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Friday, June 8, 2007

The Body of Christ

This is my second blog to say thank you to those who have had an impact on Andrea and me. This is to say thanks to all those who have been by our side. Although there are far to many to name I want to express how much each of you have meant to us and how much we have been grateful and humbled by your acts of friendship.
Thank you for never leaving us alone

Andrea and I have been blessed with friends that have helped us through some very hard days. From the beginning of Andrea’s treatment in Alaska until today we have been supported and lifted up by friends. I call these friends the body of Christ because they are the hands and the voice of Christ that has answered our prayers. When times have been so hard and we were too weak to go on the Body of Christ is what gave us the strength to go on. Knowing that we are not alone and that others stand with us is one of our greatest sources of strength.

Being told you have cancer immediately begins a feeling separation between the sick and the healthy. Suddenly you are different, life seems to be on hold while others continue to move on with life. Facing a terminal illness makes you not want to make long term plans, like a vacation or a major purchase. It is a subtle difference to others, but the one who is ill is painfully aware of this difference.

I think nothing represents the loneliness of cancer then seeing someone alone in the chemo room. By the grace of God Andrea and I have not had to experience this and I want to share how important the support we have been blessed with has been to us. Clearly our ability to stand firm in our faith is due to our God who is faithful, who has never left us and there is a spiritual strength we receive from our faith the and the inner knowledge that God is with us based on past experiences of God’s faithfulness. But life is physical and there are times when we are weak in the physical and need physical help. Those believers who have surrounded us with prayers, cards, e-mails and especially those who have been there physically have shown me the meaning of being a Christian and a part of the body of Christ. The opportunity for Andrea and I to pray on your knees when we were overwhelmed and then feeling God Almighty comfort you is an amazing experience. But there are times when the physical battle needs a physical response and those are the times we have been truly blessed by others who have given us support and most importantly have never left us alone. There are times when you need a friend who is close enough to allow you to share your difficulties. We have been blessed with friends who have not run off when times were tough. Friends who go beyond just asking how you are doing hoping you won’t really answer the question. Friends who have gone down into the pit with us, friends who have been willing to step away from their own life with their own difficulties to take upon themselves a portion of our pain. It is those friends who have stood hand-in-hand with us in the battle that have been the body of Christ to us.

Friends like Lisa who for six months drove over 1 hour each way to pick Andrea up and take her to chemo. Cynthia who drove Andrea to chemo for three months in the Alaskan winter when I was deployed. The “chemo girls” all those who have faithfully sat with Andrea during her treatments. They spend up to four hours in the chemo room, there has been lunches served and birthdays celebrated and bible studies held during chemo. But most importantly it was normal life going on and the normalcy of life being discussed. It was a separation from why Andrea was there, and it made Andrea feel like a normal wife and woman. These are examples of the body of Christ in action. I know it makes such a huge difference to Andrea’s strength that there is always laughter and prayers around her during treatment, that there were cards, e-mails and phone calls that came just when she needed to be encouraged.

I have found the importance of friends and support as a care giver. Actually I did not even know I was the care giver until about six months ago when Andrea told me. I always thought the term referred to the doctors and nurses. I have tried to never let Andrea feel alone and have tired to always encourage her when the times are tough or just be there when you know words can not take away the pain or the fear. It is equally difficult not being the one receiving the treatment or the one facing death, but being the one facing being left. It offers its own unique challenges and I have found I needed my own support. For me that came primarily from Mike and Lori Jo Duvall Al Jones and Pat Doherty.

By the grace of God we were reunited with the Duvalls at Seymour Johnson AFB for the first year after Andrea's cancer returned. We were always close friends I believe God put us together just for this time. Over the next months as I adjusted to this news Lori Jo was an immense help to us while Mike was deployed. I met Al after I took command of the 4th Training Squadron. Al had just been hired as the registrar for the squadron and from there grew the most important relationship I have had over the past 2 years. Pat Doherty was always there to lend a ear and open his office when I needed to talk. All these friends were strong and mature believers in Christ and helped me through many difficult days with advice but mostly by just listening to me as I tried to work through hard days. I could not have made it without any one of them.

Lori Jo was the first person Andrea and I went to see when we heard the cancer had spread. I will never forget that day we left the doctors office and drove home. I don’t remember much of the conversation Andrea and I had in the car but I do remember not wanting to go home and be alone at the time. We just needed someone to talk to. I still can see that day as we pulled into the Duvall’s driveway. I told Andrea to wait and I would go get Lori Jo. I did not want to upset her children who are very close to Andrea. I can still remember walking in past the kids and telling Lori Jo I needed to talk to her. It was all I could do as I felt the emotions of the moment building. All I remember saying in Andrea’s cancer is back and then crying. We walked out to the car and Lori and Andrea talked. I remember Lori’s calming words and her absolute strength and reassuring presence. Over the next few months the Duvall family became our adoptive family and ever present release from chemo, cancer and the madness of what was happening. To Skip and Norma who's prayers demonstrated the faith we would need over the next two years. Andrea and I would not have made it through the summer of 2005 without them and I know it was God’s plan to bring us to together for this very reason. Had Andrea diagnosis occurred one month earlier we would have never moved from Washington DC and would have faced this without close friends to fall back on.

Al and Pat were there anytime I needed a sounding board for my thoughts. There are different issues and struggles that I faced as a caregiver, like maintaining my strength for Andrea. Al and Pat were a release valve for me when I struggled with understanding all that was happening. I could never explain how important it is to have someone to share with who is Godly and cares about you. It is equally important for the caregiver as well as the patient. Al and Pat was that person in my life. There are too many days for me to count that I would drop into their offices and unload my thoughts. Their reassuring advice and really just their willingness to listen to me made some very difficult days bearable.

To Gina, Mandy, Diane, Leigh, and Maureen and Nouhad who sat with me outside the ICU waiting for visiting hours to begin. I will never forget your willingness to just be there and help me to work through the craziness of those days.

I know God knew this day was coming and I know He placed us here at SJ because Andrea and I would need friends to lift us up and support us. I know God placed us here because there are some people here who needed to serve the Lord by helping us. Having someone to share life’s burdens is so important. God had a plan for their lives as much as He had for Andrea and me. The great thing about serving the Lord is we have had the privilege to watch God grow other believers’ faith, while answering our prayers.

These few examples barely scratch the surface of the support we have had. Encompassed in the past four years are some of the most difficult days of our life, but there is also some of the best memories I ever had. When cancer attacks and draws you into a physical battle it can be overwhelming, and prayer and calling out to God can seem void and without response if it were not for believers who become the hands and words of God, who show in a tangible way the Love of Christ. It is those acts that have given us the strength to make it every day. The smallest of acts can have the greatest impact, when it is done by someone who is willing to be obedient to the Holy Spirit.

As we ready ourselves for the move to Texas we can't help but look back on what was one of the most special seasons in our life. We are thankful God has intermingled our lives together. Each of you will be so deeply missed. Andrea and I will be forever indebted to you for what you have done. There will always we a special place in our hearts for all of you. Our prayer is that God will bless each of you for your faithfulness.

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