Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Life I Planned

It is January 25, 2009. I decided after we hit the anniversary of Jason's diagnosis that I wasn't going to torture myself by reliving every detail of this time last January. It was a very hard month to have to relive. I made this commitment not to revisit caringbridge, but I crumbled. I found myself drawn there today only to discover it was a year ago yesterday that we learned that Jason did not achieve remission from the first round of chemo. I read my words that I had posted a year ago and found myself pondering all the feelings I was experiencing that day.

Here is what I posted on January 24, 2008:

"Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart: wait, I say on the Lord." Psalm 27:14

We most certainly did not receive the news we were praying for this afternoon. Dr Bellare informed us that Jason still had 60% leukemic cells in his marrow. We started with 100% so we can praise Jesus that the first round did get 40% of those bad cells. He is starting Jason on another round of chemo this afternoon. These drugs are much stronger than what he received in the first round and from what we understand this will last for 4 days. Most AML patients are able to get the leukemia in remission with the 1st round of chemo - usually 80%. Unfortunately, we are in the 20% that have to be reinduced. Our hearts are broken to say the least, but we will press on! We know that the Lord hasn't stepped off of his throne and this set back does not surprise him - AT ALL! We know that God is up to something when HE sends something difficult our way. The Lord has been so faithful to us and I know without a shadow of doubt that he will continue to do so. He is our rock, our fortress, our hope, and our confidence.

"There is nothing, no circumstance, no trouble, no testing that can ever touch me until, first of all, it has come past God and past Christ, right through to me. If it has come that far, it has come with great purpose." Alan Redpath

Lord, may we not miss the great purpose you have for us. Reveal it to us in your perfect time.
Please continue to pray for sweet Jason. What a precious child of God he is and I am so incredibly blessed to be married to him.
We love you all.
Stephanie and Jason

I remember driving to Forrest General that morning prior to getting the biopsy results and as usual I found myself overwhelmed with emotion. During Jason's entire illness and especially at the beginning I tried so hard not to break down around the kids. I tried to always be "up" and positive about Jason's battle with leukemia. At first I remember not even wanting to even say the word leukemia or cancer in their presence for fear of causing them anxiety. I usually saved my "ugly cries" for the car. As I drove into the hospital that morning, I heard the song "Everlasting God". I have posted the words to that song before..."strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord, we will wait upon the Lord...our God, He reigns forever..."
I know that song was just for me that morning and was from the Lord. He was reminding me to wait on Him! Obviously, I didn't know for sure we would get such bad news, but deep down I was preparing myself. Wait, let me re-word that... HE was preparing me for the devastating news that would come that afternoon.

I was in the hall of the hospital going to get Jason some ice when I ran into Dr. Bellare. I remember feeling SO very nervous that entire day and when I saw Dr. Bellare I remember thinking I am going to throw up all over this sweet man! Even my hands were shaking. Remember, I was 8 months pregnant, too. He grabbed my shoulders and began saying, "Stephanie, it's not good, it's not good at all." I began to cry uncontrollably. I am so thankful that I heard this news first without Jason. Dr. Bellare was so kind and reminded me immediately that God was still in control. I got myself together so that I could go with him to tell Jason.

Jason was more than devastated at this news. He said nothing at first, but tears just fell quietly. I remember holding both of his hands tightly and wanting to speak SOMETHING, ANYTHING, but no words could come out. Finally, our dads saved the day! Literally. It wasn't 10 minutes after Dr. Bellare left that Gary and Jon Mark came walking into room 6608. They were both very encouraging and even a few jokes were made to lighten the mood a bit. Brad arrived minutes later thus changing the mood COMPLETELY! :)

As I drove home that night I remember crying out to the Lord in complete anguish. "Why, Lord? Why is this happening to us?" I remember pleading with the Lord that these children and I so desperately needed Jason to be here with us. I remember thinking that I couldn't possibly make it without Jason. I was totally broken and felt so defeated.

When I finally went to bed that night I continued to say over and over again, "wait on the Lord..." It was one of the many nights that I cried myself to sleep. Praise God His mercies are new every morning!

I appreciate you allowing me the opportunity to relive some hard moments. I am not sure if it is helpful for me to do this or not, but for some reason I feel the need to do it.

I have this collection of poems and vignettes by Beth Moore. I have had it for know how I love me some Beth Moore! Anyway, I came across this poem entitled "The Life I Planned". I found it so encouraging and wanted it to share it here. It is a bit lengthy, but stay with me!

Has someone seen the life I planned?
It seems it's been misplaced
I've looked in every corner
It's lost without a trace
I've found one I don't recognize
Things missing that were dear
Promises I'd hope to keep
And dreams I'd dreamed aren't here
Faces I had planned to see
Hands I planned to hold
Now absent in the pictures
Not the way I told
Has someone seen the life I planned?
Did it get thrown away?
God took my hand from searching
Then I heard him say,

"Child, your ears have never heard
Your eyes have never seen
Eternal plans I have for you
Are more than you could dream.
"You long to walk by sight
But I'm teaching eyes to see.
I know what I am doing
'Til then, you must believe."
He's done so much, I felt ashamed
To know He heard my moans
To think I'd trade in all He's done
For plans made on my own.
I wept over His faithfulness
And how He'd proved Himself
How He'd gone beyond my dreams
And said to Him myself,

"No, my ears have never heard
My eyes have never seen
Eternal plans you have for me
Are more than I could dream.
"Yes, I long to walk by sight
But You're teaching eyes to see
You know what You are doing
'Til then, I must believe."
I felt His great compassion
Mercy unrestrained
He let me mourn my losses
And showed me to my gains.
I offered Him my future
And released to Him my past
I traded in my dreams
For a plan He said would last.
I get no glimpse ahead
No certainties at all
Except the presence of the One
Who will not let me fall.
Are you also searching
For a life you planned yourself?
Have you looked in every corner?
Have you checked on every shelf?

Child, your ears have never heard
Your eyes have never seen
Eternal plans He has for you
Are more than you could dream.
Perhaps you long to walk by faith
But He's teaching eyes to see
He knows what He is doing
Child, step out and believe.

"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind
has conceived what God has prepared
for those that love Him." 1 Corinthians 2:9
I have said this time and time again...this certainly isn't the life I had planned, but my God has been faithful. This whole experience has shaken me to the core and caused me to question His ways, but I will continue to trust in His sovereignty and BELIEVE.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

God is Still Working

I thought I'd take a minute and fill you in on all the ways God is still working in my life right now.

Wolford College in Naples, where Jason was pursuing his nurse anesthetist degree informed my brother last week that they would be granting Jason's posthumous degree in anesthesia. Jason was so close to graduation when he was diagnosed with leukemia. This was ONE of the many disappointing things about his diagnosis and the timing of it all. A little background information...Jason graduated in 1997 with a degree in biology in hopes of going to dental school. He applied for 3 years and got very close, but was never accepted. We were so disappointed, but knew God must have had something else in store for him. Anyway, after much prayer he felt led to nursing school. He finished nursing school in 2004. He knew while in nursing school that his long term goal would be to attend anesthesia school. He worked 2 years in ICU gaining the critical care experience he needed before he was accepted into Wolford. Whew! (doesn't that make you tired?) Anyway, basically since Jason and I married he was working to get to this point and then BANG leukemia. SO close yet SO far away! Obviously, Jason will not reap the benefits of this degree, but I am so proud that Wolford chose to remember him in this way by granting this degree. He had worked so very hard for this. So many times since his passing I have cried out to the Lord asking WHY He didn't just let him get his anesthesia degree before getting leukemia. The whole time I am sure God was thinking, "Stephanie, rest and be patient, I am still working." And He did. Wow, how I hope the Lord has shared this with Jason!

Next bit of news from our home is that I will be starting a part time job on Tuesday. I am going to be working as a tutor at Anna Lea's school 3 mornings a week. I have known for a while that I needed to do something, but the thought of work just literally would make my head spin and my stomach turn. I have been praying fervently something would just fall into my lap. Yet again, God has been faithful. Going back to work is very overwhelming to me, but I am trusting that the Lord will make this an easy transition. I am going to be surrounded by some incredible people at the school and for that I am so thankful.

Now for another way that God is working...

While in Destin, Sherri and I got to talking to a couple, who was standing near us. (Sherri and I both have the gift of gab and talking comes very EASY to us both!) Anyway, we mentioned the reason that we were in Destin after Christmas was because we were trying to make the holidays a little easier because we had experienced the passing of my husband and her brother in law over the last year. They were intrigued and began to ask questions. I began to share with them of Jason's leukemia. I noticed immediately when I said leukemia that the guys eyes got large. He then proceeds to tell me that his brother had also died of leukemia a year and a half ago. He was also 33 when he died, had a wife and 2 very young children. Wait, the world gets smaller. We then discover that some of his relatives are members at our church here in Hattiesburg! Anyway, I wanted to know about his sister in law. Long story short...this precious sister in Christ and I have since gotten in touch with each other through email. I am very much looking forward to speaking with her more and possibly even meeting face to face. We have so much in common and I am so thankful to know she is dealing with some of the same things I am dealing with on a daily basis. Friends, ONLY God could orchestrate this meeting in Destin, FL! I still stand in awe of how He works. Please pray for my new friend, Melissa and her 2 young children. She, too, is having to walk down a very dark path. She is a strong believer and like me is clinging very tightly to our Lord right now.

My God continues to amaze me. I pray I never get over how He works!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Just a quick note

Tonight was one of those nights. You know the ones where the kids don't do a thing you NEED for them to do and everything quickly turns into DRAMA. It didn't help that little sleep took place here in our house last night. I think I slept in 3 different beds and probably would have slept in Ally's bed had it been made for adults! Since I couldn't sleep in her bed, she got in my bed as did Anna Lea AND Jon Brent. At one point there were 4 of us in a full size bed. I said, "ENOUGH!" Someone, EVERYONE is going back to their bed. That didn't last either.

Anyway, back to THIS night. I was feeling very overwhelmed as a mother to these precious children and very inadequate. I was missing Jason terribly and to be TOTALLY honest, I was having another pity party. I was asking myself over and over, "How am I going to raise these children without Jason?" Of course, there were tears. From everyone. Anna Lea was in trouble for not doing what I asked her to do. Jon Brent fell asleep in the car on the way home and when he woke up he was a BEAR! Ally was tired and ready for food and I was exhausted!

And then God showed up! Just like He always does. I sat down at the table for just a second to read my mail in the midst of the chaos. I opened a letter from a name I didn't recognize. It was handwritten on white computer paper. I began to read and immediately I began to cry. So much that I couldn't even read the words.

The letter was from a 75 year old lady, who also lost her husband in her late 30's with 2 children. I was more than intrigued by her words. She started by telling me who she was...the aunt of Mike Madaris. Wow. I have never met this sister in Christ before, but oh how she ministered to my broken heart tonight. Her words were simple yet I could totally relate to what she wrote as she had walked where I am walking even now.

She knew I needed these words at this very moment: "I know it is an overwhelming responsibility to you, but with God's help, you will make it as you live one day at a time. I know how it isn't easy. This has been (and still is) a blessing to me that through our veil of tears, we see in a new light, Him who was 'despised and rejected of men... a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.' Isaiah 53:3. We become better acquainted with Christ when we experience His teaching, love and sympathy in times of suffering and sorrow. In suffering, Jesus becomes a necessity to us - not just a half-hearted luxury. Through the recognition of our own helplessness, we feel a new strength in His strong arms."

Isn't it amazing how God shows up not a second too late? I don't find it a coincidence that I hadn't already opened this letter. I am not sure if this dear believer in Christ reads blogs or even has email, but thank you, Mrs. Stanford. Thank you for being an encouragement to my weary soul on this January 12, 2009.

Monday, January 5, 2009

I Will Remember

Wow. Seems like so long ago that I attended therapy with you nice people! Christmas came and went and overall it was good. Praise God, we made it through! Christmas Eve seemed to be harder than the 25th. I am not sure why, but I thought I was going to suffocate that day. The pain was unbearable at times. I guess Christmas day was just super busy. We left the day after Christmas heading to Destin with Jon Mark and Peggy, Brad, Sherri and Bailey. It was absolutely crazy trying to leave the day after Christmas, but it certainly helped to go out of town. The kids had a great time as did I. Melinda, Ashley, Ross, Anderson, Daniel and Haley also came to Destin and that was fun to get to hang out with them some. The kids all have battled some sort of illness the entire holiday so our 'hanging' out time was limited. All in all, I have to say my God was SO faithful to get me through the holiday season. Each and every time I felt completely overwhelmed He provided me His peace. I stand in awe of Him each and every day.

I must admit I was very ready to say goodbye to 2008. It was a year ago this week that our journey began. I'll never forget the night before Jason heard the words, "you might have need to see an oncologist immediately." That night I did battle. Battle with the Lord and Satan. I might freak some of you out at this point, but spiritual warfare is very real. It was very real in my room at my parents house January 5, 2008. Let me back up a little and provide some background information...

The week before Jason's diagnosis, he ran a fever consistently. He had seen a family physician in Naples at the beginning of the fever and this doctor prescribed him an antibiotic. After 3 days on the antibiotic he continued to run a high fever. I insisted he find an after hours clinic in Naples on that Sunday so that blood work could be done. Why did I insist on this? I have NO idea. It is like the Lord was gently preparing me for what was to come. Those several days before he went for blood work, I just knew he had leukemia. I have NO idea where I got that from, but I even shared my feelings with some friends and family and they all thought I was crazy. I just knew...

Now back to the night of January 5 (night before blood work was performed at an after hours clinic). I tried to sleep to no avail. All night long I cried as I literally heard in one ear..."Stephanie, a God that loves you would NEVER allow your husband to have leukemia. I mean, you are 7 months pregnant and ya'll are so close to him graduating from anesthesia school." Oh, how it grieved me so to hear these words. In the other ear I heard God saying, "Stephanie, I love you with an everlasting love. Do you trust me? Trust me, Stephanie. I will never leave nor forsake you." At 5:00 a.m. I finally said to God, "your will, Lord."

It was a little over 5 hours later that I took a phone call during church from Jason. He was crying. I knew. Even before he said a word. "Stephanie, he said I could have leukemia..." Oh, how my heart was shattered in a million pieces. And there he was 13 hours away from me. He was all alone and I couldn't get to him fast enough.

Then the journey began. We flew him back to Hattiesburg the very next day to be seen by our favorite oncologist, Dr. Bellare. When Jason walked in his parents house that afternoon he was white as a ghost. No color whatsoever. I believe he was very close to death that day, but that's for another day.

I remember sitting in Dr. Bellare's office like it was yesterday. I remember Jason was shaking with chills as he was running a fever even then. I remember Dr. Bellare thoroughly examining Jason and all the while me praying that this was just some fluke and that as soon as he finished examining him he would tell us he had mono or something. I remember Dr. Bellare leaving the room to go and look at his blood work through a slide. My good friend Heather Berke, who is a doctor, prepared me that he would do this. I remember as we waited Jason and I chatted, but who knows what we talked about. I held his hand and played with his fingers. Even they were ghostly pale.

The door opened and I could see it in Dr. Bellare's eyes. He sat down and held both of our hands. He began to say something to the effect of..."I have just prayed and asked the Lord to give me wisdom in how to tell you two special kids this horrible news." My heart sunk and I remember feeling very nauseous. I held Jason's hand tighter. And then the official word. "Jason, it appears you have acute myelogenous leukemia. I am pretty confident of this, but will need to do a biopsy to be certain." Acute what? For days I couldn't even pronounce myelogenous and remember being so thankful to hear that it was also called acute myeloid leukemia. I could pronounce that. Maybe. Anyway, Dr. Bellare told us we must go straight to Forrest General to be admitted. I started to cry as did Jason. He shared 2 verses of scripture and then prayed with us.

I have never been so afraid in all of my life than I was on that day. I remember calling my parents and then Jason's parents. All I could say was, "it is leukemia and we're headed to the hospital." I began to send text messages to friends begging them to start praying immediately. Soon after that my phone was being bombarded with text messages from friends and strangers telling me they were praying and even providing God's word for me to cling to...and boy did I cling to those promises! You see, this is just one of the MANY ways that in our darkest hour the Lord showed up. His faithfulness to us had just began. There is so much more I could share, but for now I'll stop.

This past Sunday a.m. our praise team at church sang a song entitled, "We Will Remember." So much of 2008 is SO incredibly painful to remember, but as I listened to them sing about remembering God's faithfulness, it hit me like a ton of bricks. He has been SO incredibly faithful to me even in the hardest times and as much as I'd like to forget 2008, I can't because I must share with others of His faithfulness.

Read below the words of the song and for those of you that walked the entire journey with us, be amazed at how fitting this song is for us...

We Will Remember, by Tommy Walker

We will remember, we will remember
We will remember the works of Your hands
We will stop and give you praise
For great is Thy faithfulness

You’re our creator, our life sustainer
Deliverer, our comfort, our joy throughout the ages
You’ve been our shelter
Our peace in the midst of the storm

With signs and wonders You’ve shown Your power
With precious blood You showed us Your grace
You’ve been our helper, our liberator
The giver of life with no end

When we walk through life’s darkest valleys
We will look back at all You have done
And we will shout, our God is good
And He is the faithful One

Hallelujah, hallelujah
To the one from whom all blessings flow
Hallelujah, hallelujah
To the one whose glory has been shown

I still remember the day You saved me
The day I heard You call out my name
You said You loved me and would never leave me
And I’ve never been the same

We will remember, we will remember
We will remember the works of Your hands
We will stop and give you praise
For great is Thy faithfulness

So even in the blog world, I will SHOUT, our God is good and He is the faithful one!

Friends, I ask that you continue to pray for me in the coming days. These days are tough to walk through, but I know I'll get to the other side. He hasn't let me down yet!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Auld Lang Syne

(Scott here. I am ghost writing for Steph today.)

Everyone knows the song we traditionally play on New Year's Eve as a new year dawns, but the song's title is translated into English with different meanings. The one I like today is "days gone by." With young sons, nieces and a nephew, I am learning that time goes so quick you do not need to wish a moment away. But, so long 2008. In many ways, I wish I hardly knew ye.

January 6th, 2008 was the beginning of a tough year for our family. I will never forget the moment. We came in from church and lunch when my mother in law called. She said, "Scott, this is Ms. Melinda. You need to call your parents. They think Jason has leukemia." My world seemed to temporarily stop, but my mind and thoughts roared. Who is they? And, he just had a little fever. Leukemia? The first tear of the year followed soon thereafter, and I shed more in 2008 than probably any other year in my life. They still come, and it is usually at really weird times. Just last week, I was putting up some laundry. I was folding my tshirts, and wham. Lost it. Jason had turned me on to the brand of undershirts I now wear. Then, I found a pair of socks that were his. My mom did Jason and my laundry when we were both at her house, and this pair of socks had made it into my "pile" the Christmas before the ugly l-word. Strange thing to bring such powerful emotions.

Through the heartache and tears, we also experienced joy. In February, God blessed our family with a healthy "Baby Lally." Allyson Laine Weathers - a spitting image of her daddy - was born healthy and whole. God allowed Jason to be healthy enough at the time to be there when she was born. In May, God blessed us with my second son - Anderson Grady Shows. Anna Lea was baptized (she was saved in 2007) and is a child of God assured to see her Daddy again one day.

In 2008, we saw a community come to our aid in such a way that it was overwhelming. A number of people have told us they came to know God or turned back to God in watching Jason and Stephanie glorify Him during their suffering. And, let's not forget that Jason was healed. He's not sick, he's not suffering and he is not facing another battery of treatments. He is completely healed and with his Savior.

In 2008, I found a good friend in Cheeseball - a.k.a. Brad. ReRe got baptized and can now eat the wafers. My dad found facebook. My mom found out she is spry enough to be a mother of three when needed at the young age of 60. Mr. Jon Mark and Ms. Peggy now can visit all their immediate family by going to one street since they live next door to each other now. Ashley got another neice that adores her. Jon Brent found his hitters. (long story, but Caringbridge alumni may remember it.) Anna Lea has her own bedroom and enough Barbies to man a war. Ross got a full set of drums. Anderson and Ally (Chunky Monkeys) have never missed a meal.

God's blessings have accompanied our heartache, and we are aware and most thankful for them. Jason is missed mightily, and I still don't understand why such a good man had to go. But, God has been faithful to this family. It has been and will be tough for Steph and the kids, but we rest assured that God will provide and get them through the darker days when they come.

As you auld lang syne a new year in today, try not to dwell on the "days gone by" but focus on the blessings. The future is a mystery. The past is history. Today is a gift. That's why we call it the present.

We are looking forward to a better year in 2009, but should the valley's present themselves, I pray that all of us can approach them the way J did. His first public words came on January 10th, and this is what he said:

"First of all I want to express my heart-felt thanks for all of your love and support. Your prayers, food, cards, phone calls, visits, and emails have all been blessings to me during this time of uncertainty and confusion. I know my God is great and I know His plan and purpose for my life is perfect. I know this "bend in the road" is a part of that perfect plan. I may never know why, this side of heaven, but I rest assured because He is omnipotent God. All glory be to Him who is above all, knows all, and is all!"

What a man! I will forever be thankful that God blessed me with J as my brother in law.

Please continue to pray for my sister and their children. Your prayers are as coveted on January 1, 2009 as they were on January 6th, 2008. Thank you all for loving my sister. We are forever indebted. God bless.