things differently and the stages of grieving are like a merry-go-round.  There is sadness and depression, anger and denial, shock and disbelief.  There is avoidance and nightmares, lots of tears and intense longing.  So what's with the phrase "Good grief?" Is there anything good about grief?  I looked up the origin of the phrase and most people say it is a softer version of a phrase like "Good God" that may be considered blasphemous.  As Charlie Brown uses it, it is simply an expression of frustration or exasperation.   As I think about it more, I try to let the words of the phrase remind me to see what good is intertwined in our grief experience.  Believe it or not, in the midst of the negative emotions,  there are lots of times of happiness and joy, laughter and normalcy.  I see hope, courage and amazing resilience in my children.  I hear so many people say "I believe everything happens for a reason" and I believe that with my whole being.  Since the beginning of our journey with cancer, I have held to the belief that God is in control and that He is not surprised by our trials.  I know that He has a purpose for even our grief and loss, so it in fact is ultimately for our good.  Grief definitely does not feel good but I pray that we can be intentional about seeing the good that remains.  We have already begun to understand the reason for us traveling this road, even though it is painful, and someday we will be able to look back and fully see the extent of the goodness that surrounded and resulted from our circumstance. For now, I know that God is good and that is enough for me.

Monday, May 18, 2015

How's Kacie?

For the last two years, there are no words that I have heard more often than "How's Kacie?" What a loaded question that has been...Although it is a very natural question for everyone to ask, I would always struggle with how to answer it appropriately. Answering with "she's doing good" would not have been a fair answer. Even on her "good" days, telling someone that she was doing good would not have been an accurate answer and would have given someone the wrong impression.  Relative to the normal person,"good" days for her were bad enough to make most people give up on life.  Should I have told them how she REALLY was? People would cringe if they heard the details of different days she has encountered along the way. When I think of telling people the honest truth about how she was doing on any given day, Jack Nicholson's famous line in A Few Good Men comes to mind. (YouTube it.)  Typically, I have answered with some token phrase like, "she's hanging in there" or "she is taking things day by day" because this was the easiest option and, for the most part, a partial truth. Looking back now, I think I need to share some of the key events and candid details in her journey with cancer and let everyone see just how difficult it was to come up with an answer at the time.

May 11, 2013- "How's Kacie?" Today she had emergency surgery to remove a 17 cm tumor from her abdomen.  It was attached to her ovary, uterus, bladder and rectum; it looked somewhat like the blob, slowing invading her whole abdominal cavity.  She has been battling a fever and severe abdominal pain so removing the tumor should help that; however, when she wakes up from surgery, we have to tell her that the surgeon had to remove one of her ovaries and he is almost certain that the tumor is a very aggressive cancer. Her life would forever be changed after today.

June 5, 2013- "How's Kacie?" Today she was admitted to Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio (2 hours from home).  She had surgery to place a port in her chest that will be used for chemotherapy.  During the surgery they also did a bone marrow biopsy by putting a long needle in each hip to extract bone marrow to check for cancer and a left lung biopsy to look at ten nodules found there on a scan the previous day. She came out of surgery very sore and with a chest tube.  She is still trying to deal with the fact that she has been told a few weeks ago that she has cancer, cannot return to school and that she has a long, painful road ahead of her. 

July 10, 2013- "How's Kacie?" Well...she has been on chemo now for over a month. The poison being put into her body is causing nausea and vomiting, tiredness, and weakness. She has sores in her mouth and down her throat making it incredibly painful to swallow even her own saliva.  Due to low blood counts, she is spending even the weeks between rounds of chemo in the hospital fighting fevers. When she was at home recently, she went to have her long hair shaved off because it was coming out in chunks on her pillow. 

August 29, 2013- "How's Kacie?" Tonight she is in the PICU at MD Anderson in Houston, Texas.  She is recovering from an eight-hour HIPEC surgery that required a 14 inch scar down the middle of her abdomen.  The doctor removed 52 small tumors along with her one remaining ovary and her uterus.  After I told her about the surgery, she handed me a sticky note on which she had written "so no periods and no kids?" My heart felt like it had been pulled out and run over. 

October 31, 2013- "How's Kacie?" This evening she developed a nose bleed.  After 45 min. of holding pressure on it, we realized it was not going to stop.  We headed to Columbus and it continued to bleed for the whole two-hour trip and for four more hours after that.  They had to call in the ENT doctor on call and he cleaned out the huge clots while she choked and vomited up blood. It finally stopped after he packed it and they gave her two infusions of platelets. Her platelet count was 8,000 and the normal person's is 150,000-300,000. This has been one of the worst nights ever to watch. 

December 25, 2013- "How's Kacie?" Merry Christmas. Kacie is still at Nationwide Children's and has been here for a month already.  She is sad to miss spending Christmas with her siblings at home.  She does her best to remember what Christmas is about and be joyful anyway despite her inability to eat or use the bathroom normally.  She is down to about 90 pounds and the doctors do not know what to do to help her...the fluid building up in her abdomen has to be drained  without anesthesia (eventually four times) and she will be started on IV nutrition called TPN.  She will later realize that she will not be released from the hospital until the end of January and will be on TPN for the rest of her life. 

March 6, 2014- "How's Kacie?" She has been back at MD Anderson in Houston since February for another surgery to try and fix her bowel issues.  Today, just before she was supposed to be released to go home, she threw up and the force caused the contents of her bowel to bust through her fresh incision and into the surgical dressing.  She would later find out that two fistulas (opening from the bowels to the outside of the body) had developed .  She would have several more surgeries to try and close them up but would end up going home after two months with an ostomy bag and no more answers than she had when she got to Texas. 

July 30, 2014- "How's Kacie?" Well, today we met with an oncology surgeon at Ohio State's James Cancer Center.  She had so much hope that he would agree to do surgery on her abdomen to fix the fistulas.  She was told that before he would consider it, she would have to go at least six weeks without eating or drinking anything to see if the fistulas would heal on their own first. How would any of us feel if we got this news? She did do the bowel rest the best that she could only to find out that it would not be successful in closing the fistulas and she would never have hopes of getting rid of the ostomy bag. 

November 21, 2014- "How's Kacie?" Wow. I do not know which day was harder, the day we found out she had cancer or today, the day we found out it is back. Dr. Yeager, her oncologist, came into her room today with tears in his eyes and explained to her that the PET scan showed the cancer was back and had spread to multiple locations in her body.  He said the extent of the disease was too widespread and her body was too weak for additional surgeries; more chemo was possible, but would just make her continually sick and would not be effective in ultimately stopping this disease. She made the very brave decision not to seek out additional treatment and go home to enjoy her remaining time with her family.  The doctor left the room and left us to deal with the aftermath and reality of what we just heard.  She would eventually be signed up for hospice care in December...

April 25, 2015- "How's Kacie?" I don't think her life could get any more miserable than it has been today.  She is having bladder spasms comparable to labor pains about every five minutes which cause her to clench her fists and scream in pain.  These are a long-term effect of whole abdominal radiation she had down in Texas but they are intensifying as the cancer gets worse.  The damage has also caused incontinence and destroyed her bowels so much that she has not had a full meal in over a year. She is also severely dehydrated today so she has an insatiable thirst but since her bowels are unable to accept even liquids at this point, she is throwing up everything she swallows. It is a vicious cycle. She was relieved to find out we had called the hospice nurse who has arranged for her to go to Liza's Place, the inpatient hospice facility.  This would be the third time she would go there...she was not aware that this time she would not come back home.  

In preparation for this blog that had been inside my head for quite some time, I started collecting and documenting all of the medical treatments, events, procedures, admissions, etc. that I could recall.  I also used online records from the hospitals at which she has been treated and I ended up with a ten-page document (which is definitely not a comprehensive list) of things that Kacie has experienced. I knew she had been through more than any one person I have ever known, but looking at it in print was eye-opening; remembering it all was gut-wrenching. There have been two years' worth of painful days that I could have written about, like the sepsis, port accesses each week, PICC line insertion and removal, kidney failure, menopause, depression, seizures, almost 400 days of inpatient stays, and on and on and on.  In the midst of all of this, we had caring, loving, concerned people asking "How's Kacie?" As you can now see, it was sometimes difficult to answer without reflecting the true pain and desperation I was feeling as a mom. I did not want to seem negative or lacking of faith and hope, but on the other side of the cell phone life seemed pretty overwhelming and words did not come easy.  Now that I can collectively look at all the negative and truly painful experiences that Kacie has gone through, I am even more impressed by the amazing things that have happened in the midst of it all. I could just as easily make a list of the things God has done as a result of Kacie enduring what He put in front of her.  He used her bravery and willingness to take us to places and reach people that we could have never imagined.  She has been a faithful servant and He knew she would be; that is why He chose her for this mission.  Because of her relationship with Christ, I can, with peace and certainty answer everyone's question one last time.

May 16, 2015- "How's Kacie?" She is fantastic. She is better than that...she is doing better than anyone I know and better than any of us can imagine.  It is actually hard to put into words just how amazingly she is doing right now. You see, today she took her last breath and was escorted into the presence of her Savior. Today she is free from all the pain and suffering that her earthly body went through. She is free of tubes and needles; she will never vomit again and has no more need for TPN.  God has wiped away every tear from her eye, taking away her memory of all the physical and emotional pain.  I believe that today she was welcomed into Heaven and fell into the arms of Jesus. I wish I could have heard Him whisper the words that she waited so long to hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant...enter into the joy of your master." (Matthew 25:21).  What more could a parent hope for? Today I can answer the question "How's Kacie" with ease and joy because she is finally healed. She will live eternally in paradise and perfection.  She has finished the race; she has been promoted to glory...

For those of us left here on earth, there is sadness and loss.  We will miss her every day but, with pride, will look for ways to remember her and all that she taught us.  We will keep her story alive and her legacy going.  In honor of Kacie, I would like to share some thoughts that are heavy on my heart. Even through our tears, we have a peace today in knowing that Kacie truly is going to spend eternity with God.  I cannot imagine losing a loved one who did not have that assurance.   Unfortunately in our society, we borrow this assurance for every person who passes on no matter how they have lived their life and no matter how far they were away from a relationship with Christ. It is common practice to say someone "is in a better place" at their funeral even though they never wanted anything to do with being a Christian when they were alive.  The Bible is quite clear that things do not work like that.  The end of someone's life is not always peaceful like it was for Kacie...while we were at the hospice facility, a nurse told us a story about a woman she cared for who had visions of a large pit with snakes in it and screamed out "they're coming to get me; they're coming to get me" as she apparently saw demons waiting for her.  Unlike the popular worldview in which everyone is safe the day they die, this is a more accurate representation of what awaits someone who has rejected Christ. In contrast, we know that when a Christian departs from their earthly body, they are ushered into the presence of the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8) where they will remain for eternity.  I know some people who intend to wait until they are old or nearing the end of life to get serious about Christ.  If that is the case, a terminal illness like cancer would actually be a gift to them so that they may have time to get their spiritual decisions in order.  Unfortunately, not all of us will have the blessing of knowing the end of our lives is approaching so that we can contemplate Christ's offer of salvation.  Many of us will die with no warning and no time to decide in our last breath if we will choose Him. After that last breath, whether by cancer or a car crash, there will not be another opportunity to decide.  You will either experience sheer terror or unspeakable joy. For such a serious matter, there is no room for being politically correct or spiritually wishy-washy.  Not everyone goes to heaven...not everyone goes to a "better place" and we should not pretend that they do if we believe in the Bible. More importantly, don't pretend or assume that you are going to a better place if your life has not been transformed by a relationship with Jesus Christ. Please choose THIS day who you will serve (Joshua 24:15) and do not wait until it is too late. May your loved ones have the privilege of knowing that you are safe in the arms of Jesus when you die.

Even in her darkest of days, Kacie was passionate about sharing Christ with the world. So today, in my darkest of days, thank you for allowing me to share Christ with you. God bless.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Walking Dead

Millions of people tune in every Sunday night to watch AMC's The Walking Dead.  If you have never watched it, the show depicts a small group of people who were once mostly strangers that have banded together to survive the zombie apocalypse.  As you can imagine, they have faced such challenges as finding food and medicines, securing shelter and transportation, acquiring and learning to use weapons, losing loved ones, learning to defend themselves from the "walkers" (zombies) and other groups of survivors that threaten their existence and learning how to adapt to a life that is completely removed from the the way it used to be.  The terrors they have encountered in the show's five seasons have been unthinkable. Sometimes, it is difficult to watch the gore and violence not to mention the suffering and heartache they face but I find myself so drawn into their stories and struggles, into routing for them to beat the seemingly impossible odds and make it.  Apparently, I am not alone in this because, according to Wikipedia online, it is the "most-watched drama series telecast in cable history.

  There are a few groups on the show.  First, there are the "walkers" who wander aimlessly, having no real human characteristics like emotion or the ability to think. They simply roam from place to place following any signs of life to feed on.  Their existence seems meaningless since their spirit and soul are gone yet they provide a constant threat to everyone who is fighting for survival. Then, there are the others, the living (if you could call it living).  They are constantly on guard, looking over their shoulder, unable to sleep or rest without wondering what obstacle is just around the corner. They are tired and weary from the battle; hungry and sleep-deprived, scared, paranoid and waiting for the next threat to surface.  Fight or flight has become their new norm.  One by one they see members of their group, some of them family members, losing the battle.  They have become numb to the loss and grief and accept it now as part of their existence.  They have no choice.  They have had to create a whole new life centered around survival: their old lives are completely gone and they can barely remember life before this unknown plague began.  They have no promise of tomorrow and yet they continue on...  


I can draw so many parallels between my life and the lives of the characters of the WD. Maybe that is why I keep watching it each week. I can identify with both groups on the show.  Most days lately, I feel like a zombie.  Mindless, disheveled, numb to my surroundings, going through the motions and wandering from place to place doing the essentials, in some ways appearing alive but feeling somewhat dead at the same time.  Having a child with terminal cancer will do that to a person. I think it comes with the territory and it is understandable that anyone in this situation will have days when they feel like this.  However, if I am not careful, I can get caught up in this persona.  I can let the cancer and the stress suck the life and spirit right out of me.  Me being in this type of mindset is a threat to the people around me who are trying to live despite all the obstacles around us.  In the last few weeks, I have really had some tough days...coincidentally, I sprained my back and developed bursitis in my hips so I even have the zombie walk going on right now...funny but not funny I know.

Most days in the last two years since Kacie's diagnosis, I found myself on the other side of the fight. Surviving, battling, refusing to become a zombie. That type of existence becomes very exhausting though.  Just like Rick Grimes, Daryl Dixon, Michonne and the other members of living group on The Walking Dead, I have been in a constant state of fight or flight, keeping a bag packed at all times to head to the hospital in a moment's notice.  I never know what obstacles I will face each day or when I will lose the one I have been fighting so hard to save.  I am definitely weary from the battle, sleep-deprived, scared and paranoid.  Despite all of the uncertainties that surround each day, I am trying to make the best of the hand I have been dealt and to build a new life with new norms. Like Rick's group on the show, I barely remember what life used to be like before the cancer hit.  There is not an area of my life that has not been affected by the cancer in some way.  

I believe both groups of characters could be given the title "The Walking Dead." They are both stuck in a state between life and death... and that's how it feels to have a child on hospice.  This is the hardest journey I have ever had to navigate.  There is not much time or space for emotion when you have to deal with daily responsibilities and obstacles that surface constantly, yet the emotion is suffocating me from the inside because it has no place to go.  It is heart-wrenching to have to decide whether to beg for one more day with your child or to pray for God's mercy to end the suffering that is unbearable to watch and for her to endure.  Not knowing how to feel or act and having no promise of tomorrow, I continue on...

Some people would be surprised that a Christian would choose to watch a show like The Walking Dead.  I have actually been chastised by some people for watching it and I understand this viewpoint.  It definitely does not have a shortage of blood and guts; however, neither have the real-life scenarios that I have witnessed in the last two years with Kacie.  The show actually has much more depth to it than just the gore and thankfully so does my life.  The show's characters depict how to be resilient in the face of adversity and how to learn to adapt to life's challenges no matter what they are.  I can relate to them and have followed their journey since the beginning. Oddly, I have learned a lot from these fictitious characters and will be interested to see where their journey takes them next season.  As for where this journey is going to take me in the next season of life, I have many unanswered questions and fears.  I literally have no idea what tomorrow brings yet I do have some things that Rick and his friends on The Walking Dead do not have...I serve a God who does know what tomorrow holds; no matter what this life brings, no matter how much adversity or how challenging it gets, I have HOPE that the ending will be worth it (Romans 8:18).  He NEVER promised that this life would be easy or free of pain, but He did promise never to leave us (Deut. 31:8).  God knows how I feel on the days when I feel like a zombie.  When I am wondering aimlessly and going through the motions, He is guiding me and ordering my steps (Psalm 37:23). Although I feel like I am dead inside sometimes, I know that I am alive in Christ (Galatians 2:20) and when my strength is almost gone, His is perfect and His grace is sufficient (2 Corinth. 12:9).  God has equipped us with all the weapons we need to handle any of life's challenges (Ephesians 6:10-18) and I would rather have these than Daryl's crossbow or Michonne's sword any day.