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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas Reflections & Chemo Journey

Here we are, two days before Christmas as I post this, and my soul is flooded with wonder at all of the mercies and miracles of God this year...I continue to reflect on our journey, picking up from where I last left off writing...I also reflect on the wonder of the greatest miracle of all- the Christ Child, who came to give hope and healing, salvation and sight to the world! 


"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone."
Isaiah 9:2


It was the second week of July, just 10 weeks away from our wedding...Jamie and I were staring into the scary face of 9 weeks of chemotherapy treatment.  His new oncologist rushed the orders and had the infusion center at Johns Hopkins squeeze him into a spot that next Monday so Jamie could start treatment, in order to allow him to finish before the wedding if all went accordingly!  We were crammed into a corner of a chemo pod next to another couple, Tom and Susan…It was Tom’s first day, too.  Jamie and I quietly bowed our heads and prayed for God’s blessing on this first day of the infusion.  They looked at us with twinkles in their eyes and asked if we were believers.  "Yes!"  Tom turned out to be a pastor of a thriving church in Maryland, Hope Bible Church, and they became our first close friends on the 9 week long journey.  Jamie’s nurse, Liam, was a God-send as well.  What do you know- his other job just happened to be pastoring a church also!  He ministered to both Jamie’s and my needs every day- physical, spiritual, and emotional needs...Just the look on Liam's face would set us at ease or make us laugh.  We believed with all our hearts that we were given the very best nursing team for Jamie's treatment, just as we were blessed with the best team for my surgery and recovery!


Other friends we made along the way at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer center downtown Baltimore were incredible.  Linda and Dan, Rhonda and John, and re-uniting with my longtime friend Kaley and her husband John.  These friendships have been a tight bond for us- not just a bond because of the common cancer journey, but a bond in Christ, a bond of faith that has carried us all…I felt the Holy Spirit's presence so strongly on many days in the infusion center.  Not only were they being infused with medicines to kill cancer, but there was an infusion of the power of God happening, an infusion of hope and joy being spread around!  As painful as it was to see my Jamie weak and in so much discomfort, (as he is ordinarily such a strong person who can handle anything with ease) it was such an extraordinary honor being by his side, as he was by my side the many months prior…And in those weakest moments, I saw a strength like no other.  It was the strength of God in him.  

"But He said to me,
"My grace is sufficient for you,
for My power is made perfect in weakness."
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses,
so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses,
insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.
For when I am weak, then I am strong."
2 Corinthians 12:9-10


Jamie had one week of hospitalization where he spiked a dangerous fever and became “neutropenic” with a ridiculously low white-blood cell count and neutrophil count (the very important cells that kick bacteria and protect against infection).  He was basically isolated at that time, and boy was he relieved when he could be free again!  The afternoon he was released from the hospital was the same day that I first sang again in public after surgery.  It was bitter-sweet, a holy moment that morning, filled with mourning and joy.  I sang my song “Broken Vessel” for my dear friend Nancy’s funeral service who went home to be with Jesus after a several-year long battle with brain cancer.  She beat all odds and truly was a walking miracle during her final years.  Nancy was one of the exceptional gifts God put in our lives this past year to help keep us going.  She was a strong rock of faith and stream of continuous joy.  When she finished her race, we celebrated her life.  


God’s grace and continual miracles kept us on schedule so we could finish out chemo before our wedding- Jamie’s final treatment just 5 days before our big day!  After 9 intense weeks of being beaten-up, the treatment effectively destroyed the cancer, but along with it, took the hair from Jamie's head and the pep from his step.  September 12 came before we knew it, and my man had remarkable stamina to stand and say his marriage vows!  We had the most beautiful, magical Maine day as we committed our lives to one another in a New England pine grove just blocks from the Atlantic Ocean.  We danced and dined and celebrated inside a historic camp church building built in the late 1800s.  It was home-spun, intimate, and my fairytale had finally come true!  It felt like Jane Austen meets Little Women meets old-fashioned seaside town.  It was our special day, and the most beautiful thing about it was the story God had written which we never in a lifetime would have imagined...a story of love and adventure, of pain and of glory.  Over a dozen flower girls with woodland crowns in their hair and little chaps with suspenders and bowties ran around with blue ice cream on their lips and streamer twirlers in hand.


Yes, it was a beautiful day and looked “picture-perfect” (minus how pale the bride and groom were after being inside the hospital all summer instead of at the beach!).  However, I came to realize, with all the wedding magazines and the pressure of our culture to create that fairytale show on your wedding day, that the image of that one particular day going perfectly as planned is not what matters- what matters is truly building a marriage founded on God’s eternal, sacrificial love and committing for better or for worse.  Life is not picture-perfect.  Our journey getting to that day was messy.  A beautiful mess, we like to call it.  We walked through sickness and we are entering back into health.  Our plans were thwarted time and again.  Stress was high at moments this year and our physical limitations very real.  Our dependency on one another and others was constant.  Our wedding day was a celebration of two lives becoming one, two stories becoming one, two souls set on course together to serve God and bring out the best gifts we each have to offer for His Kingdom.  I hope and believe our wedding day was a picture of Christ and the church, of laying our lives down for one another, serving each other, and committing to one another for a lifetime.  It was the culmination of a year that was a whirlwind of adventure.  It was the beginning of a life-long journey where now two best friends get to “do life” together every day and tackle the hard stuff not alone, but with each other.  It was the beginning of learning to love and serve in new and profound ways,  walking hand-in-hand while living for the Lord as one.


Our road has been unique, and though I never would have chosen this road and it's obstacles- not the brain tumor, the cancer, nor any of the pain...looking back, I wouldn’t change anything.  It has brought our faith to the front and center of our lives.  It has swept away so many of the “lesser things” life has to offer and turned our hearts to be set on the greater realities of God.  It has caused us to go to the throne daily, morning and night, in prayer.  We can’t live without communing with God.  It is more important than food or water.  It has challenged us to be more bold in proclaiming Him, Christ as central to our lives.  It has made me to see my music ministry and career in a whole new light, and has transformed my dreams to take on a deeper eternal perspective- that of offering the world the mystery and glory of Christ, instead of going after the glory and glitz this world has to offer.  


Yes, the course of my life, our lives, has changed, even if it be so subtly, but when the course is changed even one bit of an angle, the destination is quite different.  I thank God for the painful trials and the physical suffering He allowed, to make me even more grateful for the gift of life and to have a more profound understanding and compassion for those who suffer.  I thank God for bringing such a godly, strong, steadfast man into my life who never gives up hope and who always knows how to turn my tears into laughter.  I thank God for allowing me a long pause in music and in the day-to-day normalcy of life to offer a different glance at things and begin anew singing and creating all over again, this time with hopefully a more authentic message and even more Christ-centered heart.  Scripture tells us over and over again to never forget, to remember,  all that God has done.  One of the passages with that challenge is Proverbs 3:1-8:

 “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart,
for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity.
Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart…
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.” 


This Christmas, I challenge you to remember all God has done in your life, whether it was an ordinary year, an extraordinary year, the most tumultuous year of pain and trial, or the most beautiful year of blessings...Remember the journey.  If you are missing loved ones, take time to mourn and miss them and remember all that their lives have meant to you.  If you look back and feel the pain of regret or failure or misdirection this past year, look as well at how God has not abandoned you through it all, and take heart, for He holds promise for this new year.  If you are facing uncertainty and unknown fears for the year ahead, leap into trusting your Heavenly Father like never before. 

 I pray the richest blessings over you...
Blessings of faith, hope, and love.  
Blessings of life abundant in Christ.