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Tonight we put up our Christmas tree, the first Ravella/Gilbert tree. Actually we have two trees. One is artificial. It is perfect. It has p...

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Ravella Gene Kicks In

I went to church today and it was as hard as I thought. I decided to sit in the back so no one would be looking at me. This brought up a separate problem, I could see everyone else. All the couples sitting together holding hands. So in my defense I just kept my head down hoping no one would come talk to me. I wanted to just get up and leave so many times. Instead I just wrote a letter to a friend and looked through our Bible. I found letters from friends to Andrea and notes Andrea has written. It was a hard day. I was glad to escape without having to talk to anyone. I walked out into the sunshine and could not get to the car fast enough, it was over, my first church service alone was done.

I came home and the boys and I decided it was time to do some cleaning. It is a strange Ravella gene, we relax by cleaning. We cleaned out the flowers, moped all the floors, bathrooms and put out about 6 bags of trash vacuumed the window sills and the baseboards. The boys were with me until I started cleaning out behind the stove and refrigerator. Then they looked at me funny and went to watch football. It felt good to get something done towards my new life. I have found I can only take so much grief in a day then I just have to allow myself to live. I framed a picture of Andrea and put it in the living room. It is stunning how pretty she looks. But it seems so out of place. It is strange to walk in and see her picture knowing there will not be another picture of her taken.

I took my first step in cleaning out Andrea's stuff. I started with the bathroom. I cleaned out all her stuff except her makeup. It was another step in learning to live alone. I moved a little closer to understanding what my life will be like. It looks too clean and too lonely.

Andrea Ravella on Faith

Okay I did not go to bed. It is 3:50am. (Forgive any errors) I googled Andrea Ravella. There I saw Andrea's obituary. Again hard to absorb that her name was in an obituary. How can this be? But I also found a link to a radio program Andrea did. The link is at the bottom of the page if you have not heard it. Andrea and I are on the Mach 26 2006 link when we talked about our experience. (I talked too much). Andrea also did a show on Sept 17 2006 with my sister Maureen about facing a crisis.

Listen to the show on Sept 17 2006Andrea words will tell you a lot about her faith and how she faced cancer.

It is hard to hear her voice again. I remember doing that show. We were sitting in our bedroom looking at each other not sure who should talk or when we should talk. The questions were not preplanned so we had to just shoot from the hip.

Anyway I thought you might like to hear Andrea. It has been so long since I heard Andrea's normal voice because she had lost her voice in Aug 2006 due to a tumor causing a paralyzed vocal cord. I hardly recognized her as I listened. I miss her so much. I want to close my eyes and make this all go away. In my despair I no longer want to be a witness of faith, I want to just be her husband again and go back to life before Aug 2003. But God has asked me to walk this path and He must know I can do it even if I may not realize it. My feeling of hopelessness is overwhelming but it is not by my strength by which I stand. No matter how overwhelmed I feel right now as I listen to Andrea's voice, He is with me. He has a plan for me and my future. I have to remember my love for her was a blessing from the same God I seek for relief right now.

Forgive my weakness but it hurts to hear her voice knowing she is gone. I can't tell you how much I miss her, I could write those words a thousand times and still feel I needed to say it again. I miss her. She sounds so beautiful and hopeful. I just want her to come out of these speakers and be in our bed. If I close my eyes she is in the room, but ti only intensifies the hurt when I open them and find myself alone. What happened to our life. This was not how life was supposed to go for us. We had plans and dreams that have been erased. Our lives were so intertwined I feel I have been ripped apart. This is not how it was supposed to be for us. She was the faithful one.

As I listened to Andrea's strength I want to accept God's will in my life just as Andrea did. I know He will bless me in the future. He has a plan for me. I'm not living that future right now so it is hard for me to feel that comfort. I may know I will be comforted but I don't have it right now. Then faith has to step up to the plate and bridge the gap from the pain I feel to the promise that God will bless me in the future. I hear Andrea's faith in her voice and I'm amazed by this woman who taught me so much about facing a trial with faith. I need her faith right now.

I kept listening knowing even though this was forcing me into a time of grief. I just had to hear her. I have yet to take out any old home movies so this was the first time I have heard Andrea. This is a beating for me. But then as I listened to Andrea on the 17 Sept show I was amazed by her faith. She spoke about me and the boys, about Nic going to Egypt for school, about her faith about dying. Is was such a blessing to hear her, as if she was speaking to me when I was hurting. Instantly I was brought back to the woman I knew, her faith and determination to never give into cancer. And she didn't. She left on her terms, living life her way right up to the day before she went into the ICU. And even there she was an example of faith, trusting God and displaying an absolute peace that I could not put into words. As my sister Maureen says, "I just can't tell anyone else about Andrea because they won't believe me." She was that amazing. She was unbelievable except to those of us lucky enough to witness her. If you never met her listen to her words on this radio program and you will get a glimpse into this spiritual giant that I was blessed to call my wife. Thanks you Eileen, my sister, who asked Andrea to do this program. This is my most precious gift. The only account of Andrea's faith in her own words.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

In Need of A Routine

Hard to believe Andrea went into the hospital over one month ago. My initial thought after her passing is that it is nothing like I thought it would be. I’m sure I could say this every time I write as I just don’t know what to expect. To my surprise it has been random events that have proven the toughest not the ones I had braced for. I had readied myself for the first night in our room but really I had been alone in the house for three weeks already. It has been seemingly insignificant things, but they trigger a flood of emotions. Her toothbrush, a song, or unexpectedly seeing something from our past. As if you put on your armor and ready for the attack and the enemy strikes that one spot you have uncovered. And you think how did he know that spot was uncovered!

The other thing is that even though I feel I have adjusted to Andrea being gone at times it seems crazy to think she is actually gone. Even writing this seems a little unreal. Is she just away? Like I have to go to the hospital and visit her in the morning. Or call and see how she is sleeping before I turn out my light. Then I think about tomorrow. My first day at church without her and I’m thrown back into reality. I always held her at church. I always carried the Bible for us to share, handed her a pin to take notes and collected the pages when she was done. We always touched when we prayed. We just felt connected that way. I won’t know what to do with my hands tomorrow in church. I will feel like everyone is staring at me. Or I will be asked an innocent question I can’t answer without telling the whole story making them feel uncomfortable.

Tomorrow the boys and I are going to clean the house, time to put away some reminders and start a new routine. Clean up some things that were set up for after the funeral. I’m hoping that will be a good step towards recovery. I have to get over the guilty feeling of putting away Andrea’s things. As if it will become real if I take that step. Monday I will go into work for a little. I hope that will help me feel like life is a little more “normal.” Little by little, I adjust to my new life. Like I said not what I wanted but what I have been given.

Now the days run into one another and I loose track if it is the weekend or a weekday. I wonder where the time goes. I don’t seem to do anything all day yet I have no time to do anything. I just keep looking around and seeing everything I need to do, and not doing one of them. I have no desire to start anything but I need to start if I’m ever going to get through this. I think it is hard because I have no routine. Everything about my life involved Andrea. Not only was she who I was but she was what I did. My day involved my work and coming home to take Andrea to lunch. I would find her just getting out of bed or if it was a nice day she would be sitting on the porch reading. I would get her out of the house so she could feel the sun on her face or just to have some time away from the sofa. Otherwise the only other reason we went out was to one of the endless doctor appointments we had, church or the commissary. Now that I have returned home I’m reminded that I have no routine. Andrea had been my reason for living. Cancer drove every decision we had, it controlled our every plan. I was always planning Andrea’s treatment, keeping track of her pills or appointments. I guess I did not realize how much of my life cancer consumed. I spent the last four years and five months fighting for Andrea. Now I have nothing to do. No one to fight for. It is a strange side effect of losing her.I guess just one of many I will come to realize.

Thanks to all of you who have sent me your stories of Andrea. I love them! More purpose in it all.

If you are in North Carolina in Jan, the plan is to have a memorial service for Andrea on Saturday,19 Jan at 11am. I will post more info when it is finalized.

Well I'm falling asleep as I type. That is my sign to turn out the light. Another day done, but sadness at another day further away from Andrea, but one day closer to being with her is heaven. I hope she is enjoying her time, I bet she looks good with her crown on and the feeling of a deep breath in her lungs. I wish I knew a little of what she knows now. Maybe she could whisper a secret in my ear.

Before I forget, did I tell you I had my first dream about Andrea? She was sitting across from me at a table. She was finishing reading something and she looked up and said, "No wonder I love you so much." Then she got up I thought she is coming over to give me a hug and a kiss but I woke up before she got to me. It was nice to see her again. She had her hair back, it was blonde and down to her shoulders. Best of all she was smiling at me. That gentle I love you smile.

Have a great day Andrea, enjoy all that you see right now. You are far better off then I. I wish I could feel you next to me at church tomorrow and hold your hand. In a little bit I will join you in praise and I will hold your hand again. Promise.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Thanks

As I readied myself for another day I reflected upon the many many people who have helped me and my boys through this.

First, to my boys for showing me you are men. Thanks for you for your honesty when I was making wrong decisions. For having the courage and love to come talk to me. I am so proud of you both. I hope I will be the father you need. You taught me a lot this past month. I guess you are not kids anymore. I pray for you both, for your strength and for your faith. Never forget the example Mom was to you. She will always be with you. She will always be a part of you. No matter where life leads me I want you to know I loved your mother with all my heart and all my soul and all my strength. She will always be a part of me and I will always love her. Don’t be scared, remember the example of faith you saw in your mom. God will direct your lives. I know he has great plans for Andrea’s sons. I could not be more proud to be your dad.

To Kate who stood by all of us and took up the role as woman of the house. Thank you for your mere presence in my home. Your grace and beauty blessed us. Your kindness on Christmas will never be forgotten. Thank you for your advice and for giving up time with your family to help three men who would have been otherwise lost without you. I hope Nic knows how blessed he is.

To Ruth and everyone at my office. Thank you for making us feel as if you had known Andrea and me for years. The love poured out by your offers and you actions humbled me. The food, the lights on the house, and the endless offers to help carried me through the last month. Thank you for all the help with my family, the rooms and the services. The memorial and the funeral were beautiful and flawless and I thank you. A special thanks for the digital picture frame. I will never forget laying my head on Andrea's shoulder and watching the pictures of our life together. Your gift gave us a special time together that can not be expressed in mere words. Thank you to everyone for answering my prayer I asked God when we left North Carolina and our support system and came to Randolph. I asked God to not let us be alone, and we surly were not. Thank you for visiting Andrea and I for taking the time to be in a difficult place. Thank you to my bosses, your understanding and kindness allowed me to be with my wife in her last weeks. I can never repay you for that gift. Thank you to Kathy, for your loving touch. Thank you to everyone in A5/8 I'm proud to know you all and call you family.

To the "chemo girls." What can I say to you? My love for you has no limits. Your love for Andrea was the same. I would not even try to capture all you meant to Andrea or I during this time. Thank you for the prayer vigil, thank you for listening to a scared husband and for your calming voice. I hope you know how special you all are in my life. Thank you for allowing me to sit in with you on chemo day and share in your lunches and your conversations. I loved your laughter and the smile you gave Andrea. Most of all thank you for coming so close to us when we needed you, and thank you for your faith. I see Andrea in each one of you. I can give you no greater compliment then that. I love you all.

To my family. Thank you for defining the word family in such a loving way. Thank you for your support during the most difficult eight weeks of my life. You have been with Andrea and me since this began. I could not ask for more from my brothers and sisters. To my sisters for your strength of character. I know Mom is proud of you. Thank you for loving Andrea. Maureen thank you for your love and faith, for the days you spent with me in the ICU. Thank you for helping me with everything. Eileen thank you for your advice in life’s difficult decision. Your words have a calming strength when I tried to understand this world of medicine. Thanks for being "On Call" for all of us. Mary thank you for making Andrea feel she was your sister. Thank you Mary and Eileen thanks for holding my arm on the River Walk, for sensing I did not want to be alone. I felt out of place until you put your hand in my arm. To all of you thank for sitting on the veranda and talking, thanks for the laughter. I always love sharing childhood memories with you. Thanks for the sacrifice I know you made to come to me when I needed you. It meant a lot being so soon after Mom's passing. Thanks you for reminding me how thankful I am to be #8 of 8, you all define the word family. Let’s take our next family photo in something other then black.

To Andrea's family. For the hours of driving to be with Andrea. Thanks for you understanding with my decisions. Thanks for making me feel a part of you. Thanks for allowing us to be with you for Christmas. I know this has been especially hard on you all. Thank you June for giving me Andrea. For the bags of food when I was too poor to take care of Andrea. Thanks for making me your son and not a son-in-law. I'm sorry I was never able to bring Andrea back home for an assignment. Thanks Doyle for the tape of Andrea singing, I love it. Thanks for your faith and prayers. Thank you both for raising a Godly daughter. I was the beneficiary of your work just as all who read this blog and knew Andrea are. I'm sorry you had to endure the pain of losing another daughter.

Thanks to everyone at SMOC. You know what you mean to me. I love you all. To Dr Atkins and Dr Osswald. You both loved Andrea and your personal touch as a doctor is rare. I won't forget your faith in Andrea and her hope. Thank you for never giving us a "date" or telling us the percentages. You allowed us to live each day, without the threat of death looming over us. Thanks for hoping with us. Thanks for never giving up on her, she never gave up on you. She loved you both and trusted with her life. She never doubted your decisions. Neither do I. I have no regrets in how you treated Andrea because I knew you treated her as if she was your own wife. I could not ask for more.

Thanks to all of you who have sent cards, flowers, food and gifts. I could not list you all but I want you to know that the outpouring of kindness was overwhelming. I could write a thousand thank you letters for all of you who helped us over the past four years. We could not have done it without you. I hope each of you know how much you mean to me and what you meant to Andrea. You have all made each day livable in some way. There has not been a single day that Andrea and I did not need some support and God always provided. And you were His hands and feet. No act was ever too small to make a difference. Thank you all. When my life moves on I hope you will all still allow me to call you friend.


In Christ,
Jim

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Let the Beatings Begin

Today we drove back form Dallas to San Antonio. As I drove down the highway, I felt as if I was on my way to turn myself in, for I knew what awaited me at out house. Since Andrea died I have been planning events, the last of which was to go visit Andrea’s family in Wichita Falls and my sister’s family in Dallas. Now I have no other distractions. Maybe that is not a good word but you know what I mean. It was time for me to go home and begin my life alone.

I was on my way to surrender to the pain and grief that awaited me. It is my punishment for loving so deeply. In a way I’m glad it is going to hurt this bad, it speaks of the love I had for Andrea. I owe it to Andrea to hurt. I feel as if I was coming home for a beating. I was going to walk in and be escorted into my room where I would be beat. I accept this pain but I don’t want it.

I came home and unloaded the car and left for a three hour walk. Anything to delay what was in that house. Later I found myself wandering the house, unwilling to stop, knowing if I did the beating would begin. After talking to a friend I realized it was time to begin this process. I had to face it with the same strength Andrea faced her beating.

We were welcomed home by the flowers left after the funeral and a priority box containing the insurance paperwork I needed to fill out. Let the beatings begin. This is life after a death. This is what I mean when I say life does not stop to allow you to gather yourself or get things in order. So you can neatly finish your grief then hit the play button. There is no TiVo in life. So the emptiness of the house and my room is only magnified by the silence. I have the Will to take care of clothes and personal items to handle. I walked in the closet and there was her purse hanging on the wall, her ID card half out from when she checked in the ER, the money she had and a receipt from shopping. Her life is all over this house, but she is no where to be found. This is what hurts about losing someone, and like I have said when you lose a spouse you realize the person you turn is gone.

I have no idea how long these beatings will last. Not long I hope. I have talked to other widowers and they all say, you will just know. I'm not talking about forgetting Andrea, that will not happen. I'm talking about just being able to live a somewhat "normal" life. What ever the heck that means. To be honest I don't even know what the end state looks like so I can know when to say, "I'm done with the beatings." I just don't know what I don't know. This is my first time at this. I'm just waiting to see what happens and praying He will soften the blows.

Many of you may be in the midst of your own form of beating. If so I offer all I can, a prayer for your strength and a hope that these words somehow help you in your walk.

My legs shake and my head hurts but this must be done. It will not be done by my strength and no one can take my place this is mine and mine alone. There is no way to avoid this pain, and to deny it or put it off would only delay my recovery. The only way to the other side is to go through the storm. I don’t want this, I did not ask for this pain. I never prayed to be a widower. My boys are supposed to have a mother they can come to for advice. I did not seek this pain or this fight but it has come to me and I can’t run away. Grief will have its way with me, but only for time, for God has defeated death, which I must remember. And God is faithful to His children. He has not left me as I await my beating. He hurts for me, yet He waits to receive me on the other side a stronger believer. He is preparing me to be used to help someone else in the future as they face their beating just as others are now helping me. My circle of friends I talk to are mostly new to me, fellow widowers. Strange how they seem to have been all around me I just never knew it. They come to me as the new member and they help me with there words of hope spoken with regret that someone awaits a beating. Anyone who has been here relives their own pain as they support someone new being added to the flock. There is great love expressed in the willingness to go back into the valley to help someone.

This next topic I have wrote about before but I want to again because it is where I am right now. I need to hear these words so you get to read them again. Put yourself in this moment. Jesus has been taken; you as a disciple have left Him fearing for your own safety. Days before you were by His side as the crowds cheered Him, now in His time of need you have fled. We enter the scene outside the house where Jesus is being accused. The chief priests are in a frenzy to finally end this nuisance called Jesus. The anger is reaching a feverous pitch when we look outside and see a curious crowd of people huddled around a fire, trying to stay warm on a cold night. It is late, Jesus is being tired, He has been taken from the disciples and they have scattered fearing for their own lives. Jesus is before the high priest, and all the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law. He is being falsely accused in hope they can sign His death warrant once and for all.

Outside in the crowd we see a once bold disciple, cowering near the fire for warmth, yet trying to stay unnoticed. It is Peter. Earlier he swore he would die for Jesus now he hides yet he feels a love a need to find out what is happening to the man he swore to defend. Once so full of pride in his own strength he now tries to hide in the crowd.

His worst fear occurs; he is recognized twice by a servant girl. He has easily fends off her accusations with the same boldness that earlier he used to defend his savior. Finally those around Peter see his face in the glow of the fire that he has been using to warm himself. They recognize Peter as a disciple. Peter now fears the crowd will turn on him. He wants to stay, he considers running but that would only indicate guilt and since he has worked himself to the front trying to hear first hand what is happening he has little chance of escaping. He feels trapped; his only defense is to lash back at them. He swears to them in defense, he does not know this man. He hopes the forcefulness of his words will quell their suspicions and put to rest any question in their mind.

It was at this moment that the cock crows just as Jesus had predicted. In that moment Peter is taken from the present to the past. To the moment Jesus predicted this event. The once openly bold disciple, so defiant, so strong still hears his own words hanging in the air, “I do not know this man!” In his defiance he has secured his own safety but it has cost him. He has failed his Lord only hours after his proclamation before his peers. His is ashamed and embarrassed in himself.

Mark 14: 71-72 He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, "I don't know this man you're talking about." Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times." And he broke down and wept.

I like the detail given in the gospel in Luke 22:60-62 Peter replied, "Man, I don't know what you're talking about!" Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times." And he went outside and wept bitterly.

Like I wrote before it was this verse, “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.” He turned, meaning he was not even facing Peter, yet he was aware of what was going on. Jesus was inside and Peter was in the courtyard yet he was aware of what was happening outside. I think of the look. What did Jesus communicate to Peter in that look? Was it disappointment in Peter? Was Jesus angry at Peter for failing for not standing up with him when just before he professes his willingness to die for Jesus? No, not to me. Jesus was not disappointed in Peter because He knew what lay ahead for Peter. Jesus knew Peter's boldness would return and out of this failure would come the rock. I don't think he was angry either because Jesus understood what it meant to be human. Here is what I think Jesus felt. Keep in mind this is just my opinion. He felt sorry Peter had to hurt, He felt Peter's own pain and it hurt Jesus as well, the only difference is Jesus knew the future and I think He wished he could tell Peter all He knew, but he could not. Peter had to suffer for a while and Jesus knew it. And that was the hurt and the hope Peter saw in Jesus' eyes. Peter cried because he failed in his humanness not because Jesus condemned Him. Here is what I hear Jesus say in that look.


“Peter, I know you feel defeated right now. I know you are embarrassed to even have me see you in your weakness. I know you have just failed its okay I told you it would happen. You are not alone even though you feel that way, I’m with you Peter. I feel your pain and I’m sorry you have to suffer but I will use your pain for my glory. Trust me. I am with you in the loneliness you will feel over the next days. Yes you will hurt and feel regret but in a few days you will be the man you professed to be. I will meet you on the other side of your pain and my death, and we will do great things together.”

Tonight I need to look into Jesus’ eyes and hear him tell me that. He sees my pain right now and He knows I do not want to be beaten yet on the other side He has a plan for me. He awaits me with a blessing. He is telling us all that. No matter what pain you feel right now, even if you feel it is small in comparison to me losing a spouse, it is pain to you and it is real. Trust me God does not answer suffering or prayers based on a degree of difficulty. He only asks for a humble heart that seeks Him, a heart willing to learn in suffering. No matter the degree of pain it still takes faith to trust when life hurts.

I need to look into His eyes and feel His love for me, knowing He is with me, even if He has to turn to see me. He is there, He is aware; He knows what I’m dealing with. He knew it long ago; His has been preparing me for this moment. His love expressed by Andrea’s suffering has prepared me for my beating. And I know with this beating He will create in me the ability to serve Him in ways I can not right now. Though not desired I will endure, by His strength. And when I turn out these lights and face my beating I see in my mind, Christ turning and looking straight at me and in His eyes I hear Him say,

“Jim it will be okay, you will be just fine. I’m with you. I love you, I feel your hurt, honest I do. I would take it away if I knew you would be better to have not suffered but I can not say that. I’m sorry. Remember Andrea and be strong. I will see you on the other side where we will do great things together.”


I’m reminded of this promise in John 16:19-22 In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me'? I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.

I look forward to a joy that can not be taken away! I look forward to what God has planned for me. As bad as this beating is going to be, and as bad as the beating Andrea endured for over four years, it must be a great joy. I hope I get to receive some of that reward in this lifetime. That would be icing on the cake, and my God is a good baker.
Let the beatings begin.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Life Goes On

2 Timothy 4:6-8

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

I guess in some way I thought life would pause and allow me to grieve, but it does not. I hoped I could focus my attention on grief, get it done and then step back into life ready to move on, but it does not.

Life goes on seemingly unaware I need a break. I want to pull the emergency stop cord and gather my thoughts, but I can not. So I have to laugh, live, meet new people, see new things, and experience new things, all the while missing Andrea and learning to be alone.

I will say so far my grief has not been as bad as I thought. I guess I had done more grieving over the past fours years then I realized. I was able to leave Andrea on our terms. We said our goodbyes, we lived and loved, we had no regrets or need to express emotions we had hid. There was no pressure to make up for lost time or unspoken words. Ours was a simple goodbye, a prayer, both knowing we will see each other in a little bit. I watched a woman accept her cross in total peace. At the time I don't think I realised what a blessing that was. Has hard as it was to suffer for four years, I found it was suffering I would have to do anyway, I was just blessed to do so much with Andrea here. Of course I miss Andrea, her smile and her touch. But Andrea ran a good race, she finished the course laid out before her and in that I have a peace. I have been blessed to not have to ask why. I saw her accept her cancer and her death. I saw her seek healing yet never doubt God’s sovereign plan. I saw Andrea carry her cross with purpose and I saw God use her faithfulness many times over. In doing so I knew the why of all this. My struggle with Andrea's death has been my own loss, the silence I hear, and the touch I do not feel. When you watch someone battle cancer for over four years and you see it pummel their body you beg for mercy for them, because you love them you do not want to see them suffer. I felt this way watching Andrea in the ICU. I felt this way when I wrote, "Why won't you leave her alone." Andrea had done so much for me and others as she faithfully ran her race, I could not ask for more. If the only thing standing between her suffering and relief was my fear of being left then I needed to let go. I had to let Andrea finish her race and begin my own. So off I set on a life defined new terms. Terms like single parent and widow. It is my race and I hope I run it half as good as Andrea ran hers.

My race is marked by a desire to remember the past and embrace my future. Yet having to realize the two cannot mix but in my mind. Dec 21st 2007 was a point of departure for my race. I walked away and began my life without Andrea. I had no choice, her race was complete. Life did not ask me what I wanted; it gave me what I have. Now I must pick it up and run.

As I begin I must adjust to my new life I adjust to losing my old identity. I can not stop and do these in series, they are done in parallel and that can be a little hard. I want to devote myself to remembering the life that defined me for over 27 years, but I don't have the time. My new life does not wait. The train blew its departure whistle on Dec 21st. And Andrea and I boarded separate trains for the first time since we were 18 years old. We kissed goodbye, she boarded her train and I mine. The whistle blew and the conductor yelled, "All aboard." The stream hissed and the wheel slowly began to grab the track, the cars jerked into motion and off we both went. I sit and look out the window, all I see, I see alone. No matter how beautiful the scenery, I can not tell Andrea about it, nor can she share what she sees. The joy is knowing that eventually we will join together at out final destination. The sadness is we arrive on separate trains.

Life goes on. Christmas came anyway, I have met new people, I have laughed, I have seen a movie, I have had conversations and made new memories that belong to me alone. They build distance between my self and the life I want to hold on to, but I can't. It begins to slip away as I set out on my own course. I cling to memories reborn by a photographs, a smell, or a familiar place. As my new life continues and new memories are built they intermingle with the old but eventually they will separate. Because life just goes on. Grieve all you want, but new memories are made regardless of what I want or how I feel. I'm learning that these new memories are not a betrayal of Andrea, they are inevitable and unstoppable. Because life goes on. Because this is my race. Our trains no longer share a track.

I know Andrea has enjoyed her ride and the scenery along the way. Myself, I'm not sure what God has for me but I have seen signs that there is some spectacular scenery along the way for me as well. God’s will for my life is still to prosper me and not harm me. The track He has laid out for me will be perfect. I'm learning to embrace the memories I'm building and the people I meet along this new route.

How could I do anything less? What would that speak of my faith in God? My sadness can not delay this train, nor can my feelings change its course. I must embrace it and look for God's leading along the way for those signs that remind me that God is there, marking the path laid before me. Then I know I'm going in the right direction. That the new people I meet the places I go are right where I should be. When I look back and see God's hand in my past I know I have the same guarantee for the future.

Did you know Andrea was buried on Dec 21st the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year? And that the next day we began gaining daylight as the Northern Hemisphere reached it furthest point from the sun and then began to tilt back towards the sun. The sad day we had was the shortest day of the year, and we awoke to more sunshine, and longer days. I think that was a nice gift from God. He limited our grief, and reminded us His mercies are new every morning. That slowly we will gain more light and life will go on, and that is okay.

His goodness and love can be shocking to us at times, but it sure feels cozy and warm when we are wrapped in his arms. You just know you’re in the right place when you feel his leading. When the conductor asks for your ticket and Jesus pays your way. Then you know you are on the right train, regardless of who is sitting next to you. I can’t wait to see where we are going, and to get to know those around me. I can’t wait to tell them about Andrea.

“Next stop ______”

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

It's All In The Name

Jokie just one of many names for Andrea. Jokie was given to her by her sister Anglea when they were little girls, but it stuck. If you talk to anyone in her family they will refer to her as Jokie. It has no meaning, at least not one that can be recalled. And I love it.

Over the years I added to the list and Andrea just put up with them all. Here are a few of my favorites.

Jokamus Beautumus. I told her this was the Latin name for her, translated Beautiful Jokie

JB. one of my more common names. It is short for Jokamus Beautumus.

Little Bit. Obvious if you knew her.

Sunshine, Because that is what she was to me.

A First And A Last

I'm in bed, the bed Andrea and I slept in at her mom’s house. A house full of memories of our life together, the house she lived in when we met. The house we would park in front of and make out after a date. It has been much harder to be here then I thought. I have learned in my first week of being alone that there are so many difficult things I did not see coming. I wonder what lies ahead that I don't see? It does not matter because I can only deal with so many at a time and it is God's grace that He holds some pains in reserve.

I gave Andrea's gifts she bought to her family yesterday. Difficult at best. It was my first Christmas without her, my last Christmas to give out a gift she bought. I ate my first meal in this house without her. My first time here without her. My first walk around the block without her. My first night in this bed without her. No "good night Jim", no "I'll see you in the morning", No one to wrap my arms around. Just silence.

But God has provided, as He always will, a friend, a person that has helped me this past week. Andrea and I actually met her one year ago. Well we never met, we only corresponded by email. She had received one of my email updates from a friend of a friend. One day she wrote us. She had just lost her husband in Iraq and was in grief. Her words to us were painful to read and we offered what hope and help we could not really understanding the depth of pain she was in. I do now. I hope I never offended her with shallow words to such an immense pain. Anyway she wrote last Monday, praying for us on a day she knew all to well. Since then we have talked on the phone. She is able to offer me advice that only comes from a shared pain. She brings a Godly perspective and I thank god for her right now.

Today we will meet for the first time. She will be in Dallas for Christmas and we are on our way to my sister's house in Dallas. It will be nice to net her, yet a little scary. So many emotions wrapped up in this. I find strength is her words yet she is the beginning of life without Andrea. She is the first person I have met that we did not share. All my other friends knew Andrea and were a part of our life. But this person is unique to my life alone. She is the first friend I will have that Andrea will not have shared with me. That in it self is a reminder that life goes on. A step I must take, I need to take to begin to heal. But a step that reminds me that it will bring distance between Andrea and me. I hate the thought that Andrea will fade with each passing year with only the brightest of memories remaining. I want to hold on to them all as if I just lived them but I have not. My moments with Andrea ended last Monday. All I have are memories now, I no longer have her. I miss her each day. Especially here in Wichita Falls. I went to the light where we first met. I went to the light pole where I wrote our names in the concrete. I came here to get out of the house in San Antonio thinking it would be too hard to be alone there. I have found I went from the frying pan to the fire. But I guess I had to do this sometime. I have to face that our life is in the past and no longer in the present nor the future.

I wish I could fast forward or rewind my life right now, but this must be lived. The pain must come in order to receive the healing on the other side. It can not be avoided. Much like Andrea’s pain she suffered before us all. I must be strong. Life will go on even no matter how much I wish it would stop. I will laugh again no matter how much I hate the thought. It is just the way it is.

“Jim I need you to be strong now.”

Okay Jokie, I will do my best. Know that I always love you I always carry you in my heart. Even as I move on, no longer "Andrea’s husband". The role and title I became known as. My identity has been taken. I'm left wondering who I am. I will need to find out all over again. But you will always be a part of me Andrea, for you made me who I am and that is still a part of me. I will carry that part into my new life. I hope I make you proud.
AMLA,
(All My Love Always)

Jim

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Godly Woman, A Submissve Wife

I want to try to capture a portion of our marriage because I feel what others saw in us was such a gift form God. It was how He intended a marriage to be. I was blessed to have been Andrea's husband for 24 years and 8 months. God poured His love on me on April 19th 1980 on Kemp Street in Wichita Falls Texas the moment I looked into Andrea's beautiful blue eyes. I want to pass on what God gave us and what Andrea taught me.

I know I won't be able to express all I feel, This blog would be a book if I tried to tell you what I learned about love and marriage from Andrea. But I must try. I feel I need to share what God blessed me so abundantly with, a Godly woman, a submissive wife.

I loved her so very much, she made my days. She loved me unconditionally. That is an amazing thing to experience, unconditional love. God tells us that is how He loves us, and I got a little taste of that on earth.

I get so many comments about our marriage, how strong to was, how obvious our love was for each other. Let me first go on record by saying, "Andrea started it."

To us it was just the way it always was. It was a gift from God, for man on his own could not love this way. It began the moment we met and it only grew. It foundation was a trust for each other. It's walls were a never ending desire to put each other first. You see when you can trust someone 100% you don't worry about getting hurt, or not having a need or desire met. You know your mate wants what you want more then what they want. I always knew Andrea was trying to give to me what I wanted and I the same for her. Like I said she started it and I was just trying to catch up. But most of the time we wanted the same things in life and that was a gift from God. We had truly become one. When we did not want the same thing it was a race to see who could give to the other. Giving was a source of happiness to us so in the end we were always happy, either to give or receive.

I am going to tell you what I feel was Andrea's strongest quality as a wife. It may not seem obvious, and I pretty sure some of you will not like the word I use, but it was Andrea. Keep in mind this only works when trust and love are the basis of your marriage. It only works when the husband has a heart of love. Not love in what can you give me, but love in let me met your need first. Without this love it is hard for a man and woman to fill the roles God intended us to be in.

1 Corinthians 13:13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Andrea's greatest strength as a wife was she was a submissive wife. I cringe as I type those words because they come with a lot of baggage in our modern day minds. Please allow yourself to let go of what society has taught you this word means and I will try to explain a woman who reflected how God meant a woman to love and relate to her husband. When I saw Andrea fill this role knowing in my heart she was better then I was, it made me want to serve her. For a wife to be submissive she must first feel this love. The husband must first fulfill this role. When you seek your wants first, your marriage becomes about taking, meeting your own needs. But when you a husband first loves his wife and puts her desires first, she will be free to love him unconditionally to be a Godly woman whom is not afraid of being submissive, knowing her husband would never take advantage of her. Knowing her husband loves her first and in doing so loves himself. As a man when you love you wife in this way you will find a woman who lives to give you your desires. It is amazing to experience and no matter what your past is you can love this way. Submit to God first then to each other.

Ephesians 5:25-28

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

Andrea wanted, she desired, she longed for me to be the man and husband God wanted me to be. She wanted a husband who was the spiritual leader. Those of you who knew Andrea know the pressure I felt thinking I was to be her spiritual leader. This is the equivalent of Tom Brady allowing the fourth string quarterback to start, no more like allowing a High School JV quarterback to start in his place to make the unlearned become better. All the while watching him fail knowing he could do better by taking over. But Andrea knew that God had set the home up to operate this way. I know you are cringing again at the thought of what I'm writing. Stay with me as I keep trying to explain.

The roles of a husband and wife are in no way superior to one another they are complimentary to each other. Again it begins with trust. Trust your spouse won't hurt you, trust your spouse wants the best for you. Trust built on love, the love described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

I'm not saying we were perfect but I knew this was Andrea's desire and I knew her motivation was her love for me and I trusted her. If she made a mistake it was just that. Besides I was making far more mistakes then she and she would just keep loving me. How could I do anything less for her? I was always playing catch up to her!

I respected my wife and her abilities. As the head of the house (I know that one made a few of you grit your teeth) I looked at Andrea and I saw she had abilities that were far superior to mine and I had some better then hers. When someone follows your lead out of love, respect and trust and you lead out of the same values there is no authority needed. There was never an order given. It was not that kind of leadership. I can only think of a few times where Andrea said, I will do what you want when she had a different opinion. Once was about getting a pet! We were always trying to give to each other out of our love that the only conflict we had was who was going to get to allow the other to have what they wanted.

I knew one of Andrea's strengths was her faith. I knew she was smarter on the bible then I ever would be. But in this one area I needed to grow to exceed her abilities. Andrea wanted me to lead her spiritually and unlike any other area I needed to be the leader. I needed to lead her in prayer and in studying the word. This was very hard for me. Our relationship started with me being much weaker in faith and the easiest thing for me was to just allow Andrea to fill this role. It was not out of love that I did this it was out of my weakness and fear of filling that role which God has put me in. Our life together was really built around Andrea encouraging me to become this man. This is the patience she had for me that I speak of so often. For her the easiest thing would have been to just to it herself. She was better then I and it must have been frustrating to watch me make mistake after mistake. Heck just getting me to understand my role must have been hard for her. She waited for me because she knew God was faithful and she knew in the end this would be best for us both.

Andrea quietly prayed for me everyday for years, probably over 20 years for my faith and my spiritual growth. I was never "done" none of us will ever be on this earth, but I believe God allowed me in the last 2 yrs and 5 months to full fill my role. I think that was God's gift to Andrea to see the answer to her prayers. This journal is a result of a faithful woman's prayers.

It is what she meant when she spoke her last words to me, "Jim you need to be strong now." Strong to take her into the ICU, strong because I would be standing alone in my faith in 22 days. Strong because I would no longer have my mentor with me. It was time for me to step up and put into action the things God had been teaching me. I think Andrea knew I was up for the task. I think she knew she had accomplished a purpose for her life. She raised me in my faith. Now she was letting me go.

That is why I say she made me who I am. She really did. She did it by not just quitting on me and doing things on her own. Which I know at times would have been far easier. She could have gotten frustrated I was taking so long to learn and grow that she just did it herself. But she lived with such a long term perspective. She lived with an eternal perspective in that she knew in the long run her prayers would produce far more fruit then her brawn.

The person I am today is due to a woman of Faith, of woman who loved her husband enough to allow him to stumble fall. A woman who loved her husband to always encourage him to get up after he fell. A woman who loved God first, and used her faith to trust her husband would become the man she needed. A woman who loved me enough to wait. A woman who loved me enough to wait for me to come to a conclusion she knew long before. A woman who put me first even when I was not the best choice, believing in the end that I would be. A woman known as Andrea, Jokie, Jokamus Beautumus, JB, and Little bit. A woman who took pride in being Mrs James Ravella. A woman who humbled me in doing so. I woman I respected. A woman I loved. A woman who exemplified a Godly woman who loved so deeply she forgave the short term gain for my long term benefit. A submissive wife. She trusted me and my love that I would never hurt her.

I hope I'm ready to do this on my own. I must be or God would not have taken her.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A blessing from God, Another Lesson Learned


I went today to Andrea's grave. It was as hard as you are thinking. I keep asking God to help me through this, but I realised I have a lot to learn and go through. None of it easy, all I wish I could avoid but knowing I can not. We were the veterans of the chemo room, we had all the answers. People looked to us, and we loved helping those new to the fight. Now I am a rookie, a rookie in the game of grief. I'm learning there is so much I don't know. I now find myself in a new arena, in need of help. I know two friends who unfortunately are veterans of this experience that I already feel drawn towards. They will no doubt be one of my sources of strength. I'm adjusting to the reality that I'm in over my head and my star teammate is not here. Andrea is no long simply not here, she is gone and to make it through this I have to remind myself the physical I see is not a complete picture of reality.
The Lesson

It reminds of Andrea's dream she had right before she found the lump. We were in Alaska and Andrea said she was going for a walk. It was the only time in my life when I was at home that she went on a walk alone. For some reason I did not feel I should go. When she came back she told me this story.


She laid down in a field not far from the house, The grass had grown tall and it was above her head. As she began to pray she was looking at the grass right in front of her face. With the grass in focus she could see the mountains in the distance because they were out of focus and blurry. Then her eyes focused on the mountains and the grass was now out of focus and although it was right in front of her she could not really see it.

She felt God say, See Andrea how you perceive life and what you see depends on what you are focused on.

When she came back home she told this with such excitement, she said I told the Lord, "I will do whatever you ask me." Neither of us realized the magnitude of what God was going to ask. But this experience Andrea had reminds me God is with us, and what I feel is real pain from real relationship. In fact, a relationship God gave me. But I need to keep it in perspective, an eternal perspective. Not to mask the pain or pretend it is not real, or some how wrong, but to know it will be okay...not today but someday.

That is where I am today. I need to have the strength as Andrea did to know that although I feel pain beyond anything I imagined, I know when I shift my focus from the grave to God the pain I feel lessens. It is just that in every moment my eyes are drawn to the grass and I hurt. I asked God to forgive me and help me, but I know there is a long road ahead with many difficult days that can not be passed by. Those steps must be taken. As hard as they are. I just have to remember to take my eyes of what is right before me and remember the Angles words to Mary and Martha,

Matthew 28:5-6
The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.


This reminds me of another dream of Andrea's. I'm not sure if I wrote about this before. I just can't remember anything right now, so forgive me if this is a repeat. Andrea had this dream in North Carolina one week before her was told her cancer had returned.

It was night, she was standing in a farmers field. The only light was shining from above her and only light the area right around her, maybe just a few feet in front of her. The field was plowed and she was between the rows. She was standing where low plants were growing like beans, maybe ankle high. But ahead of her were rows of tall corn. And it was pitch black between the rows. As she stood there she knew she had to walk into the rows of corn and she was scared. She was nearly frozen with fear and she began to cry, but she knew she had to go. As she took a step, I'm sure only inches at first, the light moved with her, lighting her way, but only where she was. She still could not see what lay ahead, but she could see where she was.

I now feel a portion of the fear she felt, the feeling of being frozen not wanting to go where I know I must go. But I know God will lead me and light my path. I have to learn that this is a step by step process, not without pain, and certainly involving a lot of grief. I guess I was unprepared for this even knowing what we faced. I started to realise the size of the wave that was about to hit me, when everyone kept telling me call anytime, and asking me if I was okay. At first I thought they meant was I okay right then. I think they were trying to warn me, insinuating they saw what I did not see. The pain of losing a spouse. I just lost my mom about a month ago and as hard as that was it pales in comparison to loosing your spouse. I was talking to a friend and I said it is harder because when you lose your spouse you lose the one person you would turn to at a time like this, but they are gone. I guess I was so wrapped up in the fight I did not see it coming. I for sure never thought about the fact that I would be alone to face it. I mean alone as in not having my wife, and my best friend. Well the time has arrived and I think this is only the first wave. After all I am a rookie at this.
The Blessing


I dropped my sister and her family off at the airport and decided to see where Andrea's grave was. As I drove to the cemetery today I saw God had given me a blessing. We were told Andrea's grave was to be in the new part of the cemetery, basically a field next to the maintenance buildings. It was the only regret I had about the cemetery.



Today I found her in this beautiful site.

In the shadow of the tree.

It is in the older part of the cemetery. Just up from a creek. Right next to this horseshoe parking spot, with the bench and the tree. It was a gift from God to a really unnecessary concern on my part. Yet He loved me enough to give me this gift. Just a reminder to me that He hears me and He is with me and He loves me. Just what I needed to hear.

For those of you who could not be here This is a picture from the memorial. We had four pictures one of me and Andrea, Nic and Andrea, Anthony and Andrea, and one of Andrea by herself. They lined the front of the chapel. It was beautiful.

My sister Eileen had the idea of bringing items from Andrea's daily life. That is what's on the table. It was the perfect touch. It captured Andrea's battle and her strength.


Friday, December 21, 2007

A Beautiful Day

We laid Andrea to rest today. It was a beautiful day, sunny just as Andrea would have liked. The service was even more beautiful. Chaplin Giorgi gave an absolutely perfect sermon, he captured Andrea, her life, her faith and her hope in his words.
The graveside service was moving for me. When I was about to leave for the church I was looking around our room for things of Andrea's. I looked in the closet and found one of her journals. I took it and the Bible I gave Andrea for Christmas in 1988 along with some pictures of her. As I waited for the service to begin I began to read her entries. When we got to the grave site I asked Chaplin Giorgi if I could read one of the entries.

Her is Andrea's journal entry from Aug 13 2006:

I'm so tired today. God be merciful. Give me my voice. Heal my side. Heal my liver.
I love you.

I yield myself to you.
You are awesome in this place-In my body.
I open myself up to you-I yield myself to you Lord.
I give up all my desires.
I yield myself 100% to you. I must be willing even to die if you want.
Only then am I 100% yielded to your will and you need me 100% yielded.

When I opened her journal I saw another entry and I felt I should read it but having not read it before I decided not to. I went ahead and read the first entry, but when finished I felt again I needed to read this entry. Here it is.

Faith
For by grace are you saved through faith. Faith is supernatural. Confidence is not faith. Faith comes from above. we can not manufacture faith. God has to release it to us. Don't mix up confidence confidence with God's supernatural faith. Hebrews 11:1. Faith gives credence and substance to my hope, what i hope for. How do we know Christianity is true? Faith is the substance. Faith says God is real. Faith is unique to Christianity. Faith gives a confidence beyond all comprehension that what we believe is true. Faith says there really is an invisible world, there really is a God. If Satan could shake your belief in God, it would cause the foundation of your faith to crumble. Faith is an eye that helps us see there is another world, a spiritual world. Faith helps us see the invisible now in this life. Faith is a firm belief in something for which there is no physical proof. Faith is the ability to everything that does not exist in reality. Faith makes sense out of life. How the world began and how it will end and where did man come from. Faith opens the door to the only true way to salvation.


When I finished I knew it was God's plan for me to pick up that book and read theses entries.

Well my eyes are heavy and I want to give into sleep. I will write more later. I think I will start typing in more of Andrea's journal entries. It will help you understand this woman of faith.

The boys and I are fine. Nic and Anthony continue to impress me. Kate has become our strength. So we take it one step at a time. I think I have adjusted to Andrea being away, now I need to adjust to her being gone. I see hard days ahead. I'm afraid I will forget Andrea, the small things about her. I miss her tonight, as I will every night. But God will sustain me as He did Andrea. His mercies are new every morning.

Jim

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Sleepless in San Antonio

Galatians 5:6
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

It is 1145; I'm making my first attempt at being in our room alone. It will be a long night, the first of many.

"Our Journey to Healing" was started as a record of life as we battle cancer and awaited Andrea physical healing. But it was not long when I realized that this journey we were on was not just ours and healing was far deeper then the physical. Although this blog draws to an end I will update it throughout this week, maybe longer if for no other reason then I need a place to come and think about life.

Of course this was not how I hoped my final entries would be written. As I said earlier today, God must have really needed Andrea because He overruled so many prayers to take her.

I have thought about this moment many times but my first observation is that I was not prepared for how I would feel. I had placed myself at this point many times but I guess your mind can not truly grasp this moment unless you are in it. Knowing Andrea was sick and that medically she was dying did not prepare me for what happened today, or what is happening tonight. The finality of it all was missing. The idea that I will not drive to the hospital to see her, nor will she come home is sinking in. I hated that hospital, but my love was there, so I went. I hated going in that room, seeing her in that bed, unable to get up or speak, but was love was there so I went. Now I would do anything to go back to that hospital and walk in that room. But my love is not there. We had to go back today to pick up a cross I left in her bed. The room was being cleaned. My love was gone, there was no trace of her, nor the fight fought with such faith. My love is gone. She will not return to my bed, call to me from the other room, or calm me with a smile. My love is gone. She will not tell me about her day. I will not hear her prayers at night. Come home and find her studying her Bible. My love is gone.

Psalm 116:15
Precious in the sight of the LORD Is the death of His saints.


I miss you "little bit." I miss you so very much it hurts me. I can not allow myself to even think about it for more then a couple of minutes for fear I won't be able to get out of the pit. I wish I could see you once more. Just to hold you in my arms and feel your head on my shoulder. But I'm left with only memories, pictures and a few home movies. None of which I can touch, or kiss. They just trigger my mind to much happier times, to memories that walk a fine line between a smile and gut wrenching pain wrapped in tears.

I ache, my head hurts and I want this to all go away. But I think of Andrea suffering for over four years yet never giving up, only giving more. How can I do anything less?

Acts 20:24
However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.

God gave us so many blessings. So many of Andrea's friends were able to visit her. Her family was able to come and visit her. Her Mom her Sister and her Dad all were able to make the trip to San Antonio. Had we been in North Carolina I'm not sure if they could have done that. They were all able to see Andrea on her best days in the hospital. Most of all I'm thankful her boys were here. Nic has been away for three of the four years Andrea has been sick, yet God allowed him to be home now. God gave us the blessing of the four of us being together at the end, just Andrea and her boys. I was never more proud of my sons has they cared for their mother these past three weeks. Having just lost my Mom I can not imagine what they were going through, having to watch Mom fight her final battle at such a young age. My solace was my mother lived till 87 and saw me grow into a man, marry and have children. My boys are not so lucky. Grandma will be a story, a picture on a shelf, a smile their kids do not understand.

I'm thankful I have no regrets, no unspoken words. That I was not trying to tell her how much I loved her as time slipped away in a futile attempt to make up for poor priorities in life. I'm thankful she knew how much I loved her and I knew how much she loved me. I'm thankful I was able to pray with her with our boys in her final moments. I can think of nothing she would desire more then to see us joined together in prayer as she parted. I'm thankful to a Doctor who took a chance so I was able to kiss her lips one last time. I'm thankful to a nurse who cared for my wife with dignity. For the care she gave Andrea when her life ended. For the touch of perfume put behind Andrea's ears. I'm thankful we met.

I could write for weeks about my 27 years 7 months and 18 days of memories I have with Andrea. Maybe someday, but not tonight. Tonight I will tell you one story that sums up my wife.

It was Sunday three weeks ago. The Sunday after Thanksgiving. Nic returned to college on Saturday and we have finished an incredibly busy month involving my Mom passing away. We go to bed Saturday and Andrea is feeling a little short of breath, more then she has in a few weeks but not alarming. I get her oxygen and we go to bed. It turns out to be a sleepless night with Andrea awaking very short of breath. She has trouble catching her breath after getting up. She is beginning to gasp for air so I go turn up the oxygen from her normal two liters to four. This goes on most of the night and I finally have the oxygen at its maximum output and Andrea is still having trouble breathing. She asks me to call 911, but I can not. I'm scared, and I don't want what is happening to happen. I help her get dressed for the trip then I leave the room trying to gather my strength and thoughts. Andrea waits sitting on the bed. I walk back and agree but ask if I can drive her there myself. I ask her, "Are you sure you want to go to the hospital?" I tell her, "Andrea if I take you to the hospital I don't think you will come back soon." I first say "You won’t come back home," but I catch myself and say "Come back home soon." I just want to take care of her myself but it is evident she needs more then I can offer. As I put her in a wheelchair and we are about to enter the doors of the ER I ask her again, "Are you sure you need to go in." Inside I'm pleading please don't let this happen.

Andrea tells me she has to go in. So I reluctantly push her in, the doors open and I look for someone to help us. As I wait for the nurse, I tell Andrea I don't think we will be going home anytime soon. It is then that Andrea speaks her last audible words to me. "Jim you have to be strong now."

I have thought about those words many times over the past three weeks. In those words are the faith of a Godly woman, and the encouraging love of an unselfish wife. She knew I was scared, yet she sat patiently on the bed as I tried to come to terms with her request to go to the hospital. She had to tell me to take her in the ER knowing what lay ahead, yet she did not run she nor was she afraid. She was facing the challenge yet she was telling me to be strong. I know in my heart she was not asking me to be strong to walk into the ER, she was asking me to be strong for the weeks that lay ahead, to be strong for today and tomorrow. I think we both knew this is what she meant. I just think we did not want to think about it.

That was Andrea. Always encouraging, always patient. Always full of faith. Facing things we can only imagine yet faithful.

As I try to adjust to being alone, I am easily overcome by sadness. Everything I see and hear reminds me of her. I can not escape her memory, nor do I want to. I have found I have cried all the tears I have, now it just hurts in my stomach. My head is numb as my body goes into self defense mode. But then I stop and think about a woman I was blessed to call my wife. I think of the years of absolute happiness I had. Then I think about the pain of cancer. When Andrea's hips hurt so bad I had to pick her up. The countless times I held her as she vomited. Watching her hurt so bad from the chemo she could not move. I think of the endless tests, CT scans, Xray, and blood draws. I think about a woman having to have her head shaved four times. I think of the absolute ugliness of cancer. And then I think of Andrea right now. On her 12th hour of eternity. I think of the utter joy she is experiencing. I think of her with her Lord. I see the smile on her face as He tells her, "Well done my good and faithful servant, receive your crown of glory." I think of the happiness she is having seeing her Pa Paw again. I try to imagine what she is seeing right now. I hear her voice as she praises her God in His presence. I see her with long beautiful hair. And I smile. My only wish is I could be there with her. But as she taught me I must be faithful to path God has laid out for me, patiently awaiting my reward and our reunion.

I have to remember to be strong.

I close tonight and I pray for all of you. I pray you know God did not abandon Andrea. Nor did he forsake her because she died. I know this outcome was not our prayer request, and Satan will use this time to steal away the seeds of faith Andrea has planted in you. Guard them, they are life to you. Yes it is true God did not give us the desire of our heart, but He did give us His son. And in doing so He gave us eternity with him. And that is what Andrea has right now.

Well I must close it is 2am and exhaustion is taking it toll and I hope to let it take me away from all my thoughts. It is time to face my new life.

I forgot to tell you a little blessing Andrea left us. About an hour ago Nic was checking his phone messages and sometime today he was offered a paid (that is a key) internship for next semester. This is at the one place he hoped to work (name withheld for now). The message came sometime today and I know Andrea is smiling now as she left us with a small parting gift.

Tomorrow we will decide on the funeral location, either here in San Antonio or in Wichita Falls. Either way it will be on Friday or Saturday. I will send an email and update the blog when we get the details worked out. I hope to have this decided by tomorrow afternoon. I would ask for your prayers that this decision would be clear.

I love you all. Words cannot express my thanks for each of you.

Your brother in Christ,
Jim

Monday, December 17, 2007

It is Finished

I'm sorry to say, today at 1:07 Andrea passed away. Nic Anthony and I held her hands as she passed. It was hard but when I went to the hospital today I knew this was the day. She was unresponsive and all her signs had gotten worse over the night. It was time to let her go.
I will post another update tonight, knowing I won't be able to sleep but I wanted all of you to know that Andrea was at peace and she no longer is fighting cancer, but praising her savior.
Thank you all for you prayers and support.
Jim

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Stomach Update

I just got off the phone with the doctor in the ICU. They checked Andrea's stomach and there was a lot of air but no more or very little blood or residuals. That was good news. He felt it might be an ulcer so he started Andrea on meds twice a day to treat and ulcer.

She is sleeping now and he said she seemed more comfortable. (can't imagine why!)I wanted to pass that on in case you were worried.

ICU Update 16 Dec

It is 2pm the start of the fourth week in the ICU. I came in later then I wanted but I did get to go to church this morning and then got some shopping done for Andrea and the boys. When I arrived Andrea was awake but still sleepy. I got to tell her all about my day and she like hearing all the details. I asked her how she felt, she said good. She did not hurt and her breathing felt better but she did not think she could breath on her own. She was not worried or afraid. Just the way she has been since she arrived.

Her vent pressure has been reduced to 30. It was at 32-34 and the lowest she had on this vent setting was 31. We will take that victory!

She has started food into her stomach!!! At a very slow pace right now 5ml/hr. I think a Coke is 380ml. How is that for slow. Anyway we will see how she does over the course of the day. I will post an update when I get some news.

Her sodium levels dropped again today. The response has been to increase her fluids which compounds her swelling problem. Her face is swollen right now but Andrea said she is still comfortable.

I just spoke to the doctor. He came by just to see if I had any questions. I missed them at rounds today but I had talked to him on the phone. But it was nice of him to stop by. Another answered prayer, thank you all.

He said Andrea is a long way from getting off the vent. They will continue to reduce the pressure and she how Andrea does. Part of what their goal is for the pressure to be reduced while Andrea keeps her oxygen levels high and her CO2 levels low. We have no idea what she can do since we don't know the ability of her lungs.

Her swelling around her stomach is mostly caused by the cancer in her liver. We though it might have been related to her stomach but even with little or no residuals in her stomach her belly was still swollen. So it is probably water. Dr Bell explained it this way. The cancer in her liver restricts to liver's ability to process blood. This restriction causes an increase in blood pressure in her liver and like a kinked hose the pressure builds up. As it does the water in her blood "leaks" out into her stomach area. So if they drained it it would just fill back up. This may also help explain the sodium levels decreasing. Her liver may be weak for processing all the antibiotics and drugs on top of the cancer so maybe it will pick back up. The blood tests of her liver have been stable the past three days. They will watch for signs that things are improving.

UPDATE - it is 6:30pm It does not look like her stomach handled the food well. She had pretty high residuals and I'm sad to say it looked like there was blood in her stomach when they checked. I have no idea what the cause is and I think I won't know anything until the morning.
When I told Andrea her stomach did not handle the food she squinted her eyes and shrugged her shoulders, to say "Darn, but Oh well." She knew this was one of the life threatening hurdles we had to get over yet she was calm and accepting as ever.

That is why her doctor feels it will take a while. Her vent will be slowly backed off as Andrea allows and her liver will need to get stronger to allow the swelling of her belly to go down. I hoping the next hurdle to fall will be her stomach's ability to handle the food.

Well that is about all of the medical news I have.

On the personal side I have been okay with sleep. I give into sleep when exhaustion takes over. Anthony and Kate are at home and Karl from my office took Nic flying. It is a perfect day to go flying, clear sunny and a little cool. I'm relaxing in the room watching football and my brother Neil and his wife Mary are on their way to visit.

Here is a nice verse a friend sent me today. I thought it captured Andrea well.

II Corinthians 3:3
"You are a letter from Christ...written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the Living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts..."

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Hebrews 11:41

For those of you that know the Bible far better then I, know that Hebrews 11:41 does not exist. Hebrews chapter 11 ends with verse 40. But Hebrews 11 is the chapter on faith.

It begins with a definition of faith in verses 1-3

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.

Then it goes through the accounts of the all those who are example of faith. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Issac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, and then it goes on to list many others.

How would you like to have your name written as an example of faith? Quite the honor. I think we all picture in our minds the praise that goes along with such an honor. I know that is where my mind first goes, to the reward. Oh, to be an example of faith. Or in human terms, to receive a Gold medal, or a world championship.

How many of us think about the price paid to receive such an honor? Do you think of the suffering Joseph endured in the well? How about when he was wrongly accused and thrown in jail? How about the mocking and ridicule Noah must have taken for building an ark before there was rain? How about the pain Abraham must have felt has he prepared his only son for sacrifice? In a worldly sense how about the years of awaking in early in the morning to train for the race? How about having to sacrifice for years for the chance to have a shot at an Olympic medal. How about the hot August days of practice in hopes of playing in the Super Bowl? Could you sacrifice without a guarantee of reward? For a chance at glory? Could you believe with faith of eternity? Faith in God is not for gain, it is done in response to a gift already received, just unseen. As Hebrews says, it is substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. Like an earthly sacrifice it is for delayed satisfaction but unlike an earthly reward this is for a crown in a life unseen. Hebrews 11 is about those who believed in what was unseen; they believed yet never saw the promise fulfilled in this life.

Andrea and I did a Bible study on faith and it ended with the comment that Hebrews 11:41 is your verse, the account of your faith. You see we are all examples of God's love and our lives are to be a testimony of that love. Our strongest testimony is that of faith under trial. Faith in the furnace, where two were thrown in yet three are seen. Andrea has lived a life of faith, a life of faith being written before I very eyes. We are seeing in her pages of scripture being written. Though they may not be in any Bible we read the words and experiences are written in our hearts and minds. These stories of Andrea's faith you share with a friend, a sibling, parent, or your child, these are modern day scriptures. These are encouragement to others who will certainly find themselves in a trial of their own if not in one already. I don't like the quote; misery loves company because a faith lived in misery gives hope to others. Out of desperation for God we give hope to others. No one wishes someone else their misery. Andrea's prayer is that none of you ever have to see and Oncologist. Her prayer is also that if you do, you will know God is by your side as is with her.

This is Andrea's Hebrews 11:41.

By faith Andrea withstood cancer. By faith she lives everyday when life told her she should quit. By faith she encourages those around her. By faith she lays in the ICU, without complaint, never a tear, always full of hope. By faith she worshiped her God in pain. By faith she thanked God for His blessings and mercy. By faith she trusted in her God when life told her she was abandoned.

I know many of you feel Andrea is someone special; I am counted as one of them. But she is no different then you or I. We all possess the ability to be a giant of faith. Because faith is not a human quality we learn or gain through a conference. Faith is a gift for God, born through life and difficulty. From a faithful God who gives when we ask, a God who looks for us to respond in faith to life’s event each and every day.

We are all called to write the verse Hebrews 11:41 with our own name. Next time you stop and pray for Andrea and reflect on her witness remember to say a prayer for your own witness and for each other. Don't be afraid that God will ask you to endure what Andrea has had to go through. The enemy will try to convince you who don't have the ability to do it in hopes you will do nothing. Remember everyday you have the chance to be an example of faith. Everyday you offer a prayer in faith before your children you write a verse. Every time you praise God when life's event don't turn out the way you want you write a verse. Every time you live your life in obedience to God you write a verse. Every time you have faith in the unseen, you write a verse. Each time you become an example of faith to someone else, maybe even someone you don't know or will never even meet, just knowing God is using you as a witness.

I know it is not easy, the work behind the reward never is, but it is always worth it. Ask someone as they celebrate the Super Bowl victory if the practices in August were worth it. Ask the athlete listening to his national anthem with a Gold medal around his neck if years of practice was worth it. Ask Noah if the mocking was worth it. Ask Joseph if the years in jail were worth it. I think they will all tell you the same thing. Looking back on it absolutely yes. The only difference is the accounts in Hebrews are eternal. Their reward though unseen in this life will never fade, or rust. They will wear it for eternity.
1 Peter 1:6-9
In this (The hope we have in Christ and the inheritance that never perishes v 3-5) you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Ask Andrea if lying in this bed is worth it after I read her all your emails of how you are affected by her faith. I will tell you her answer, she smiles back at me. She is a life poured out into you and she smiles when she sees it bear fruit.
She smiles because she knows you are growing eternally and that is a gift that will only multiply. The saying should be Faith loves company. Because when others join you in faith we encourage each other and our faith only grows. When we face a trial, it is the faithful that join with you and offer hope, just as you are doing right now. And as you join with Andrea you write your own verse of Hebrews 11:41. Just insert you name in the blank.

By faith ______ believed in spite of the medical reports. By faith ______ lifted up Andrea’s name before the Father. BY faith ___________ trusted in the Lord, when the waves of adversity came crashing in.

ICU Update 15 Dec

Week three draws to a close, we are about where we were on week one. Andrea is sleeping right now. All the family have left and I let the boys go out for the day and Christmas shop. I have been catching a couple of naps laying my head on Andrea's bed. Those times are my favorite times. I lay my head and pray and I find being next to her body relaxes me and I fall asleep. I keep telling her to scoot me a side and let me in that bed but she just smiles and cuts her eyes as if to say hop in. Too many wires and hoses I guess so I settle for my head on her bed. I like the silence and then again I don't. I like my time to just talk to her but I had the inactivity in the room. It makes the sounds of the vent so much louder. Suddenly I more aware of the physical fight. Andrea spirits remain strong, she told me today she will make it home and I believe her. Her mountain is huge as I have said, but today I thought this mountain has not any bigger, it just seems bigger because it is closer. To God it is the same.

Time pushes me I feel it nudging me in the back, always reminding me of its presence. Never letting me relax. He is not our friend. The hours slip by and I see little change. Victories become smaller but we celebrate them as equals. We look for signs of hope, they grow dimmer as the hours turn into days. But as Andreas said as a little girl,” It only takes a second."

Here was the doctors’ report from this morning.

1. Stomach - They have seen a slow down in what is being suctioned from her stomach. That is good news. This morning they checked her residuals and it was 26ccs. So the suction tube is off for the next 24 hrs. After that they will check her residuals and see if they are still low. If so food will start tomorrow morning. Her stomach still remains swollen and the cause is unknown. I assume it is a combination of her liver and water from inactivity. Her liver blood tests looked "slightly" better today. I think her swollen stomach is contributing to her lack of lung volume as it pushes up on her lungs and limits their ability to expand. There is not one cause for any of Andrea's problems, I think it is more a combination of many little things.

Please pray for the doctor’s wisdom to piece this puzzle together.

2. Lungs - They changed Andrea's vent from a volume control (where the vent provides a set amount of air and Andrea controls the rate, and improvement is seen by decreasing pressure as I have described) The vent is now providing a set pressure. Andrea still controls her rate but improvement is now seen in volume she can take in. This is more uncomfortable on Andrea and physically tiring for her. The vent applies pressure and only drops for a second, so it is like trying to inhale and exhale against pressure. That is why it can be more tiring on her. The hope is the set pressure will expand parts of her lungs and give her more lung capacity. She was on this type of setting for the first week and a half. It does not seem to be has hard on her as it was then. As she is sleeping she still looks relaxed and comfortable.

Please pray for her lungs to be opened and her ability to get off this vent.

Well that about sums up the medical side of things. I will tell you I had the most amazing experience in this room earlier. I may write about it f I can capture it is words. Well I will just try. Irma is Andrea's nurse today and she is a strong believer. As Andrea was sleeping I asked her, "What do you think about faith, hope and God's will for Andrea?" We talked a while and I sat back down to write and listen to my music. After about 30 minutes Irma came back in. She had been praying for God to speak to me. When she came in the song by Mercy Me, "Word of God" was on. She started to cry and said the presence of the Lord is in this room, I don't know what He as to say but He is here." She stepped out and I knelt at Andrea's bed.


As I prayed I felt this verse come to me: Matthew 12: 46-50


While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, "Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you."He replied to him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" Pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."


In my spirit I felt the Lord had come to be with His daughter. This was a meeting between God and his daughter, between Andrea and her God. I had no claim on her as a husband. Earthly relationships were not important. Andrea was created for God, to worship Him, to praise Him, to serve Him, and to bring glory to Him. My relationship was a blessing but it was not why she was created. This meeting was beyond her earthly relationships, especially mine. Things of this world were not important including my cries for her healing. I have no idea what was said. I did not receive an answer to my question of healing or death, nor did I care. I was humbled in my spirit to the point where my desires were not the issue. I was witnessing an intimate moment between the Creator and His creation. Andrea was created to bring glory to God and she has done this and she still is. Whether she lives or dies was not important. There was something far greater going on. I know this may not make sense to many of you. I probably would have felt the same way had I not been in this room. And I know I'm doing a poor job of capturing what occurred. But it was one of the most amazing experiences in my life. I got up and my worry was gone. Andrea was here for God's purpose and I did not need to worry. In that moment I was released from carrying the burden of her life or death. Something far greater then life and death happened in this room.

I share this with you in the hopes that you will know Andrea is in great hands. Today she met with her greatest love, and it was not me.

Friday, December 14, 2007

ICU Update 14 Dec

I glad you all enjoyed the pictures as much as we did taking them. There was a lot of laughter, hope and joy in the room yesterday. You have to enjoy the victory when you can. Not that we thought the battle was won, just that we had a victory and it was time to celebrate. I think of this like the playoffs, you can enjoy the victory but not too long because you have to get ready for the next game. So we had our first day of celebration yesterday in 19 days and it felt good. Andrea was awake from 8am to 9pm when we left. She was alert the whole day and just enjoyed having all the visitors. She was in very little pain, just a little around her neck form the surgery.

So now it is time to get our game plan together for the next battle. We have a new doctor today. I met him this morning and he seemed nice. He was more positive and was going to try adjusting Andrea's vent today in hopes we can gain some lung capacity. He said there was no real changes in her condition overall. Here is the basic plan for today:

1. Stomach - It looks like he gastric juices they have been pumping out have slowed down. They were getting up to 100cc/hour and yesterday when I checked it was 900cc in a 24 hr period. I do not know what it was over the night last night. But this is still encouraging news. The first sign that we were looking for. Today they are going to try to stop the suction and see if they won't build back up. They are wanting to see if they will pass though her digestive track it they should. So sometime late today we may have an idea if this was successful or not. They just wait a few hours and then suction her stomach, with a syringe that they put on the feeding tube. This does not hurt at all. Anyway we are hoping they are not able to suck much out. If that is the case they will try giving her some food through the tube and repeat the same checks.

2 Lungs - Yesterday her pressure in her lungs was low. The only day it was lower was last Saturday. She was down around mid 20s. It was has high as 50-60 and the best we have seen was 19-20. Right now it is in the low 40s. I was hoping the downward trend would continue. Actually I just noticed they have reduced her oxygen from 50% to 40% and that can increase the lung peak pressure. Other then that her vent is set the same right now as it was since last Thursday. Like I said the doctor is going to try adjusting it later today. I'm not sure what he plans but I'm glad he is being more aggressive. She won't get off this thing unless we start trying.

Those are the next two battles we have facing us, stomach and lungs. I'm hoping both will show signs of improving and as her lungs get better she can move more and this will help her stomach work better and both will help each other. Laying down and for 20 days can't be good for the stomach. I hoping for the perfect storm of moving and energy will get this stomach working.

Andrea has had the best of care. Her nurses love her and care for her. Rhonda, Mike, Irma, Jan, Kris and many others have been an answer to all our prayers. It goes far beyond taking care of her, there are the back rubs, hours of foot and hand massages, perfume behind Andrea's ears, lots joy, hope, sometimes the only hope we had was a kind word from the nurse. They have also been the best advocates for her healing, always looking for something they can do to get Andrea better. Please say a prayer of thanks fro them all. Pray for their strength and for their families as they work very long hours. You know they care when they stop by on their day off and bring gifts to Andrea. My dream is that Andrea and I walk back in here and bring them a gift to thank them for all they have done.