Saturday, March 28, 2009

Dirty Feet

Dad was diagnosed, and this journey that I didn’t choose began. And though I didn’t choose it, wouldn’t have chosen it, & most parts I wish we hadn’t walked, I do know that the Father prepared every single step of the way & carried us through the entire journey (& He still is). But my heart still breaks over it And He’s the only One that can put it back together again.

After Dad was diagnosed, I made the decision to postpone serving in China so that I could take care of him.

*China still is very much a part of my heart & a part of my future. Just a longer path there than I originally thought. It is still nestled deeply in my heart as a definite calling. Though my heart aches with grief right now, it also has a sort of ache for China too.*

In April, my dad went to NJ for about 6 weeks or so. His doctor in NC at the time was…not very attentive…let’s call it that…

My cousin in NJ is a doctor at a hospital in the Bronx & was able to get him excellent care at her hospital. At that time, Dad was in terrible pain; the worst throughout the whole time. While there, they worked out a pain management plan, as well as some radiation, that helped relieve the worst of the pain. The cancer was in his spine, ribs, hip, & pelvic bone; terribly painful.

In May, while still teaching in GA, I drove to NJ from GA/NC twice (looong story; too long-just know that I was there.). That was the first time I had seen Dad since he had been diagnosed. That was the first time that I realized just how excruciatingly painful this cancer was for Dad. That was the first time (of thousands) that my heart broke into pieces watching & listening to my dad suffer & not being able to do anything physically to bring some relief. I remember just how difficult it was that night because the reality that it was really happening was starting to set in. And I was realizing that this was going to be like nothing I could have imagined or had experienced before. Dad & I were both in the basement, which is like an apartment-style basement. Dad was on one side of the basement where the bed was, & I was on an air mattress on the floor on the other side. That night, listening to the kind of pain that he was in, was such a heart breaking night for me. I cried & prayed silently all night. I don’t think I slept at all (after driving 10 hours…& getting on a plane eaaarly the next morning…then teaching the next morning…aaaaa…)

After that first trip to NJ, I decided to go to North Carolina for the summer to take care of Dad & then make other decisions as needed. I went into it knowing that I may need to stay. So in June, after being there about a month, I made the decision that I wouldn’t be coming back to GA. I returned to GA for about a week in July to pack some things & ‘moved’ to NC for however long Dad needed me. And I do not regret one day of being here, as hard as it’s been. Most days I’ve just wanted to run far, far away & not turn back. But even on those days I didn’t regret being here.

I think about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. I am not comparing myself to Jesus-at all! But I am thinking of an illustration & of His example. There was one day in particular when I was doing something for Dad that he really didn’t want me to be doing. His exact words were something about it being humiliating. I told him that it was an honor for me to be serving him in that way. He made another comment about how much fun it must be to be doing this for him. Honestly, it makes me think of that example of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. As He knelt to wash their feet, Peter (at first) protested & said that ‘never shall You wash my feet.’ He didn’t want Jesus doing something that was considered so degrading. Feet, especially then, were dirty & grimy from walking through the streets in sandals or even barefoot. They were considered to be the dirtiest part of the body. It was degrading to wash someone’s feet; something lowly. Certainly not something you’d let your King & Messiah do for you. But Jesus was setting a beautiful example of how we are to love & serve others. He was being a true servant by doing something out of great love; something unexpected & considered too dirty & degrading to do. That, to me, is what made it such a beautiful act of love & service: being willing to serve even when it means doing something considered dirty or humiliating—putting yourself aside for the needs of others.

What a beautiful way for me to be able to serve & honor my dad by taking care of the physical & medical needs that he had that couldn’t do for himself. Like Peter not wanting his Lord to wash his feet, my dad certainly didn’t want his daughter doing these tasks for him. But, isn’t this the example Jesus gave of being a servant? Doing what seems like the ‘lowly’ tasks, out of love & service. This makes the tasks not ‘lowly’ at all, but humbling & honoring. I truly feel that it was such an honor that I was able to serve my dad in the way that I was during this season. I know that he didn’t see it from my perspective, but I love him & wanted to help in this way. It was often heartbreaking, too, that this care was even necessary. But knowing that he needed this care made me not want to be anywhere else. It was an honor to follow the example of my Servant-King & do this for my dad.

I truly have learned so very much about serving during this season of my life, though I know that there is so much more to go.

Oh, & have I mentioned that I also have been caring for my 89 year old grandmother who has dementia? Yes. Dad had been taking care of her for the last 10 years & so taking care of her was…an added opportunity to…serve… At the moment that I’m typing this, I’m still here caring for her (as well as teaching 3rd grade) but will be returning to GA when the school year is over. My aunts (her daughters) will hopefully follow through with taking care of her when I leave. But this blog isn’t about my grandmother’s care. Just thought I’d throw that in there for the sake of keepin it real!

A closing thought from Streams From The Desert

“Stand firmly in the place where your dear Lord has put you, and do your best there…It is through the pounding of a serious conflict that He expects us to grow strong. The tree planted where the fierce winds twist its branches and bend its trunk, often nearly to the point of breaking, is commonly more firmly rooted than a tree growing in a secluded valley where storms never bring any stress or strain. The same is true of human life. The strongest and greatest character is grown through hardship.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

All That I Can Say

These are the lyrics to a David Crowder Band song that I absolutely love. That is no longer in print. That I do not own. That I wished they would re-release somehow, somewhere. Actually, I love most things by DCB. I'm trying to create a playlist on the side so you can listen as you read the lyrics. That is one of my favorite things to do. (sorry if you have your volume on & you don't want to hear it). It really describes my feelings many days of this journey. It really is a beautiful, raw, honest, full-of-grief-&-Hope song. Love it. Hope you do too.

All That I Can Say

David Crowder Band

Lord I'm tired
So tired from walking
And Lord I'm so alone
And Lord the dark
Is creeping in
Creeping up
To swallow me
I think I'll stop
Rest here a while

And this is all that I can say right now
(I know it’s not much)
And this is all that I can give
(and that’s my everything)
And this is all that I can say right now
(I know it’s not much)
And this is all that I can give
(and that’s my everything)

And didn't You see me cry'n?
And didn't You hear me call Your name?
Wasn't it You I gave my heart to?
I wish You'd remember
Where you sat it down

And this is all that I can say right now
(I know it’s not much)
And this is all that I can give
(and that’s my everything)
And this is all that I can say right now
(I know it’s not much)
And this is all that I can give
(and that’s my everything)

I didn't notice You were standing here
I didn't know that
That was You holding me
I didn't notice You were cry'n too
I didn't know that
That was You washing my feet

And this is all that I can say right now
(I know it’s not much)
And this is all that I can give
(and that’s my everything)
And this is all that I can say right now
(I know it’s not much)
And this is all that I can give
(and that’s my everything)

I love that it is filled with the honesty of struggle, but yet the reminder that He always has been & always will be right there. Such a reason to hope in the midst of heartache. So much reason to hope. Hope not in what the world gives, but an eternal Hope in the One thing that will not ever change. Everything eventually changes. Jobs change. Where you live changes. People's feelings change. Moods change. Families change. Hair color changes (some faster than others & I'm not talkin about dying your hair here, folks. sigh. why did my family send this gene down to me???).

Everything can & probably will at some point, change. Everything except the sure, steadfast, never-ending, all-encompassing, comforting, filling, (un-deserving) & gracious love of God. That, my friends, will not change. Hold fast & hard to it & to Him when the storms come. He just may be the only thing left standing when the storm passes. He's the only thing that is certain to still be standing. And you don't want to be left standing there alone, beaten from the wind & rain of a storm, without a strong anchor. For though I feel as though I've been buffeted by a mighty storm, I am not alone. He holds me, carries me, stands with me, & goes ahead of me. He hems me in behind & before.

Psalm 139: 1-12

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;

you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;

you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.
You hem me in-behind and before;

you have laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;

if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me.”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Some Photos

Father's Day 2008 in North Carolina

In New Jersey; May 2008

One of my favorites of me & Dad.
At one of the many theme-parks we went to
while I was growing up.

A funny one that is true to who my dad
was. THIS is what he was using his
cane for one day! An air guitar. I love
this about him. This one was in June 2008,
I believe. It wasn't easy or painless for him
to walk at this time, but it was before the

Dad's Diagnosis

My father lost his painful battle with cancer on December 21, 2008. 9 months almost to the day of his diagnosis. He battled bravely & is now completely whole & healed & in the presence of the Lord.

Dad’s diagnosis was on March 20, 2008. This Thursday will be one year since that date. So many things about that day stand out so strongly in my mind & heart. I almost come to tears quicker thinking of that day than any other day on this journey. Earlier that day I had heard of the sudden, tragic, & heart breaking loss of some dear friends. My heart had been heavy & burdened & filled with prayers throughout the day. It was a Thursday, which was the day that me, Erin, & Ashley cooked & served food at the shelter. As I got in my car to come home, I noticed I had a missed call from Dad, so I decided to call him back on the drive home. Honestly, I was expecting a conversation about his concerns for me returning to China at the end of the summer & I really didn’t have the time on that day to sit through another conversation of that nature.

*Sidenote: I had committed to serving the next 2 years in China teaching University students, had sold & gotton rid of most everything I owned, had raised support, & was excitedly looking forward to that chapter of my life. My dad (& many family members) just didn’t want me to be so far from family. So this often was the subject of our conversations.*

I called him while I was sitting at the stop sign across from the Porterdale Lofts about to pull away from the shelter when Dad answered (to give those of you local folks a visual). He said that he had been to the doctor for the pain he’d been having in his back and his chest. He quickly rushed out the words ‘I have cancer.’ So quickly that I almost didn’t understand what he was saying. As I processed what he had said, he started crying. I was still sitting at that stop sign. I turned onto the street, thinking that this just couldn’t really be true. And that people get cancer all the time & are treated & survive. That it probably wasn’t very serious. As Dad continued trying to explain what the doctor had said, he continued crying. I had to pull over in the parking lot of Mosley Electric so I could process this & really talk to him. Plus my heart was breaking wide open from the news & hearing my dad crying & so scared. The doctor told him that the cancer was in his spine & ribs, & that they didn’t have much more information than that at the time. This was his general practitioner & he referred him to an oncologist, whom he was going to see the following week. I wanted to cry & scream, but obviously that wouldn’t do Dad any good at that point. He wanted to get off of the phone (we didn’t talk very long at all). He was so very upset & scared, as was I. Before we got off the phone, I stopped to pray for him. I think that was the first time I had ever done that, pray FOR him WITH him. Of course I prayed for my dad often, & I had prayed before meals with him, but never quite like this. I could barely get words out without breaking down. In that moment, I know that the Lord gave me such strength to be strength for my dad. As I prayed & encouraged him with Scripture, I knew that the Lord was doing a great work, though my heart was also breaking.

We got off the phone, & I just sat there in that parking lot & cried & cried & cried. I had a towel in the backseat, & I buried my face in it & sobbed. The loud kind that you can’t control that shake your whole body. Then I look up & see this lady pulled up next to me with her window down, so I rolled down my window. She sweetly & with such concern asked if I was alright. I told her I would be fine, that my car was fine, that I had just received some bad news & needed a moment before driving home.

So, I drove home to Susan’s. I can’t even remember if I called anyone at that moment or not. I may have. I got home & just sat in the car for awhile. Susan came out to water the plants. I finally got out of the car & she looked at me & asked me if I was ok. I, of course, just started crying & said no. But no other words would come out. She came over to my car & hugged me. I couldn’t even SAY the words that my dad had cancer. It was so scary & saying it made it real & I didn’t want it to be real. I’m sure I choked out the words eventually.

I decided to go upstairs & spend some time with the Lord. I sat down to journal &pray, but literally could find not a single word to pray. My heart was so heavy with sadness & fear. My mind just wouldn’t form words. I asked Him to speak to me from His Word because I just couldn’t wrap my mind & heart around what was happening.

This is some of what He gave me:

Hebrews 12:1-3
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us; fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Author & Perfector of faith, Who, for the joy set before Him, endured the Cross, despising its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him Who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lost heart.”

Matthew 11:28-30
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gently and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Wow. Those verses from Hebrews were so incredibly fitting & insightful. I had also sent a quick email to some friends telling them about Dad & asking for prayer. After reading Scripture & taking a nap, I checked my email & had many, many responses.

I was (& have continued to be) so very overwhelmed with love & support from the people in my life.

The next day was Good Friday & I went to the service at my church. Our pastor referenced those same verses from Hebrews. Then a different pastor referenced them on Sunday morning. I couldn’t get away from it. Running the race with endurance. Fixing my eyes on Jesus. Jesus knew the joy that would come AFTER the shame of the Cross, so he endured. And not to grow weary & lose heart in thinking on those things.

That weekend I shared those verses with Dad & asked him to write them down & look them up in the Bible I had given him (like 7 years before). He sheepishly admitted that he had never actually read it, but it was right there on the bookshelf near his bed. He called me the next day & his message was so encouraging that it still makes me cry. He said that he had read those verses, & was so encouraged by them that he wrote them on an index card & carried it with him. That whenever he was in pain (which was often) or feeling discouraged, that he read them & was encouraged. He then said that he wanted to print them on cards with a picture of a cross to give to others in the cancer center who looked so sick & discouraged, since he had been so encouraged by it. Wow! My dad had always believed in Who Christ was, but had never placed much of an importance on Him in his daily life. I think he didn’t fully understand the depth of what Christ had done on the Cross for him. Throughout the following weeks, my dad & I shared some very sweet & meaningful moments. Moments of prayer, sharing of the Gospel, understanding & belief in what our Father has done for us, sharing Scripture & faith. It truly was beautiful, despite the pain Dad was experiencing & the heartache & fear we both were facing.

I had no idea on that day just how very much my life was about to change.

Throughout the coming weeks, we also found out that Dad's cancer was very advanced. Stage 4. It had orginated as a tumor on his left kidney & metastasized to his bones. Many bones. This was the reason for so much pain. Though we had not been told at the time, his cancer was considered terminal. I'll be sharing more in future about his doctors & some of the specifics that were happening.

I grew up in Georgia with my Mom & her side of the family. My parents divorced when I was 2 years old, & Dad lived most of my life in New Jersey. The last 12 years or so in North Carolina. He was always very involved in my life & I always knew how much my dad loved me & how much I meant to him. I really was ‘daddy’s little girl’. I spent each summer & Christmas break with him in New Jersey, he came to GA for my spring break, he always sent cards & packages, & we talked often. I had never actually lived in the same state, and the only time I had lived out of Georgia was the year I had spent in China. Quite suddenly, the path that God was preparing straight to China took a very different course, straight to North Carolina.

After much prayer & seeking, I decided to postpone returning to China. How could it be so easy to decide to move across the world but so hard to decide to move a few states away? I guess because I knew that what waited for me in NC was something I didn’t want to face, & something that I knew would be excruciatingly heart-breaking.

So that’s what I did. I packed up most of my things, & left for NC. A very big & scary unknown ahead. With no other family, no friends, no job, no church family, & nothing familiar. I knew that my dad needed me & that taking this period of my life to care for him would be absolutely worth everything I was leaving behind or putting on hold. And it was. That was the end of May/beginning of June. It is now March 15, almost a year later.

I will continue sharing this journey here, both the brutally honest things from when I have been in the pit, & those beautiful moments when I truly have seen the Hand of God. There have (& continue to be) many tears shed over heartbreak, loss, suffering, & grief. There also is a hope that comes only from knowing the Truth of Who God is & that though I may not ‘feel’ certain things, that His constant love for me does not change. What a beautiful thing to know that our Heavenly Father holds on to us tightly even though we’re often too weak & broken to hold onto Him.

This is a picture of Dad May 2008. These were cards that my 3rd graders in Georgia had made for him. It's not the best photo, but it's the only one I have from the beginning of our journey.