Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The next twenty-one days

My family and I have faced separation a lot this year. My husband has been hospitalized six times since December and has spent upwards of two weeks in the hospital at the time receiving chemotherapy. My children have been forced to spend many nights without their father and the nights I alternate at the hospital they are also without me. There are many days they do not get my full attention as I have to work and handle the household responsibilities while my husband is away. My husband typically has two and a half weeks home between each chemotherapy cycle and so we make it a point to spend quality time as a family.

It hasn't always been like that. Prior to my husband getting diagnosed with cancer we were the typical American family. Busy, busy, busy. Both of us were working. My husband was also going to school full-time. Our days consisted of getting up early for work, coming home from work exhausted. My husband would go to school two days out of the week. We went to mid-week church services and spent the evening doing household chores. While we did spend time together as a family, there were many days where exhaustion took the priority.

Cancer changes everything. It helps you see what should be your priority. Family needs to be a priority. It is so easy to put other things before your family. We typically don't make excuses when it comes to work. We get up in the morning and work 8-10 hours and sometimes bring work home. But many times we make excuses when it comes to spending quality time together. We say we are too busy, too exhausted, and have important things we need to do. The family unit has been challenged and Satan would like nothing more than to destroy marriages and to draw children from serving God. One way he does that is by drawing us away from devoting time to our family.

They say it takes twenty-one days to make a habit. And so I am challenging you to spend the next 21 days putting your family first. In doing so, you might need to change some things.  Each day we only have a few precious hours together in comparison to the time we spend at work and our children at school. We need to make sure those hours we have in the same house are spent together. So for twenty-one days I encourage you to make your family a priority. I believe once the twenty-one days is over this will become a lifestyle.

So many marriages are breaking apart and one reason is because the couple stopped making their marriage a priority. Let's change that. There are so many different ways you can do this. Get up an hour early each day and spend time together. Develop a daily Bible devotion and prayer together. Use this time to talk to each other. Make it an effort to make your spouse feel special. This doesn't mean you need to purchase them an expensive gift but you can write them a love letter, or make it a point to give them affirming words. Put the electronics down each day for a certain amount of time. I know chores are important. Someone has to clean the house. So clean the house together and talk while doing it. You can have a conversation over the dishes or while folding the laundry. You might not be able to go on dates but you can sit on the porch and talk. You can walk around the block holding hands. Go to sleep together at the same time.  Work to heal the scars that might have developed over the years. Forgive your spouse for hurtful things they may have said or done. Don't stay late at the office and don't bring work home with you.  Some of the things you do that you know bother your spouse, try not to do them. And some of the things your spouse does that bother you, try to ignore those things. Don't make a big deal out of little things. Re-commit to your marriage. For the next twenty-one days spend quality time together. Make your marriage a priority.

Not only are marriages crumbling but children are growing up and walking away from God. Your voice needs to be louder than the voice of culture and society. In order for that to happen, you need to make your children a priority. Every day tell your children you love them. Embrace them. Give them encouraging and uplifting words. Each night gather together in one room and pray together. Talk about the Word of God together. I know you're tired. I know you have dishes to wash. I know the toys need to be picked up. I know you have to make lunches for the next day. I know but make it a point to spend time with your children. Take your teenager on a weekly date. And talk to them, don't yell at them. Eat dinner together each night. Sit around the table and talk about their day. Extra-curricular activities shouldn't take the place of quality time spent with your children. You can be so busy taking them to practice and from game to game that you don't actually spend time with them.  Let your children know that they come first in your life. Show them that they are more important than your career and more important than whatever ministry you are involved in. If you have young children, play with them. Build lego forts, and tents made out of blankets, read them one more bed-time story. Laugh with them. And pray with them as well. They are never too young to hear about God.

Spending time together and making your family a priority doesn't cost money.  For twenty-one days make it a commitment that you are going to place your family first. These twenty-one days will become a habit and then it will lead to a lifestyle. A lifestyle where family matters. A lifestyle where your family is the priority.

Twenty-one days

Monday, June 22, 2015

You don't have to smile

You don't have to smile

We live in an "I am fine" society. We live in a "put on a mask and act like everything is ok" society. We live in "fake strength and confidence" society.

And so instead of confessing that we are hurting and that we are in pain and that we feel the entire world is crashing around us and we don't know how we are going to make it, we smile and simply say "I am fine."

When in actuality we aren't fine. Our heart is breaking. We have questions we are afraid to ask God. Our life has been turned upside down and we just want it the way it used to be. My family is dealing with the pain of cancer. But I know that some are growing weary waiting for the promises that have been declared over their life. Some spend night after night crying wondering why others can conceive and they can't. Some wonder if their marriage can be repaired. Some look at a wayward child and hurt because of the choices they are making. Some no matter how hard they are working never make enough to pay their bills.

But we smile. We say "we're fine." We put on that mask because we're afraid that if we take it off well-meaning but hurtful people will tell us we just need to trust God more or even worse that we are not trusting God enough. And so we keep our pain hidden and our hurt inside.

But I'm saying you don't have to smile. You can cry. You can scream. You can fall apart. It doesn't signify that you don't trust God. You are hurting. You are in pain. And that is okay to acknowledge. It's okay to say that your heart is breaking. It's okay to vocalize the agony you are experiencing. It's okay to say you don't understand. It's okay to cry. It's okay to let those tears cascade down your face. And you don't have to wait until you are alone to do it. You don't have to bury your head in your pillow so no one else can see. It's okay to take off that mask that you put up for the world to see. It's okay. And it doesn't mean you don't trust in God. It doesn't mean you aren't waiting on Him. It doesn't mean that you are walking away from your relationship with God.

It means you're real. Stop burying those feeling. Stop denying that you're hurt. Stop pretending you are okay.

And we need to be compassionate when others are hurting. We need to let them cry on our shoulders. We need to hold them and sometimes not say a word. We need to listen and let those who are hurting break down. We need to let them be real and take off the mask. We need to let people be real with us and offer them love because that is what God is doing.

God whispers "you can be real with me. You can cry. It's okay to acknowledge you're hurting. It's okay to tell me this situation has broken your heart. It's okay to cry out that you don't understand." God wraps His arms around us. And with tears streaming down our face, God replaces confusion with peace. He restores joy that has been robbed by sadness. He fills us with strength when we've grown weary. He surrounds us with love when we feel lonely. And He reminds us "it's okay to be real."

Because strength really is signified by taking one more step when you are tired and weary and broken. Some of the strongest people are those whose world is falling apart but they take one more step. They take one more step when they don't understand why they are going through what they are. They take one more step when every door has closed. They take one more step when the storm is pounding. They take one more step when every dream they had had been ripped away. They take one more step through tear stained eyes.

So take one more step and cry. God knows that your tears are not a lack of dedication to Him. He knows that even in your pain you're trusting in Him. He knows that in you're brokenness you haven't detoured from His path.

So cry.

I wish we could go back to the before cancer days. We can't. And so I have cried many tears. But I have never questioned my relationship with God. God hasn't been offended by my tears and He is not offended by yours.

Friday, June 19, 2015

To my husband on Father's Day

To my husband on Father's Day,

This has been a tough year for us. It has been a year filled with hospital stays for you as you get cycle after cycle of chemotherapy. It has been a year filled with tears as the dreams and plans we had were discarded once you were diagnosed with cancer. And I know it has been very hard for you. And I know the hardest thing for you wasn't the initial diagnosis which you handled with such strength. It wasn't the losing of the hair which you handled with grace. And it isn't receiving the chemotherapy each cycle which you haven't complained about. I know the hardest thing has been being separated from your family during your hospital stays.

I know you want nothing more than to be able to work and provide for your family financially.
I know it has been hard not being able to work the last 6 months and knowing you won't be able to work for the remainder of the year. But you have provided for this family. You have provided your children with so much love and stability during their entire life. Your love for your children has been evident from the beginning. You woke up with them in the middle of the night when they were newborns. You held them when they were crying. Comforted them when they were sick. You embraced them when they were hurting.  

And I know it kills you to be separated from them when you are hospitalized. You typically are the one who lays down next to the children as they fall asleep. You are the one who says the nighttime prayers and who sings worship songs as they cuddle up close to you in the evening. You are the one who tells them stories as they drift off to sleep. The kids go to you when they want to have fun. You have been the horse who carries them on your back. You are the one who throws them in the air and never lets them fall. You will spend hours assembling a toy only to see them destroy it within minutes. And so I know it hurts that you can't do that while you are hospitalized but our children will never doubt the love you have for them and will always know that you are there. You have never been too busy for the children. Even though you worked 60 hours a week you were never too tired to play with them. Even though you went to school full time you never had too much homework to spend quality time with them.  

And in this tough year you are teaching them valuable lessons. The children are seeing your trust in God during this difficult situation. They are witnessing you pray. They are seeing you retain your joy when things aren't going according to our plan. They see your strength in the face of difficulties. They see you depending on God. Even though things aren't going the way we planned this year, you are showing our children never to give up on God. You are teaching them how to put God first in their life. 

And our children are so blessed to have you as a father. And I am blessed to have you as my husband.

We love you!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

I thought....

I thought this year was going to be a lot different than it has turned out. I thought that this summer we would be so excited because our house had sold and we were moving into our dream house. I thought that we would be planning for my husband to transfer to a 4 year university. I thought I would be researching private schools for Malachi or discussing whether to homeschool. I thought my 3 year old daughter would have been potty trained.
So many plans. And these weren’t greedy plans. They were simple plans and thoughts that I had for my family.
(This was our house when we bought it 4 years ago. I thought that we would sell it this year and move into our dream home....)

Yet none of those plans have come to pass. None of the things I thought would happen have taken place. Instead of putting our house up for sale and instead of excitingly preparing for my husband to transfer to a 4 year university we have spent this entire year in and out of hospitals. Every plan and every desire I had came crashing to a halt when my husband was diagnosed with cancer in December. The vacation we had planned for months to take turned into a nightmare when we saw ourselves ringing in the New Year in a hospital far away from home because my husband was diagnosed with cancer. And we are faced with 8 cycles of chemotherapy this year and almost 200 days of hospital stays.

And I have spent a long time wondering why this had to happen to my family. Why did my husband have to get cancer? Why do my 3 year old daughter and 4 year old son have to spend nights separated from their dad because he is hospitalized? My husband is such a hard worker. He would work 60 hour weeks, attend school full time, get to church early for practice since he is a musician and still put his children first. And so it hurts so much that my husband has been hospitalized 6 times this year. It hurts to see an IV dripping chemotherapy into his body.

 (I had so many thoughts and plans for my children this year. I didn't think that instead of my thoughts coming to pass they would have spent so much time visiting their daddy in the hospital)
And every thought I had for the year seems to be discarded. It seems as though someone ripped the thoughts and plans from my hand, crumbled them up, threw them in the trash and then decided that wasn’t enough and then burned the thoughts and plans.  My plans and my thoughts for this year have not come to pass. And it hurts. I have cried so many tears. I have felt alone. I have been overwhelmed and exhausted. I have hurt beyond description. And I have hated the situation we are in.
But I take comfort in Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ saith the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”   I take comfort in knowing that the scriptures still ring true today. I take comfort knowing that God speaks to us through them. I take comfort knowing that even though every single plan and thought I had for this year has not come to pass, God has a plan for our life and our family that is greater than anything I can conceive. I take comfort in knowing that even though so many doors have closed for us and so much heartache has been felt this year, God has a purpose for our life.  I take comfort in knowing that even though this road is lonely, I am not alone.  And it doesn’t matter if the plans and thoughts I had for our life don’t come to pass, God’s plans are greater than my own. And even though we are experiencing what seems like such a dark time, God’s light can shine through us. So it does hurt that my plans haven't come to pass, but I have so much encouragement because I know God has not left us. I know He is right there giving us the comfort and the peace and the joy we so desperately need. And I know that even though my life seems out of control, God is in control. I know that even though many more tears will most likely be shed, God can turn this situation around.

The night Mel was diagnosed with cancer the HGTV show Fixer Upper played in the background of the emergency room. I love that show and I watch it every time Mel goes back to the hospital hoping that they have a marathon on. I like this show for many different reasons but one thing that stands out is that the couple can take a home that is falling apart and transform it into something beautiful. They take what doesn’t look very nice and they make it into something amazing. And I can’t help but think that is what God is doing in this situation. He is taking what seems like a very bleak situation and He is letting us know it won't be like this for long. God is letting us know that no matter how bad the situation may seem He can transform that situation.
And so in the midst of our storm, we will still praise God. Even though we are hurting, our love for God has not diminished. Our trust is still in Him.
(we will smile again)