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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Andrea's Journal Entry Feb 2 2007

Lamentations 3: 55-58

I called on your name, O LORD,
from the depths of the pit.

You heard my plea: "Do not close your ears
to my cry for relief."

You came near when I called you,
and you said, "Do not fear."

O Lord, you took up my case;
you redeemed my life.

Lord I know you hear me when I call upon your name. And I feel as though I'm in a pit. This cancer and treatment are dragging me downward. I'm so tired but you hear my plea to not close your ears to my cry for relief. I know you do. You drew hear to me and said for me to not fear. To not be afraid means I listen to you and trust in you. You have taken up my case and you have redeemed my life! Come quickly Lord Jesus and heal me. Set me forth onto a path of righteousness to spread your good news. If there is anything else I need to do, show me Lord.

I Love you, Andrea

Andrea's Journal Entry April 11 2006

I remember waking up in the night and seeing Andrea with the Bible laying on her. I always knew that she was having a bad night and hurting. She always slept with the Bible under her pillow, but when it came out and she opened it and laid it on her, I knew she was crying out to God. She just was doing so without saying a word.

The Word

Father You created the universe with your words. "Let there be light!" You spoke this life into being. Your very breath breathed into Adam and gave him life. It is all making sense now why the Wal-Mart greater said the 23rd Psalm to me and then said "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth..." I did not know then how important your words, the Word, would be to me! Remember the night I awoke and had the Bible in my hand and I was holding it up, straight up, as I lay in the bed asleep? I said, "I believe! I believe what God's word says!" And how many times have I laid the Bible, your word, across my hips, chest, back, and claimed the words written there in?" The same words that spoke the universe into being I ask to heal me. Healing is offered out of the divine mouth of God!

Lessons From Friends

Well I know it has been a while since I posted a blog. I have been feeling a lot better. In fact I went into work today and told my boss I was ready to get back to work. As I walked into work today I felt like I wanted to go to work today, and that was a first. When I thought back to the past month I read this blog I wrote on 22nd January. I as read this I realized just how tired I was.

I'm sitting in another airport awaiting another delayed flight. So I decided to take the time to write an update. In my mind I have several things I want to write about but I think this will be my last update until late next week. I'm so very tired right now and I need a break from all this. I need to spend some time with Anthony, and just get some sleep. I have had enough training as a squadron commander to know I am on the edge, so exhausted all I want to do is sleep. I have had three trips to the east coast in one week on top trying to work, and feeling I just need to get my feet under me all the while knowing my sons need me to talk to them. But as I wait for my flight now delayed for four hours I felt I could use the time to write a little.

It is now three days since Andrea's memorial in North Carolina. I have waited to write about it until I allowed the events to sink in to my mind. It was a perfect memorial. So many friends who stood with us during Andrea's toughest fight. Of course there were difficult times as I went by our old house and drove the streets we drove together.

I can't say enough for all the help in setting up Andrea's memorial, our church home, The Lord's Table, Sharon, Pastor Charles, Pastor Wilson, Dave, Karen, Kristen, Barbara, and many more I'm sure. I struggled as I packed to come to North Carolina, I struggled the morning of the service as I prayed with our friends, held hands with the hands that Andrea held. I struggles as I laid out Andrea's personal belongings and pictures of her life at the Church were we once walked in, where we sat and prayed, took communion and held each other. But when I got up to speak, it all went away. Although I had no words planned, I just spoke about Andrea. I do not know what I said and I have no record of my final words about my wife. But when it was done I felt a weight off my shoulders. Later that day as I went out to dinner I thought that was the last event in my life involving Andrea. That is sad but it feels freeing in a way. The weeks leading up to the memorial had me busy thinking about Andrea, what I would say, and the logistics of the day. In a way Andrea was still a part of my daily life even though it was not in the physical sense, she still was a big part of my life. Suddenly I realized I was done. I had no reason for Andrea to be on my mind other then to remember her. I had nothing to do for her. Does this sound strange or cruel? I do not intend it to be. As sad as it is it felt good. I was freer to move on. I felt Andrea telling me "Go." As I told her as she passed, "Andrea it is okay, go to where you long to be, hear God tell you, Well done good and faithful servant." With that she passed. And with the end of the memorial I felt Andrea tell me "Now you go Jim." When I walked into dinner that night my friend said "You look like your are glowing." I guess I was, I had defeated the fear I had of that day, I had said my peace about my wife, I had said goodbye to Andrea and now I was free to just remember her. I just want to remember Andrea with a smile on my face instead of a crushing pain and unstoppable tears.

Leigh, Diane, Gina and Lisa spoke at the memorial representing the "Chemo girls." An unbelievable group of woman who surrounded Andrea and gave a normalcy to life in the chemo room. A gift whose value can not be measured in terms of this world. Like Cynthia in AK who took Andrea to chemo while I was deployed and later God continued to provide woman for Andrea as we moved to San Antonio. Woman like Darla and Amy and Kathy, who befriended Andrea and gave he the gift of "girl time" in her last months. All of them stepped out in faith and befriended someone who had a terminal illness. I have thought a lot about this group of women for they have made a huge impact on my life. As I sat week after week and watched them minister to my wife, I witnessed how someone loves another human. For me, and I guess most, men the concept of love is reserved to his wife, and mostly involves the physical aspect of that relationship. Hence the inability to say I love you to another woman or God forbid another man. But what I learned by watching them have, was I could love someone other then my wife. I could love someone and care for them as I cared for Andrea. My ability to express myself in my blog is a result of this experience. I learned my feelings were not reserved for my wife alone it taught me how to love my neighbor. A biblical command I knew but never fully understood. I will forever be indebted to this group of women who met the needs of my wife, and who taught me how to love someone.

Here is a prayer from Andrea's journal entry written September 2007

Lord, I just know you will bless those who do things for others that are right in your sight. So I pray your blessings on Jim and all the chemo ladies that helped me. Especially Jim who continues to care for me. I love you Lord, Andrea

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Shared Pain, A Shared Blessing

Tonight is the end of a long day, actually a long couple of days. Last night two friends came over and helped me pack away Andrea's clothes. Although having her clothes in the house had not bothered me, knowing they were being put away, hit me far harder then I thought. I guess it was another way to say she was not coming back. As hard as it was, it had to be done. Tonight was another difficult day for other reasons but no less hard on me. Life has been harder then I ever imagined. For those of you who know me you know I'm actually a happy person. I like to laugh and whistle. I have been doing far too little of either this past year. It is 2 am and I have another headache and hurting eyes so I have decided enough is enough. Andrea would not want me laying around in such grief, and that is what I began to fear, a grief left unchecked. By now Andrea in her Texas tough attitude, would tell me, "Jim it is time to get going. Where's your faith?

I even have had difficulty working or finding any interest in work. In fact I was on a trip this week to a conference and as I listened to the conversations I thought I could care less about who is getting what job or what the latest was on this or that. I thought this was once my passion, my life and I was good at it. Now there is no salt in the food, life held no excitement. I did not like that and I know Andrea would not have liked me feeling this way. I looked at myself and I knew it was time to move away from this grief, the pit I fall into far too easily. I have prayed and asked God to help me. I have felt that was a prayer that could not and would not be answered for my grief was set in stone, predetermined in its length and depth. But tonight I decided to no longer freely give into despair any more. I say freely because in a way I have run to my grief hoping if I gave in it would somehow satisfy the pain. I deliberately put myself in situations to force the tears and the pain. It worked; I could step into grief in a moments notice. It was a strange way to barter with suffering but I think I was the only one holding up my end of the bargain.

I know many of you think it has not been that long since Andrea died and far too soon to think about moving on. I will say this, and I pray it is not taken as harsh words. My grief did not start on Dec 17th, it just moved to another level of reality. I have lived with this weight for over 4 years but the last 2 1/2 years were spent under an ever increasing anticipation of the grief that awaited me. And to be quite frank, I feel I have given grief its fair share of my life. You need only go back and read the blog from the start to know my grief did not just begin. I don't mean I refuse to be sad or to miss Andrea I just pray I will be spared the depth of grief I have been experiencing. I just want to simply miss her. I know there is no checklist to complete grief, although the pilot in me would love one. I have cried all I know how to, I have said goodbye to Andrea at two memorials. I have cleaned out the closet, her dresser, and I feel comfortable going to work. The house is settled into a slight routine. That is if you count the Pizza Hut delivery guy routine :)

After I thought about that I knew it was time for me to tell you what is going on in my life. I share this because as one friend told me, "It was you Jim who invited us along on your journey by writing this blog." Okay so I accept that responsibility and I thank God for all of you, for taking time out of your life to walk a part of this journey with us and for all the prayers that have been spoken for Andrea, I and the boys.

So here it goes, you may want to take a seat as you read this next part.

I want to tell you all how blessed I am that God has blessed me with another wonderful woman in my life. Her name is Ginger Gilbert. She is the woman Andrea and I had been emailing for a year after Ginger lost her husband, Troy in an F-16 crash in Iraq. I have spoken of her in previous blogs. Ginger was dealing with a depth of pain I could not understand at the time, while Andrea and I were in the throws of our second battle with cancer, all of us trying to understand our life that had suddenly changed, all of us seeking God for strength. We have been friends for a year and then quite unexpectedly the Lord turned our friendship into an amazing relationship.

Troy was a loving father and dedicated husband but most of all a man who loved and served God. He and Ginger had a marriage very similar to Andrea and me. I'm thankful Ginger has loved so deeply, yet I grieve with her as I understand the pain that comes from losing such a love. She is a godly woman, so tender-hearted, full of so much love for me. I can not put into words the depth of our feelings. Had I asked God for her, I could not have imagined such a loving woman, who understands me in ways I did not even know to ask, who wipes my tears with her words, and gives me hope in a life ahead. My prayers for her would have fallen far short of the perfection God has blessed me with. She has helped me walk the difficult steps of adjusting to being a widower. She has listened to me cry, and given me reason to smile. We share a special bond built upon a shared grief I hope none of you ever experience. Most importantly we share a faith in Christ that guides both of us into this relationship, a relationship that is orchestrated by God. We love each other deeply and we have begun making plans for our future. Please pray for us as we continue this relationship.

She has five absolutely beautiful children and lives in Phoenix. I know this seems way too sudden to all of you. But I also know that when God moves and does miracles, He chooses to do so in His own timing. Though it may seem awfully quick, Ginger and I have suffered for a long time and gratefully accept His blessing of our relationship with total peace and confidence.

Please pray for all the children, they our number one concern. Please pray for wisdom and discernment for Ginger and me as we seek guidance from God. I have spoken to both Nic and Anthony as well as Andrea's family prior to sending out this blog. A blog I write with a rare smile. I smile as I think of what God is doing in our lives. I smile for being able to share this wonderful news with you all.

In Christ, Jim

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What To Do With Andrea?

What do we do with Andrea? What purpose did she serve in living and dying before us? Why did our paths cross with this unique person? Maybe you only know her from reading this blog, maybe you were one of her closest friends, no matter how met her, do you even think there is a reason for having known her? Or do you just think it was by chance, a random event.

I spent the last 4 yrs and 5 months fighting to hold on to her only to find her ripped from my arms. I have spent the last month rethinking this woman I was blessed to call my wife. What was it that made her so special? I knew what I felt that fateful day, in April 1980 when I first laid eyes on her. I knew that day I had met someone special, someone I had to know, and someone who possessed all I needed. Every fear, every uncomfortable feeling I had was met the instant I saw her beautiful blue eyes. That very second I saw everything I needed. I did not know what that was other then I needed it. I later learned it was her faith, her relationship with God, her child like faith in the Bible, its words, its promises. She did not just have knowledge of God and Jesus, she knew them. I needed the peace and surety she had from this relationship. Had I met her by some random event? Had I just happened to be at that stop light that very moment? Had I looked to her by accident? Was this a coincidence? No it was none of the above, it was an appointment ordered by a God who knew my need before I did, a God who answered my prayer before I knew to ask.

Because the moment I looked into her eyes I felt her spirit connect to mine and in that instant everything in life became okay. When I looked into her eyes I saw my wife. I really did love her at first sight. I always told her I loved you before I ever saw your body. It was not physical, it was spiritual. We dated from that night on and I asked her to marry me 2 months later. We were both 18, she was my first girlfriend, yet I had no doubt this was God’s will for my life.

Over the past two years I saw many of you have a similar experience with Andrea. What could have been a random meeting you soon discovered was far more. I do not know what need she met in your life or what need you met in hers. But I know it went both ways. As Dr. Atkins told her on our first appointment, I do not know why we have met but you have something to teach me and I have something to teach you. Is that not what life is about? I suspect that what drew many of you to her was her faith, I suspect you first noticed her amazing blue eyes, the windows to her soul, where God shined from within. It was what drew us as moths to a light. We just had to investigate those eyes. Her small frame was never where you would look for a spiritual giant. She was hidden in plain sight. I always thought that I had found this most precious of gems in plain sight, overlooked by the world because they failed to look beyond her 4’11” body. Yet I found the most special woman. A woman of faith, as loving wife, a Godly woman who filled the role of a biblical submissive wife to perfection. It drove me to love her as Christ loved the church; I had no other way to respond. Not the picture of beauty to the world or where the world looks for such faith. But she was the most beautiful woman I ever laid eyes on. She was quiet in her faith. She saw nothing unique in her faith, she had it her whole life and I think assumed we all had that faith. I think she just did not realize what she had was sought after by so many of us. This she had this amazing gift. She knew no other way to live, then to serve her God who had given her so much. And it was a faith born out of difficulty even as a young girl. Loosing her grandfather, her best friend at the age of 13. Facing situations far more difficult then any teenager should ever face yet she did not abandon her faith. Although she had ever earthly reason to walk away, she only clung tighter to Jesus, and built a foundation of faith that would awaken in Aug 2003 when she was told she had cancer.

So what do I do now one month after losing her? How do I take this unique experience this intersection in my life with this woman of faith?

Andrea was not a saint, somehow better then any of us, she was just given the gift of faith and she believed. She wrote many times that she never wanted to take God’s glory from Him that she would never be praised for what God was doing. Her life should not point to what is impossible for us but what is. What you saw was not to be worshiped in anyway or thought of as unattainable. It was the simple, yet rare act of surrender. It was Christ we all saw in Andrea. We need to remember that was her example to us. The lesson we all can carry on as we will face life’s inevitable challenges.

Andrea’s life means I take my current situation and embrace what God is asking me to do. I looked at her surrendering in her illness, and I surrender to what God is and will ask of me. I look at her faith and I desire a deeper relationship with my savior. One built upon knowing Him, that I may trust Him when life difficulties come my way. I make Christ a part of my everyday life, not a Sunday appointment to be filled but a way of life. I allow myself to pray specifically allowing my faith to stand up to the challenge and allowing myself to be amazed when He answers as I want, and thankful when He answers as I need. I allow God to be involved in the smallest parts of my life, knowing He is big enough to handle my smallest problem or concern. I look for God in the people God places in my life. I accept the gifts they bring to me and I accept their struggles. I pray for them, I encourage them; mostly I love them as God loves them. I don’t expect perfection in them yet I strive for it in my life. I look for what others can teach me knowing each of us carry a gift from God and together we complete the body of Christ.

I’m grateful to God for allowing me to have known Andrea; I’m humbled He chose me to be her husband and best friend, to see her up close, to be the recipient of her love. But I know it was God I worship not Andrea, it is Christ’s love I felt, it was not for my pleasure but to deepen my relationship with God. To prepare me for the work that lies ahead. Like Andrea's note she left me, "I excited to see how this all turns out."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Andrea's Joy

This is from Andrea's journal she wrote this on Jan 30 2006, after we went to a Chris Tomlin concert. I read this at the memorial service in North Carolina. I shared it then and now to remind us all that we need not feel sorrow for Andrea for there is no place she would rather be then where she is. She could not lose.

Philippians 1:20-22
I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know!

On Friday we went to hear Chris Tomlin in concert and oh my goodness! The praise and worship was phenomenal. I felt so close to heaven! I told the Lord I never wanted to leave the concert because His presence was everywhere and to hear so many people praising God in unison was amazing. We sang "How great is our God...sing with me...how great is our God. Then we went into, "Then sings my soul my savior God to thee...How great thou art. And I realized this is what heaven will be like. We will all praise God and live in His glory. I felt the Lord say, "This is what heaven will be and you are going to love it here! But you cannot come just yet. I'm not finished with you on earth. There's still more for you to do." That was bitter sweet. I felt sad in one way because of how glorious heaven will be, but in another way I rejoiced because I will be well and can serve God here longer. I got a glimpse of what awaits me and I longed for a moment to be there. I went from not wanting to go to heaven, to feeling like I was told, "You can't come yet," and feeling a little sad about that. I guess sometimes we want what we cannot have.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Andrea's Journal Entry 27 Aug

I'm sitting in the San Antonio airport waiting my flight to Raleigh. My flight is late and I find myself with two extra hours to think and write. I should be working on what I will say tomorrow at the memorial but my mind is numb. My heads still aches and my eyes burn from yesterdays beating. So I decided to read some of Andrea's journal entries hoping I would read something that would give me comfort or maybe an inspiration of what to say tomorrow. I found this entry.

This was written just over one year into treatment for metastatic cancer. I think at this time Andrea was stable, soon she would be in the Duke trail and things would take a turn for the worse, but this was a relatively calm time in our life. We were in a routine of chemo and our life had adjusted to the pains, sickness and fatigue. The closet Andrea mentions is the closet in our room. It became our sanctuary, a place to go and be with God. There was a comfort in shutting the door as if we shut out all the pain and reality of cancer. We were safe there, untouchable. When ever one of us would wake up in the night unable to sleep we would just go into the Holy of Hollies to read, pray of just listen. If it was a really difficult time we would go in together. I have good memories of praying with Andrea in the closet, even when we were crying out it is still a time I look back on as precious to me. It was intimate, it was honest, it was raw, it was the trenches of fighting cancer, it was our place of refuge where we shut out reality and rejuvenated our faith.

Last night I went into the closet. I decided to call it the Holy of Hollies. Before I went in I woke up and thought God was asking me if I was yielded 100%. I knew I was I had yielded 100% about dying so my answer was yes. Then I thought about Jim. I thought Jim would have a ministry and maybe pastor a church. That's something that I never wanted to do. So I felt God was asking me if I was 100% yielded. I am. I will do whatever God wants me to do. Then my mind started wondering about how Jim would get his degree, etc... God has a plan. It may or may not be pastoring a church but I am yielded.

So then I went into the closet. I prayed God would do surgery on me, healing me all that was left to be healed. I laid in the Holy of Hollies and prayed God heal the sharp pains, pains when I cough, sinus, and my bone in my jaw. So by faith I am healed. I expect a great scan, no more bad scans. It's over soon.

Jesus was able to find rest in his storm. God will provide a place an anchor to find security in the storm. Mark 4:40. Trust gives me the ability to sleep in the midst of the storm. Jesus was in the storm but the storm was not in Him. Storms try to come inside. God I trust you. I am not going to perish. We cry out and pray and heaven seems silent and God indifferent. Psalm 44 23-26, Awake! Why do you sleep? Isaiah 51:9-10 Awake put on strength and might. Psalm 121 I lift up my eyes unto the hills...We will not perish, our foot will not slip. The Lord is my keeper, my shade at my right hand. Speak to our problems.

My Appointment

This past Sunday, Jan 13th I sat in church. I was invited by my friend and his wife Kathy and I’m glad I went for I had an appointment with my God that Sunday. An appointment scheduled long before that day, when I can only imagine. One made by a God who saw my pain long before I did, who saw my need long before I was introduced to its cause.

It began when we were singing praise songs and I found myself missing Andrea. Kathy had invited Andrea and me to their church a couple of months back and my mind went back to that day as I stood alone next to Kathy. I looked at the chair Andrea sat in, I by her side, her oxygen at my feet. It was cancers way of letting me know it was still there as we came to worship our God. I thought of her and her strength and I missed her. My thoughts of Andrea were a sick woman in the grips of death. I thought I hate that my memories always seem to be of her in that condition. It had just been so long of a fight I hardly remember life before cancer. What did we do with our time before cancer wrapped our days in sleeping on the sofa, when victories became defined by a walk to the kitchen or the greatest of days when she could come with me to the grocery store? I think of all the events that occurred in all your lives over those years. While everyone else’s lives went on, ours were suspended in suffering. Days defined by endless doctor appointments, scans, fears. Our victories ever shrinking, countless prescriptions bottles lining our bathroom counter, bags of them in reserve in the cabinet were all daily reminders of a battle I never needed to be remind of. I was reminded of the fight when I looked at my wife in a scarf, her face aging far faster than it should. Cancer and chemo were taking their toll on a woman once full of life. Exhaustion was gaining on her and she was given no time to rest. Cancer had a firm grip on her petite body, an easy kill I’m sure. The smallest of the pack chosen, she ran until she had no other choice but to stop and submit to her pursuer. If running is all you have to live for it is only a matter of time until death does not seem so bad an option. It calls to you to accept its form of relief from the exhausting pace of living. And in your exhaustion you begin to listen to deaths arguments, its offer what you desire, rest, just to simply take a break, if for nothing more than a moment. But death’s offer is wrapped in finality.

And that is how I remember the last 4 years. I had no life other than to run with Andrea trying to encourage her to keep running being her cheerleader telling her rest awaits her just over the next hill. Only to find the enemy awaited us even there. So as I sat at church I remembered my brave wife who waited for a healing that was not going to come. My wife who sat down and allowed death to catch her, looking me in the eye telling me it is okay. To be strong

Soon the pastor began to pray I instinctively bowed my head and reached my hand to the chair next to me to hold Andrea’s hand. We never prayed without touching. But my hand found no one beside me, under my hand was my Bible. I had reached for Andrea and found what I now needed, my faith. After the prayer we sang a song I had not heard but the words were basically this, Jesus this is not about me or what I want, this is about you and I surrender to your way. The phrase “Your way” hit me because this is not the way I thought our life would be nor was this the way I wanted my life to be. God spoke to me in that moment and said, “Jim this is my way. Andrea is not there, she is no longer with you. You are touching what you need right now. I have called Andrea home, she served her purpose in your life; she showed you faith. It was as if she was my booster engine to place me into this orbit. As I begin to gasp at the view from space I turn to share it with her only to she her tumbling back towards earth, flames consuming her as she falls back to earth. I would not feel the weightlessness of space without her yet she was only there for a moment only to fall victim to the very gravity she helped me escape. Now it is my turn to stand alone as a man of faith, to take what she taught me and step into a life God is calling me.”

I looked down at my hand on the Bible. My left hand, and my wedding ring suddenly looked out of place. And for the first time since April 30th 1983 I took off my wedding ring Andrea put on my finger and placed it in the pocket of my Bible. It was the first time I even thought about taking my ring off; it had not entered my mind until that moment but I knew the time was right. It was an appointment I had that day.

Since Andrea has passed I have reflected on the past four years and five months of my life and I can tell you I was exhausted thinking about our life. Seeing the conclusion, I know see what many of you must have thought of us. I know some thought we were living in denial. Of course it looks that way knowing the outcome but during the fight it was not so obvious. And I’m glad we lived that way even it was in denial because it allowed us to live. And I would not trade one day of the life I had with Andrea. And I wish God had given me a thousand more but He did not. I’m okay with that. I okay with God’s decision to take her, it can be nothing but for the best. I did not say it was the easiest just the best. That is my faith in a loving God.

I would try to tell you what the day to day life was like for those four years and five months. It was a life in constant battle with what you saw and what you believed. There was so little relief and the near constant battle exhausted us both. God provided the strength we needed for I can attest we did not posses the ability to fight like that on our own. I remember praying every day every night for God to heal Andrea. I remember praying so hard and when I would open my eyes I would wait to see if Andrea “felt” something, hoping she would say something had happened, she felt different, warm or something, I just wanted to know at that moment she was healed. It never came of course. No matter how much I cried out for her, everyday for over 2 ½ years my prayer went unanswered. Scan after scan, tumor maker after tumor marker, drug after drug and nothing, no result other then the cancer has slowed, never gone just pushed back a little. That was our greatest victory, never enough for us to rest and catch our breath, for if we ever relaxed and Andrea was allowed to slow her chemo, it was only 1-3 months until we found the cancer had run rampant and we were behind the eight ball as they say, struggling to gain a footing to get back to where we were before. Relentless that is the best word I can think of right now to describe the cancer. Our victories became smaller but we celebrated them as if they were huge. Once we were happy to stop three of Andrea’s chemo drugs. We had one tumor marker that was only double the normal number instead of the usual 10 times what it should be. When she needed oxygen, which was one of the worst days, then our victory was being able to walk to the car without oxygen, or maybe to just walk around the house. I saw our victories getting smaller and smaller and I new the trend we were on. In fact it was no surprise to either of us. We both knew we needed to gain some separation from the cancer to have any chance at all and we were not getting it. Since we left Goldsboro and moved to San Antonio we were on a steady decline. Andrea was unable to leave the house much at all in the last months and we both knew life was drawing to a close; our time for the miracle we hoped for was slipping away. Not that God needed much time, it was just becoming less likely with each passing day. Soon our only hope was the “Hail Mary” pass. In that moment you realize there is so little chance but then again this is all you have, so you hope for a Doug Flutie moment. We used to kid each other with the line form the movie “Dumb and Dumber” when Jim Carey is talking to the beautiful woman and asks her, “What are the odds of a woman like you and a man like me getting together?” She says, “About one in a million.” Jim Carey looks sad for a moment and then breaks out in a huge smile and says, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance!”

That pretty much sums up the last couple of years after the cancer returned. We had a chance and we clung to it and we took that “one in million chance” and it became our lifeline to hope because the source of that one chance was God and God alone. Through this hope we “lived” those years vice waiting the inevitable. And you know what; I would not change one thing. I know many of you thought we were crazy, that is okay. If, God forbid, you have to face this in your life I will pray for you, for discernment in making the difficult choices that lay ahead. For you will find few choices you want, yet you will still have to decided how you want to live what life you have left. Sometimes “None of the above” is not an answer you can choose from. Our choice was to live life knowing we served a God who loved to work in the one in a million chances. He is the God of miracles and in was in Him we placed our hope, our faith and our trust I’m glad we lived life even if we looked like two kids who could not accept the obvious. That was our choice, right up to Monday 17 Dec when I walked into the ICU and saw Andrea unresponsive and her breathing weakening. I saw our Hail Mary pass fall incomplete and I knew it was time to accept we were not going to receive the miracle we were hoping for. It was then that I had to decide Andrea’s fight was over. I prayed God would make it clear if and when that decision had to be made and He did just that. I will not share the moments and events that made this decision clear all I will say is I had a peace that this was the right thing to do. To describe the appalling moment to tell the doctor it is over is beyond me, watching the nurse hang the morphine drip. In her compassion she hangs it behind the other IVs hoping it remains unseen, but its distinctive glass bottle stands out against all the plastic IV bags. It brings “comfort” to my wife, yet strangely it does just the opposite to me and the boys. Where is our morphine? What eases our pain as we say goodbye? How does the same God offer Andrea unlimited joy and leaves those left behind in tortuous grief and emptiness? It is a moment I wish I could wipe from my memory, but of all I remember of Andrea those moments are burned in my eyes. Why can’t I remember happier days? Why does our joy fade and this remain? I wish I could tell you the answer to these questions but I have nothing to offer you, other than the same God who gave me Andrea took her from me and somehow that must all fit together. Somehow it does, even if I cannot begin to understand it all. I can’t understand salvation yet I accept its blessings, then I must use the same faith to accept this pain.

This is a quote from a book I’m reading called “A Grief Observed” by CS Lewis. I’ve only just started the book but it is tearing at me with its words. So CS Lewis wrote the book after losing his wife to cancer, and it is far it is darker then it is uplifting, but in some strange way it is comforting me.

What chokes every prayer and every hope is the memories of all the prayers H. (His wife) and I offered and all the false hopes we had. Not hopes raised merely by our own wishful thinking; hopes encouraged, even forced upon us, by false diagnoses, by X-ray photographs, by strange remissions, by one temporary recovery that might have ranked as a miracle. Step by step we were “led up the garden path.” Time after time, when He seemed most gracious He was really preparing the next torture. I wrote that last night. It was a yell rather then a thought. Let me try to over again. Is it rational to believe in a bad God? Anyway, in a God so bad as all that? The cosmic Sadist, the spiteful imbecile?”

Those are harsh words written by a man who was suffering a great loss. I share them because they express the confusion that follows an event that has no explanation. In many ways I can relate to the pain in his words and the clarity he sees from looking back from his wife’s death at the hope they shared. But I cannot relate to the hopelessness in the thought that God was somehow out to hurt us. I respect CS Lewis and I love his writings so I await the next chapters with great anticipation.

So were we crazy? If you think it was because we could not accept what was happening I have failed to express myself clearly. Were we crazy to even hope at the odds we faced? I might agree with that assessment of us. But I would have to ask you what was our other option? What do you do with faith? What purpose does it serve but to allow us to believe in the impossible? It is the evidence of things unseen. I will use a sentence from an old Waylon Jennings song that sums up how I feel, “We may have been crazy but it kept us from going insane.”

We never hid from the reality of cancer; we just chose to live life based on our best chance, even though that chance was one in a million. All I can say is how you handle this is a personal decision, one between you your spouse and your God. There is no right or wrong. The way we lived was our way it may not be yours. It did allow us to live life with a lot of joy despite all the pain I have described in this entry and I would not trade one moment of our time. When we first began treatment I always wondered why people would endure chemo for a few months of life. I thought about the monetary costs of treating a “lost” cause. Was it ethical when it was costing over 5,000/month to treat Andrea? Again that is a personal decision based on many factors like quality of life, and one’s own faith. I will tell you when that became a reality in Andrea’s treatment it was clear how we decided. There is no price I would put on a day I spent with Andrea. Partly because she always lived the days she was given, no matter how weak or sick Andrea was able to impact those around her.

Cancer treatment is an exhausting fight, I’m still exhausted and I need rest. I’m tired of being beaten up. I want to live again, if only for a moment. I want to live one day of your life, with all its problems and joys. I just want a “normal” day, week and year. I want to worry about things that don’t involve death, or loss, or the pit of grief I have found myself in. I want my life back but it will not happen. I look everywhere and Andrea is gone. If I looked into the night sky, I would not find her. So many people say, “She is still with you.” She is not. That could not be further from the truth. She is gone and I cannot find her. I know she is part of who I am having known her but I cannot talk to her, I cannot hear her voice, or touch she face, feel her hair. She is not in my bed, I do not see her when I look to her in the car, and she does not answer me when I call out. She is not here. That is my life now.

I know that I will shed this grief and live again. The ache I feel in my head and my stomach will leave me. It is the good part about moving on. You leave a life you once knew but you also leave behind the raw pain of losing someone. At times I find myself wanting to run from here, even though that means leaving the closeness of Andrea’s memory. In my own way I want to stop running and lay down and allow grief to take me, to give in to my pursuer, to let it take me knowing that is the only way I can escape it. Yesterday I think I did that. I allowed grief to consume me, I allowed myself to relive every moment I could of Andrea’s treatment. I allowed myself to call out to God and ask every question that had been suppressed in my mind. It was a time of unfiltered thought a time of openness with my God. It was a time of deep pain. I allowed grief to overtake me as if I was the one singled out of the pack now weak from running I laid down. Today I awake to my life hoping I am some how immune to the depth of pain I felt yesterday. I need that as I head to North Carolina for Andrea’s memorial service. I need that to get back to life, a life where Andrea’s memory is just a thought that brings a smile or a sigh of a moment lived, but a memory that will no long drop me to my knees in pain.

Today I awoke to an email from Gina. She knew the pain I was in last night and she sent me these verses:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son…those he called he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” Romans 8:28-30

She reminded me of the truth. I needed that for when I’m in the pit I noticed I had forsaken my reading of the Bible. guess that is part of being in the pit in the darkness where any light of truth is suffocated and darkness gives way to even greater darkness. It can be frightening how dark it can be. I needed to be reminded of the truth. Gina shown a little light down on me this morning and it helped me see clearly.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Who Do You Fear Today?

Proverbs 9:10
"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom"

Sorry I have not posted a blog in a while I was on a trip for work. All is well here. I leave for Andrea's memorial in NC tomorrow. I'm looking forward to seeing all those who helped us so much in our time of need. So many people to thank. It will be good to go to a place with good memories of Andrea and our life but then again I know it will be hard.
Today was a hard day. For some reason I went through Andrea's clothes and I had another "grief Attack." I laid on a pile of her clothes knowing she was not coming back. I found the nightly she wore on our honeymoon, she still put it on every year...and it still fit! I missed her.
Anyway this is an old journal entry I never posted. I'm not sure why. But I will share it today. I have to ask myself this same question today, Jan 17th 2008. Who do I fear? Now knowing Andrea as passed and this journal was written at a time I had hope. Hope God would heal Andrea; hope that this day would not come. I was hesitant to share this entry since it was written 2 years ago. I was not sure how it would come across, knowing the outcome. Do people look at me as a failure? Am I an idiot? Some fool no proven before so many? I have not reread this entry, but I know however I felt, whatever hope I had was not misplaced or false. How this turned out does not define the God I serve. I love Him as much today as I did when I wrote this journal. I hurt but I love Him, for He first loved me. I think I wrote this while we were in Wichita Falls visiting Andrea's family. I got up early and was on the back porch reading and writing. Anyway here it is:
I am not an expert on scripture and these thoughts are just that, my thoughts. Written July 2 2005 three days before Andrea started chemo for metastatic cancer
I have to share with you the most incredible morning. It is now 9:30 and I have been praying and reading and God has spoken as clearly as I have ever heard Him. I asked for forgiveness for not having this focus in my prayer life before. I hope it offers you encouragement about Andrea, and also in your own walk with the Lord as you serve Him. I have been reading Acts, to remember the miracles of God. Andrea just woke up and I read her what I had written. The words were not my own. When I wrote this is was in bits, I would write and think I was done close my bible and then I would here God speak to me and thoughts, would flow into my mind and I would open my bible and journal and write it down. This happened about four times. Here is what God spoke to me. Reading Saul's Conversion: Acts Ch 9 - Ch 10. The impossible to man is nothing to God. I imagine that even with all the Apostles saw and experienced, Christ, the Pentecost, all of Jesus' miracles they may have said Saul's conversion was impossible. If they were sitting and thinking who can we pick to be an Apostle to the Gentiles , how many would have said Saul? Could their minds even have thought for a moment that the lead persecutor of the church would be the one? He was their number one enemy, threat to their life, the bounty hunter of the early church. Who would have even dared to think much less say Saul names as a possibility? I'm sure when they prayed they did much like we do. We present God with the solution, or maybe a list of options that we see as the logical answers and we ask God to guide us to one of the choices. How often do we have a problem that we open ourselves up to any solution God may have for us? I think that can be scary for us. It leaves the possibility we would be given a solution we don't want to do. Would the early church wanted to entertain the option of Saul? I think not. Of any list they may draw up he was not the last he was not even in consideration. He was the last choice of the people who did not make the list.

So why would God choose such an unlikely person to spread the gospel to the Gentiles? I think from God's view Saul is the perfect choice to take the Gospel to the world. God proves Himself when He takes what is impossible to man and accomplishes His work. What other explanation was there for Saul’s change.

1 Corinthians 1:25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.

Why did Saul become Paul?

First, the impossible to man brings glory to God, it leaves only God as the author. The impossible draws people to look and hear. The result was Acts 9:21-22 All who heard were amazed. Proving that Jesus is the Christ.
People see God in the impossible. Our nature is to explain every thing away, and when there is no explanation then we are left with only one answer, God. And that is what God wants. He wants us to stop trying to give His glory to man. In the impossible man is not a possibility. And that is God's canvas His paints on. In doing so we as believers are lifted up and those who don't believe see God. God took the chief persecutor of the church who role was to stop the spread of the church and converted him into His chief witness to the gentiles. The result was Acts 9:31 The church had peace and was edified, and walking in fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit they were multiplied.

God took what man feared and turned our focus on Himself. The church had feared Saul, now they feared God. God’s display of power in the impossible, Saul’s conversion was humanly impossible, put the fear on God’s power not on a human threat to the church. If god has the power to change Saul, and use Saul as a mighty preacher of the gospel, what couldn’t He do? Have you ever experienced something like this in your life? Your initial response may be joy in answered prayer then you are suddenly hit with the thought that God, the creator of all things had just orchestrated an event in your life. The next response is humility and understanding of the power of the one we sometimes take for granted. We can tend to lessen God, to where we make Him our equal. Then suddenly we get a glimpse of His power and we understand fear of the Lord. God removes our fear of the world, He replaces it with a fear of Himself by showing nothing of this world has power over His will. Then He provides a comforter to help us in this life.

My Prayer - God I pray you will remove this threat to Andrea’s body. It is now humanly impossible to do, revel your power. Give us the strength to fear you and not cancer.
My Thought - Jesus’ proclaimed to be the Son of God. Satan attacked Him with temptation and his ultimate weapon, death. Satan fishes with temptation he hopes we take the bait, and then he plays us. Because like bait when you fish Satan's temptation has no power it is just there trying to et us to take it. There is no effect unless we bite. A hook with a worm is not a threat to a fish unless the fish eats it. Satan does not have the power to put the hook in our mouth and set it. He only entices us by placing desires before us in hopes we will bite. Christ did not bite. However He did give Himself over to death. How Satan must have rejoiced thinking he had won. How devastating it was to man to see Jesus, who proclaimed to be God cut down, powerless and nailed to a cross. Who was in control now? The Apostles fled, Peter denied, Satan even enticed Jesus’ own to betray him with the bait of money. How much more impossible could it have been for the Apostles? Jesus performed many miracles, even raising the dead, but the dead raising the dead had to be beyond their understanding. Do we limit God by thinking He is bound by the laws of this world? Does the creation dictate to the creator?
Out of the impossible God shows His power. Jesus appearing to the saints left no doubt who has the power. Satan’s moment of victory was exposed for what it was, bait. And bait only has power if we believe it to be real and bite. Don’t be fooled by Stan’s illusions. God has never, and will never relinquish control over all he has created.
Fear god not his world or Satan. Fear the Lord because He has all the power. It is only by His mercy that we live we have life itself. Satan has no lasting power. Satan’s power is on loan from God and one day God will take it back and redeem this world and his followers. Satan’s authority is limited and he only has so long to fish. He knows his hour is coming. He frantically fishes and rejoices when he catches us. And what we thought was satisfying, what looked so enticing turns out to be bait and bring only pain and suffering. Remember the best bait looks like the real thing. Beware. Satan cannot separate a believer from God; Death’s sting is an illusion/bait. Satan uses it to instill fear, doubt in God’s power. How can God be God? How can God be all powerful if there is death and suffering? Those are bait, illusions Satan uses to cloud our vision of God. It makes us fear Satan not the Lord. Only he who has the power and authority needs to be feared. Only one is in control and one is pretending. Satan may have some power and some authority but he is not the ultimate power and ultimate authority. Satan knows this; he knew it when Jesus was on the cross. He tries to catch who he can with his bait, his illusion of power and authority. You must fear God, because He has all authority. He is the King of Kings, Lord of Lords. Expose Satan for what he is a subject of the living God.

The bible tells us who is in control, who has the power. Our lives, our answered prayers, creation, fellow believers, changed lives all show us who is in control. Who has the power? It is only when we take our eyes and our hearts off God and the truths He has shown that we fear this world, we fall into despair and hopelessness. Fear God. You will find comfort because the one who has the power loves you. When we fear this world and Satan we do not have comfort because the one you fear does not love you! How scary to be under the authority of one who wants your destruction. But when we fear the Lord, our creator, who loves us we find comfort. One fear brings hopelessness one brings comfort. How much more could God love you and me then by giving us His Son? Giving His Son over to Satan to suffer what we deserve, what Satan wants to do to us? Why did He do this? Because He loves you and I and He demonstrated that He has all the power, the last word, and Stan does not deserve our fear. Fear God who has all power! Peace and comfort come from knowing the one you fear loves you and wants the best for you. When the one who has all authority over you loves you, fear of Him brings peace not despair.
Who do you fear today?
Ecclesiastes 12:13 Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

Monday, January 14, 2008

I Would Like To...

I found this entry in the same journal I found the dream. It was the last page. I loved it and thought I would post it. It is a glimpse into who Andrea was and it made me smile. It is a list of things she would like to do. I will tell you she did almost all of these in her life.

Nov 3rd 1998

I would like to: (Besides the obvious "be a better person.")

Understand and use my camera better
Be a great photographer
Learn about historical architecture
Design and make my own clothes
Know a little more about different breeds of horses
Make wooden furniture
Be very knowledgeable about antiques and furniture styles
Be a gifted gardener
See, in person, many gardens of varying styles-learn about topiaries
Be a talented writer
Find knowledge and wisdom and insight from God-Discernment
Smile more-as in I'm very happy
Show more gratitude
Make happy memories with our boys
Not change a thing about my marriage

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Andrea's Dream

Tonight I was looking through some of Andrea's journals. It was a journal about dreams Andrea had during her life. She recorded on dream she had when she was around four years old. Some were from her adult life like this one. When I came across this entry I could hardly read the words. It was as if I could hear Andrea talk to me when I read these words. I did not remember Andrea telling me about this dream. But we did have this conversation several times in the past two years. And I will tell you the conversation went about just like she has recorded in this journal. I just had no idea that she had this dream when she did. I wonder if she thought about this dream during this fight.

This was written in Dec 1998 but she had the dream in April 1998, five years and four months before she found the lump in her breast.

About 8 months ago I dreamed I had a lump about the size of a golf ball in my stomach. I could feel it in the area just under my ribs, right in the middle. Anyway, I was told I had cancer and I was dying. I was telling Nic not to be sad and be strong. I told Jim to re-marry. He said he would never be able to replace me and that he would be afraid to re-marry because he was afraid it wouldn't be like our relationship. He asked me how he could ever know if he found the right one. I said, "You will know, just like you knew with me. If there's any doubt, she is not the one. The dream was set in June and it was January when the doctors said I had six months to live so I began to question what was going on. I felt fine. Then Robert (A close friend who is a doctor) wrote a note on the bottom of my medical records and said for me to go back and have them check the things he wrote because he thought they may have misdiagnosed me. That was the end. Talk about a depressing dream!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Andrea's Journal Entry May 3rd 2007

This journal entry is Andrea's summary of events from around spring 06 - spring 07. Andrea has a conversation with God about all that had happened. She recalls God's faithfulness to her. I will tell you during this time she faced two brushes with death. First on Nov 06 when her scan report said her tumors were "to numerous to count." Those were tough words to hear. The second was in Jan 07 when she went into the ICU for the first time. In between she went on a trial for a new drug after first being denied entry into the trial. When the doctor told us Andrea could not get the drug her words were, "I'm so sorry, this drug could have lived a long life on this drug." Talk about difficult to hear. We were searching and waiting for a new drug. That was Andrea's only medical hope as no current drug could cure her. The only hope you are given is to try to keep you alive long enough for a new drug to be developed. Here we were so close and told what we sought was within our grasp only to be denied on a technicality. Do you know what Andrea's response to that doctor was? She said without missing a beat, "That's okay don't feel bad, my life is in God's hands and it will be okay." The doctor a young woman, maybe in her early 30s did not know how to respond to such a statement of faith. She had just told Andrea I hold your life in my hands and I'm telling you no, and in her mind as a doctor that was the truth to her. Andrea's response told her, "You don't control if I live or die, there is one greater then you and He holds the keys to my life or death." For me it was a long drive back from Duke to Goldsboro. I just did not understand why we had gone through all that only to be denied. I have to admit I was confused and question God. Andrea allowed me to vent on the drive then she said pull the car over. I stopped on the highway and she prayed for me, for my faith, for the doctor and reminded me God was in control, and that we need not worry. She was that way, facing her own mortality she comforted me. It should have been the other way around. About 2 weeks later Andrea was admitted into the trial, the doctor sat with us and told Andrea what an impact she had made on her life. She could not believe how Andrea had responded. She said it had changed her life. I was ashamed for my failure to trust and believe the truths of God. I had let the world define God's abilities and questioned His plan. I grew that day. I looked at my wife and I thought, thank you Lord for allowing me to witness this woman of faith. I would thank Him for that many times over the next two years.

While I'm thinking about it I will share two other times she did this for me. Sorry if this blog is so long. I just want to talk about Andrea and share with you what I mean when I say she made me who I am today.

It was the day we learned the cancer had returned. We got back for Dr. Atkins office and I drove straight to Duvall's house, not wanting to be alone. Lori Jo, mustered up the strength to calming talk to us offering encouragement. I know this had to be as had on her as us but she never showed it. She was so strong that day. I'll never forget sitting in our car outside her house and her calming words. Anyway we left and went home and I walked into our room and collapsed on the bed and began to cry out to God, "No! God do not take Andrea from me!" Our last oncologist told us if the cancer ever returned Andrea was going to die, and that is all I remembered. In a moment I felt Andrea lay on my back, her put her body over mine, her arms wrapped around me, trying to cover me with her self. Then she just whispered in my ear, Jim it is going to be okay, God is in control I will be fine. She just kept telling me that over and over until I calmed down. She began to hear her cry, just a faint cry. I was not sure if she was srying about the cancer or seeing me in pain. I think the later, she was just that way. She was comforting me. It should have been the other way around.

The other time was when we were waiting for Andrea's second bone scan results. It must have been around Dec 06, six months since the original diagnoses of incurable bone cancer. This was the killer. Bone cancer was the one I feared. Not just death but a slow and painful death. Anyway we were called back to Dr. Atkins check in area where Andrea's height, weight and blood pressure were recorded and we took our seats waiting for a exam room to open up. Those are tense moments waiting for test results. So much hope. Knowing the answer is already written. Were our prayers answered or not? You don't know you only know the answer is already written in the radiologist report. Well I could not stand it I had tried to read the nurses eyes hoping to she if she would revel the contents of the report and could not discern anything. I look up on the counter and there laid the report, just sitting in the open. Andrea had her back to me so I picked it up, and read the Doctors summary; the bone caner had spread to the point her bones throughout her spin hips were completely covered by tumors. What was once three small spots had spread everywhere. The diagnoses was terminal. I set the paper down and could not breath. I walk back to Andrea and sat down. She said “What is it, what did that say?” I said “Nothing” trying to hide what I knew but my face gave me away. She said, “Jim what did it say?” I said, “The doctor said the bone cancer has spread everywhere and there was nothing they could do.” She turned and looked me in the eyes and said, "Jim do not worry, it will be okay. I trust God. It is okay, God holds my life in His hands." I looked at her, the pain welling up in me, and thought what faith you have. She was a rock. She did not waiver. And I had just told her it was over, next comes the pain, then morphine, then Hospice, and then it is over. She did not blink an eye. I felt her strength filling me. I smiled and we hugged. In a minute we were called back to see Dr Atkins. He put the scan on the light board. Oh my God! Six months ago Andrea bone scan showed three black spots about the size of a pencil tip. At the time Andrea could hardly walk or get up from the pain. In this scan her whole spine and almost 100% of her hips were solid black. I thought it was worse then report said. Dr. Atkins in his usual calming confidence pulled the scan down and said, "Well the radiologist feels this is showing a significant spread of bone cancer. I disagree, I think this is just showing changes in your bone density most likely caused by the bone strengthen drugs you are on. I would not worry about it. If this was cancer you would not be able to stand up much less walk." I thought yeah, she hurt so bad before and now she is not hurting, that can't be cancer. I looked at Andrea and she was smiling at me. She withstood the attack and again she taught me the meaning of faith and trust, not as a concept but practically when life challenges what you profess to believe. She was giving me strength. It should have been the other way around.

Here is Andrea's Journal entry:

Lord it is May 3rd, a Thursday night and I can't sleep. I was thinking of all the things you mean to me and how blessed I've been by you Lord. It's been almost two years since I started chemo for metastatic cancer. In one way Lord, the time has flown by and in another I've felt it crawl by hoping each day would give me another day to live. Since the beginning I have know you were planning to heal me since you told me so in your word, through people like Jacquelyn , Wayne, Jim and many others. And also through my dreams. So in other words I have had and still do feel that your plan is to heal me. At first I thought it would be a few months of chemo and Wha-la I'd be finished, healed yet in fact I'm taking a new form of chemo called Xeloda and also Tarceva. The side effects of Xeloda were daily vomiting and Tarceva was a horrible rash on my face and head. I know you remember those Lord. My scans were improving I believe but Dr. Atkins changed me to Gemzar since I could not keep anything down. Lord every time I needed change, you provided. You were with me every second of my care. So often we prayed for Dr. Atkins wisdom and you answered us positively, always. Then when we were doing well I asked Dr. Atkins about the trail at Duke for a new form of Herceptin called Lapatinib. He said I was stable so it was a good time to try it. I was denied because I had previously taken Xeloda or Tarceva. Jim was heart broken. I was just tired. But then later we got a call and suddenly I was in! One month of no chemo and I was randomized to the arm that does not get Herceptin with the new drug. Here we go again Lord. You know my life was slipping away and my body was becoming polluted completely with tumors. But you never left me. You had Jim set up for my Mom and Angela (sister) to visit weeks earlier and the visit coincided with my illness. They got to meet Dr. Atkins. When I went to his office I had to be wheeled in, as I was unable to breath. I had just become increasingly short of breath and had gotten oxygen just in case I needed it. I had told the nurses at Duke that I was short of breath but they did not seemed concerned. Just said let them know if it gets worse. Well then I got the CT scan while Ang and Mom were here. I was covered in tumors. Dr. Atkins pulled down the films and started me on chemo either that day or the next. Angela almost vomited at the sight of all the tumors. This is a question Lord you don't ever have to answer but what was that near death jaunt all about? I pray our faith was grown through it as well as my Mom's and Angela's. Then you gave us such a great gift Christmas Lord. It was so fun. I loved having Nic home. Remember Lord how you got his tickets to Him? I was so happy!!! I was doing better with breathing but the first week of January I wasn't feeling good. Jim and I took Nic to the airport and that night he took me to the hospital. I had pneumonia. Remember Lord how about a year ago before this I felt liked you asked me whatever I wanted to do about the fluid around my lungs? I said I did not want to go to the hospital (they were going to admit her to drain the fluid) and then you asked me what if there was something you had for me to do there. And I asked if I couldn't just do it some other way. Then I felt you say, "What if someone who was there to witness to your son didn’t want to do what I needed them to do?" I said “I'd go to the hospital.” But again, I felt you persist and say, "No what do you want to do? I said "I don't want to go." Then at my appointment before going into the hospital all the fluid was gone! No hospital for me! Fast forward to Jan 07 when I was so short of breath I can barley make it to the car without help. We meet Dr. Atkins at the hospital and he admits me with pneumonia. Here I am Lord just where I didn't want to be. This time you're not asking me if I want to be there either! Dr. Atkins told Jim it was bad and he would rather me go on a ventilator and feeding tube so that my body didn't have to function on its own and well as get better. We agreed. I prayed Lord for your guidance and there you were again!!! Guiding all my care. That night I went to surgery for the tubes. Thank you for being with Jim and me. I remember right before the "lights went out" I said to Dr. Dove and the nurses, "I'm praying for you" They responded like a choir of angles, "We're praying for you too." Now Lord they didn't have to respond like that but I'll tell you one thing I appreciate that they did. What a comfort. I thank you that the ICU was only 3 days! Dr. Dove told Jim there were a couple of scenarios that could happen. I could just never really recover and pass on or stay on the breathing tube for 7 days or so, but that in a few cases people have got off in 3-4 days!

I love you so much God. Look at all you already have done and I'm not finished writing or living!!!

Thank you for showing me your universe while I was unconscious in the ICU. Thank you for letting me feel your angles lifting me up (Psalm 91) under my armpits. What comfort you brought me Lord while I was asleep. You healed my body and the scan I had in the hospital that night was better then Dec's CT as far as tumors went. They were down by 75% on that scan I think. But then God out of all that came people being touched by you! I don't know how we could be a witness in that state but we were somehow. And that's only because of you. I pray we fulfilled your mission for us in the hospital.

Well Lord as you know when I lived in Turkey in 1999-2001 I dreamt that something very significant happened on a date that was written down on something like a piece of paper. It was 01/09/0 and the second part of the year was missing. So every year on Jan 9th I waited to see what would happen. But nothing significant ever happened. Until 01/09/07! When I left the hospital on 01/09/07. (note 7 is the number of completion). Lord I believe I left the cancer behind me. I left it there! I love the way you speak to me. I love you Lord. I just want to put it in writing that I'm thankful for what you've dome for Jim and me and our family. I thank you I'm alive and will continue to be. I just love you Lord.

I had scans in March or was it Feb? March - and they looked good - only a few small spots they call questionable. So again I praise you Lord.

I'm scheduled for two more rounds of chemo as you know Jesus and my body is feeling very toxic. So my prayer remains that I will not receive another single drop of chemo that I don't need. For your faithfulness I pray for my healing, for my eye sight, vocal cords, arm and hand neuropathy, blood levels, all side effects. Clearly I can see you heal and you will heal me of all that ails me. I thank you so much Lord for all you have done. I am your miracle Lord. Use me how you see fit. Maybe it will be big maybe it will be small, but it will be. I pray for spiritual sensitivity like the neuropathy in my hand Lord. It is so sensitive. Let me feel a tingling when you speak to me. Don't let me miss your still small voice.

I thank you Lord Jesus. I love you - You are my healer.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Andrea's Journal Entry May 9th 2007

Again I feel I have nothing to Andrea's words. For those of you who were blessed to meet Andrea she was in private as you saw her. She loved God first. I miss her faith. But as she told me that time, Jim what are you going to do when this is over? You need to have your own faith and it can not be based only on the intensity of this trial. You need to have a faith that will stand up when this is over. Now my giant of faith is gone and it is my time to stand up and be counted as a believer. To have my own faith, a faith I live with when life is easy. Sometimes that is harder then having faith when you are lost in helplessness. I hope Andrea knows. I think she does. I'm glad she saw me begin to change before she passed. I think it was God's gift to her.
Here is her Journal entry:

Tonight at church we sang "Shout to the Lord" and when we got to the part, "Nothing compares to the promise I have in you." I thought how true that is for me. The doctors can only offer me, "Management of the cancer", or to keep me, "As comfortable as possible" but God offers healing. He offers me a plan to bless me and not harm me. To see the goodness of Lord in the land of the living and I will declare the works of the Lord. Praise God. I love that. Nothing compares to the promise I have in God. And after this life, eternal life life with our savior in heavenly bliss! I can hardly wait. I pray for a life fulfilled here on earth, serving God and my family. And then life eternal. Praise God.

Then we sang, "This is the air I breathe, your holy presence in me!" And again I thought how when I was sick and having trouble breathing, you were my breath. I could hardly breath and you intervened for me. I want to remember when I feel short of breath that you are the air I breath, your holy presence in me!

I love you Lord and I thank you so much for the service tonight on suffering. It's not the cancer that makes me suffer for Christ but my attitude that determines if I am suffering for Christ. I pray I suffer for you Lord and I never loose focus of that.

Thank you for my life. I am so blessed. Thank you for Sevgi (our cat) who is at the foot of our bed snoring right now. She's your creature and a gift from you.

I love you Lord God Almighty,

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Andrea's Journal Entry Aug 3 2006

I don't think the following words need any introduction or explanation. I can say nothing that adds to the faith and trust expressed in Andrea's words.

Nahum 2:1
An attacker advances against you, Nineveh .
Guard the fortress,
watch the road,
brace yourselves,
marshal all your strength!

Lord! That I may always be alert to the enemy and his tactics to distract and harm me. Help me guard my heart and mind so that I don't become discouraged and forget your words to me. I shall not die but live and see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! I will be a story. I will minister to people in need. You have a plan for me. I will feed your sheep. I love you Lord! You are the creator of all things, all people and I love you. You love me and are my father. You want to bless me and I am being used by you. I pray I never receive any glory, but that you will. Be glorified through Jim and me. If one person comes to know you it's worth it all. I pray we are faithful so that people will see and know you. Truly it is only by your grace and mercy I still stand. Thank you for the faith you gave me as a young child. I have needed more than ever before. Your grace is sufficient for me to lean on. Thank you for your promises Lord. I think of David and how he waited on your promise of kingship to be fulfilled. One day Saul died and David rejoiced and danced in the streets. One day all the cancer in this body will be dead and I will rejoice and dance in the streets. I will give you the glory, you the credit and all the praise.

Sometimes I get very excited when I think of all you have in store for us. I pray I will never be like Hezekiah who forgot you and became proud. He took on the glory that was yours and he sinned against you. I pray I will always remember Hezekiah and let Jim remember him also that we never follow after his ways. I pray we will always point to you and never receive glory for my healing. Truly, life is a gift from you, and you alone. Thank you Christ Jesus for being willing to die for me. How frightening it must have been for you in your humanness and yet the Godliness in you took precedence and you gave your life for our salvation and our healing. Help my faith grow every day! I want to know that I know that I know! I know one life isn't one and yet I give my life to you that others may come to you. Spare my life, I pray, that I may give it up for you.

I love you,

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Depth of Our Love

Psalm 13:5
But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I filter this experience though these words and many like them that speak to Gods promise. No matter how bad life gets, my heart rejoices in the greatest gift, salvation and nothing can take that from me.

1 Corinthians 13

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.

This verse is to remind me how to love, though impossible by my own power, it is given as a gift from God. And it reminds me of the love God has for me.

Today was a knock down drag out fist fight with grief. I came out sore and bruised but God has not left me He is just calling me to trust him as I walk a path I do not want. His hand outstretched to me saying, “Come on my precious son, it will be okay. I feel your pain and I love you. Are you ready to trust me yourself? I have great plans for you on the other side. It is time for you to trust me on your own.”

I had my appointment with the SGLI (Military Life Insurance). I had to drop off the death certificate and sign the paperwork. Then I confirmed that Andrea has been removed form the military personnel system and I am officially single. I was briefed on the “Death Benefits.” Does that strike anyone else as a strange term? What benefit do I have? What some money, the ability to pay off Nic’s school loan? Is this my Benefit? Have I benefited in some way? The chance to live alone? The chance to marry again? Are these benefits? If they are I did not ask for them. I did not seek them. I don’t want them. I just want to touch my wives hand. To hear her say I love you in my ear. To hold her against my body, to cover her small frame and make her feel safe. Do you realize what a gift you have when you laugh with someone you love? When you have the chance to walk into your house to screaming kids and a tired wife? Do you know what a gift it is to say goodnight to someone you love? No there is no such thing as a “Death Benefit” trust me on this one. There is nothing you want that will be of any value when you reach out in the night and find the bed is empty. Or when you walk home and find only silence greets you. I have no benefit. I have only a pain an emptiness waiting to be filled. Yet filling it involves it own set of pain.

All that would have been hard enough but that was nothing to what lay ahead. I left with my head hanging. I went and put gas in the car and then went home. Why I did not know. But I had an appointment with grief; it was just not on my schedule. I walked into a totally empty house for the first time. There was no one but me. I walked into the living room. There was the trigger to my grief, an 8X10 picture of Andrea, my favorite, her head in her hand, her blue eyes piecing me. I just began to cry, as I have never cried in my life. That is all I will say.

I ended up in our room. I cleared her side of the bed for the first time and laid down there with her picture. I cried myself to sleep, trying to come to terms with why I was crying and what had happened in my life. I was no longer one with Andrea. There in the picture was part of me. We were joined together and spent 27 yrs and 8 months becoming one. Today I really began to understand I was no longer one with her, I was just me again, just as the Air Force made me with the click of the mouse button, single. But the separation is not instantaneous nor without a great amount of pain as I feel God split apart what He joined. I fight to stay one with Andrea but I know I can not. I have to leave that life behind. God took her from me. I have to accept that. I have to listen to my own words and trust Him. And I do, I just feel bad leaving her because I have a life ahead of me, a future. We were just so young our life was not complete, and I’m left at a point in my life where I have to live again. I have to love again. There in lies additional pain in my life. Because I loved Andrea so deeply, I feel devoted to her, yet I know I will love again. Am I betraying Andrea? I want to stay close to Andrea but she is no where to be found. Just a picture on the wall. I have no choice but to move on and accept my future as a gift from a God I trust. My relief from the sharp pain I feel is to allow Andrea’s memory to fade and the pain to soften, but I love her. How can I do this? I’m trapped between a place I can not stay but don't want to leave and a place I have go but feel I shouldn’t. I have to remember Andrea loved me and told me to go on living if she died. I have to know my only hope and my place in life is forward, away from this debilitating pain. It is not that I did not love her that I move on.

Do you think I did not love Andrea? I hope it does not appear that way. Do you know the depth of love I had for Andrea? That I did not ask for this. Do you know that I’m torn by living? That without her I’m suddenly not myself. I never sought this pain, or the future I will live. I did not want another life outside of Andrea. This is not my choice, it is my life. I loved Andrea far beyond anything physical. I hate that the word love is associated so much with the physical or used so flippantly as to describe our feeling towards a car or a good meal. It cheapens a word that means so much more. I loved Andrea to the depth of my soul, to the very core of my being. I loved her as myself, her desires were my desires. My joy was meeting her needs, making her dreams come true and watching her become the woman God called her to be. I loved her the best I could, I tried to love her as Christ loved the church and I would have laid my life down for her. I only wish I could have done just that. I was able to love her so deeply because she loved me that way. We had an absolute trust in each other. Never would we be harmed, no failure would ever be celebrated, no fall would bring rejoicing. When I failed, she picked me up, never condemning only encouraging me. Why? Because she loved me more then herself and her desire was for my success, and mine for her. It was the perfect circle of giving and receiving. It was as God intended marriage to be and I was blessed to live it. We grew together with this foundation of trust in each other and that was the catalyst to a deeper love. We were best friends as well as husband and wife and we filtered life’s events through our love for each other. When you do that there is nothing that will rise to the level above your spouse. So what can you argue about? What means more then the one you love? What would I put before Andrea? A job? How could something I wanted be of more importance then my greatest desire in life, my wife’s happiness? When seen through our love everything else fell away as unimportant and secondary. Happiness was in each other. I had everything in life money could not buy. Do you know that? Do you understand how much I loved her and how much she loved me? Do you know she took a second assignment to Alaska because she knew I loved it there? Did you know she hated it there, the dark winters? Do you know I told my boss I could not stay and become the commander of the 90th Fighter Squadron because Andrea needed better health care. Did you know my one dream in life was to command that squadron? Do you know I ended up commanding what others saw as a meaningless squadron, a squadron people turned down as beneath them? Do you know I could not have been prouder to be that commander? That I was glad to give up my dream for her? Do you know God blessed that squadron? Do you know how much I loved her? I’m not saying we were perfect, far from that. What I’m saying is we were very imperfect but we loved each other and those imperfections never rose to a level of importance greater then our love for each other. Do you know I have love this deeply? Do you know the depth of pain I know feel?

Do you see what I lost on Dec 17th? Do you see why I struggle to move on? And making it worse is knowing I have to. Do you see why I struggle with living and going on? If I was 75 when Andrea died I would not have the problem. I would not have a second life ahead of me that pulls at me. But God took Andrea at 45 and not 75 and I believe that was for a reason. I trust it is what is right for me. I trust that what lies ahead for me is for a reason and what I learned by loving Andrea and the man I am today is for a reason. I will tell you I expect to love that way again. It is the only way I know how to love. The only way I want to love. And I will know her when I feel I can put my trust in her. It is based on being able to trust and nothing to do with the physical. I will feel my love for her before I ever see my love for her, just as I did with Andrea.

I’m not afraid of what God has for me. I just need to adjust to being torn apart. Like ripping a sheet where the threads are interwoven so tight they resist the tearing but eventually under enough force the bonds break producing that ripping sound. That is what I heard today in my wailing, a ripping sound. It rings in my ears as I type this.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Do You Trust Me?

Life has settled into somewhat of a routine. And each moment of each day it becomes more normal and pushed back the life I once had. The crowd continues to press against me and I continue to reluctantly move forward. Today I was shoved in the back. Today I picked up Andrea's death certificates. Today I remove her from the military system as my wife. Today I officially become a single parent in the eyes of the military. Today I was shoved in the back.

I'm sitting down with the folder of the certificates by my side. They are very official looking, they freeze in time a life once lived, now taken. They capture the facts of Dec 17th 2007 in unfeeling words, the official paper only adding to the insensitivity of the words typed on the page. Immediate cause of death: Respiratory Failure, 23 days. Condition leading to the cause listed: Metastatic Breast Cancer, 4 years. So few words to capture her life. I'm struck that only the cancer gets recognized in the end. Its final victory emblazed for ever by the state of Texas. No mention of who she was, what she meant, her family, her accomplishments, her faith, her love, her laughter, her unending love for me and the boys, her impact on you. There is no block to check on these things. No scale to rate how much she meant to us. Those are left for us to carry on. The State only records the facts. Her home address, where she died, where she is buried, her parents names, her age, and her ssn. It is a cold document that I'm sure is filed somewhere, read by someone who reads 100s a day. Does he pause on Andrea's and wonder who she was? Does he feel how special she was amongst all the other death certificates he is filing? Andrea June Ravella, age 45, surviving spouse James J. Ravella. That is us. One deceased on surviving.

Funny as I read that word surviving. That is about right. It seems to capture me right now at this moment. I'm surviving, not living, not loving, not laughing, just surviving. I eat to survive. I sleep to survive. I look forward to living and not surviving. To being someone special to someone else. To have someone need me and look into my eyes and love me. To have a purpose in life. To join with her and serve God. To take what was so painful and allow God to use it for His glory. I want to do more then survive, I want to live God's will for my life. And I believe I will know her because I will be able to trust her.

I want to honor Andrea by taking the cold facts of this death certificate and turning it into the story of who she was, what she meant to me in hopes that someone else facing difficult times will be encouraged. That even in death and "losing" the battle to cancer, I can encourage someone that God loves them. That in the end faith comes down to trust. Do you trust God? Do you really trust Him? That can only be tested in the furnace of a trail. And that trial need not be life and death, it may be an unanswered prayer for a job you thought was perfect, a guy or gal who was the perfect match, a house you pictured as your dream home, or as simple as a request for a good nights sleep. One day it will most likely be death so use this time to build your faith and more importantly your trust in God. Faith is required when ever we seek God's will in our life, but trust is only needed when the answer is not what we asked for, anticipated or even wanted. Then God looks at us in silence and sees how we react. He awaits our ability to trust him. He uses this time to see if we believe what we profess. Do we trust Him when life does not turn out how we wanted or asked? Do we embrace the gifts of the cross but flee from its requests of us?

This was Andrea's example to us. She had faith, faith that truly could move a mountain, but above that she had trust. She had faith in the healing she sought but her trust was not tied to the outcome. She knew God could move that mountain but she also knew God’s love was not dependent on it moving. That His love for her was not conditional. There in lies the trust she exhibited. She was strong enough in her faith to tell anyone that she would be healed but she trusted enough to lay in the ICU in absolute peace. Trust existed in her as a separate entity from her faith and her desires. That is how she laid in that bed. That is how she went back to chemo week after week, that is how she looked at scan after scan that questioned her prayers and the faith she placed in those prayers and the God see sought for relief. That is what we saw that we did not understand, trust separate from faith. It presented itself to us as unwavering faith, but it was not just faith. It was trust in God that was detached from an expectation or outcome. It was a trust that was built upon a God she had known and sought her whole life. It was a trust built upon her countless hours of reading God's word and time spent in prayer seeking Him. It was a trust built upon past accomplishments and failures. A trust built upon an understanding of what God did for her. A trust built upon a relationship started in a little girl bout 4-5 yrs old, at the alter of a small unimpressive church on 33rd street in Wichita Falls Texas. When God sent His spirit to indwell this little girl. The little girl you heard singing my past blog. It was a trust she learned at an early age. Expressed early in our marriage when we prayed for an assignment. Andrea told her dad, “We are praying for a specific assignment but if we don’t get it we know God has something better for us.” Seemingly simple words but let the thought sink in. The faith to ask, with the trust to accept.

That is what I need to remember when I look upon this death certificate that only captures the facts of her death, just has the name implies it should. In me, in each of us we carry her life certificate. We carry the memory of her life. Some who knew her as a baby, some just the last days of her life, some in between, but together we all comprise the story of her life. Andrea's extraordinary example of faith and her rare example of trust are emblazed in us. They call to us and challenge us to trust as well. Andrea's life challenges us to learn about the God we serve, to study His word not as a scholar but as a child seeking to learn about his/her father. You need not have a fancy study guide, just open and read and think about the context of the words. Who was there? What might they have been thinking? What were their fears? What was their dreams and hopes in life? How did God help them? How did they face life’s trials? How did they face disappointment? How did they respond in joy and success? How does the principle fit in my life, my circumstance? The example need not be exactly as yours because even if our trials are different God faithfulness is unchanging. Even if you are not facing cancer and death God’s love still awaits you. He is still seeking to use this time in your life to build your faith and if necessary your trust in Him. You have to hold onto the truth of what you read, memorize the verse and if that is too hard for you like it is for me, memorize the context of the words. Let your faith will be your shield, and the Word be your sword as you fight life’s challenges to what you profess.

If I could be so bold these are the words I feel God is telling us though Andrea's life.

"I want you to fully enjoy the blessings of the cross, it promises are true and its gifts are sure. But I also don't want you to flee from what the cross asks of you. I do not ask anything more of you for your salvation then your faith in what was done on the cross. But I will ask of you to show your trust in me so that I may reach others. Allow me to bless you through the cross. Allow me to grow you through life's difficulties. Enjoy the rewards of your faith but don't flee from me when I ask you to trust Me. You can do this when I abide in you. Andrea was small for a reason; I used her apparent weakness in the worlds view to put an explanation point on her example. I have plans to prosper you and not harm you. Do you trust those words? That is the question I have for you today. Do you trust me?" Think before you answer. Because I need people with faith but more I need those who trust me to be my witness. Will you trust me? If you take this step you will find I will give you all you need. If you take this step and move from faith into trust, I will send you opportunities to show this trust to others. For there are so many in need of this lesson. There will be hard times, unanswered prayers, events you do not understand. I will challenge you to move your relationship with me from one built on receiving from me to one built on laying yourself down for me. Yes I know this may scare you but do you trust me? Life will be difficult not because I don't love you or have left you, far from it. I send them so you can be all that I have planned for you. That you will realize the reason and purpose for which I spoke you into existence. I need you. Because out of your trust which can only be proven of worth in a difficulty, you will be fulfilled. Because you will be living in my will. And trust me there is no where else you would rather be. If you only knew what awaits you would seek this with all your heart, but if you knew fully what I have for you there would be no need for faith and trust would just be. I could revel it all but I choose not to. Do you trust me that this is right? I'm asking you to believe by faith and trust through that faith. Trust me there is no where else you will feel more complete. There is no where else you will feel such joy, not just happiness but pure joy. Free from circumstances and free from conditions. Then you will feel the comfort in the shadow of my wings. There you will feel the peace that surpasses all understanding. There you will find Me. You will shine to a world searching frantically for peace and happiness. The world is not looking for the answer in me, but you will point them to me, because you will be "strange." You will be unexplainable. You will be like Andrea. People were drawn to her for reasons they did not understand. They came to her not understanding why other then they saw what they needed in this unexpected place. That was me they saw. That was me using a willing daughter to help others. That is my power made perfect in her weakness. Did you see it? Did you get a glimpse of who I am? I was screaming through Andrea's silence in the ICU. I was screaming through her smiles in the chemo room. I was hollering at you through her gentle yet strong acceptance of the race I laid out for her. Do not be deceived she was not forgotten, I held her in my hand every step of the way because in her faith and trust she allowed me to. It was not Andrea that you saw, it was me. Allow yourself the fulfillment of drinking from the well of living water. Allow yourself to experience a love in suffering or disappointment for the words suffering and disappointments are fleeting. They can not transcend to eternity, they will be left behind. Allow them to take you closer to Me and things eternal that really do matter. But you will have to first know me, then trust the one you know and not what you may see or experience. I know this is hard; did not my Son struggle in the garden? But did He not choose what was eternal over what was temporary? Allow yourself to fall back in faith trusting I will catch you. Won't you come to me? Won't you allow me to show you how great I truly am? How far above your thoughts and expectations I am. How deep how wide and how tall my love for you is. Won't you allow me to show you the depth of love I expressed in my Son's death? Allow yourself to see my love for Andrea in her death. Yes she is gone from you but her example still tugs at you. It still calls to you because that is my voice you are hearing. I love you. I only desire you to see the truth of the world you live in. That it is just a flash, a vapor in the wind. There is a truth exists beyond what you see, feel taste and touch. This truth is unseen yet so real. So very real. You can only experience it fully by faith in me and by trusting me when life's inevitable challenges come.

Won't you trust me today?"