Hold On There!

My husband read my most recent post, “Remember this Conversation.” His reaction was “Wait a minute! I’m not leaving here all that soon!”

With all the talk of “going to heaven” in that posting, I think it’s worth mentioning … we are just on the cusp of beginning treatment. They didn’t send Bud home option-less. If you keep up with the “Mercies in Disguise” Facebook group, you know that this is a pivotal week for him.

Sloan-Kettering is ranked second in the nation for cancer treatments. On Tuesday, we will be there to get their opinion. We’ll be asking them if they have something different from UR-Strong; we’ll be asking their opinion of the plan that UR-Strong has given us; I’m sure we’ll be asking them many more things as well.

Unless there is a significant revelation, he will be starting treatment on Wednesday in Rochester. The doctors have given a general idea of what to expect of the future. But the doctors don’t factor in the “simple” things that Bud might be doing to help the process. He has eliminated all added sugar from his diet; and he has eliminated carbohydrates as well. It seems that cancer thrives on sugar, according to our research. It does no harm to take this approach, and it may make a great difference. Not only in limiting the food source for cancer, but in putting Bud in the best health possible for the coming treatments.

We are utilizing some herbs and oils on a daily basis. Once again, it does no harm and it may make a huge difference.

And our medical team has no way to factor in the complicated aspect of Bud’s personal treatment. They have no idea of how God is going to work in this situation. When you have no basis in understanding what God can do, you just cannot think outside of the box—you simply cannot fathom the greatness of God. The medical community as an establishment has factored God out of the picture.

Likewise, we have no idea what God is going to do in this situation. Our position is not one of ignorance, but of education and knowledge. Our God is so great, how could we ever hope to explain Him? Frankly, if I could explain Him, I wouldn’t want to worship Him. We have a foundation that is firm in the belief that God is Almighty and what He chooses to do, He can and will do.

Ours is the God who does miracles. Ours is the God who is the Great Physician. I want to be like Abraham when faced with the possibility of Isaac’s death on the mountain. He had never known of God to raise anyone from the dead, yet he was confident that God could do just that. He had no limitations upon God. I want to be open to everything that God can do; I want my attitude to be one of total confidence in Him.

Day to day, life goes along pretty much as normal. Our business is a priority for us, even more so right now. The personal reminder about the value of life inspires us to serve each family in the way that we would want to be served.

As we enter this week, we are so thankful to each one of you who has shared your love and prayers with us. God uses someone of you every day to encourage us and to comfort us. God has blessed us by your prayers, encouragement, concern and help. We’re thankful for soldiers on the ground, such as you, who regularly wrap your arms around us in comfort and hope and lift us before Him in prayer and love.

We are deeply grateful.

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Image from: http://www.hamptonroadschurch.com/genesis/2017/5/4/genesis-22-the-binding-of-isaac

Remember This Conversation

It is a lovely thing to watch. A man who has always enjoyed talking with people, loves talking with people even more today.

Before, he would chat and shoot the breeze with you, plan a time to have breakfast together, and move on.

Today, he will chat and shoot the breeze with you, plan a time to have breakfast together and tell you something else that he has always wanted to tell you. But he never did because he was waiting for something. Maybe the right time, a receptive ear, a comfortable feeling, just something.

But now he talks boldly and in kindness. I want others to hear what he is saying to you…

“Yes, I have cancer. But the situation is all in God’s hands. I don’t know His plan for me, but He does and I know He is good. But, what about you? If you were to die today, do you know where you would spend eternity?”

And some of you do, all praise and thanks to God.

Some of you say that you hope you’ll be good enough to go to heaven. Some of you even believe he is good enough to go to heaven. You say things like “You’re so good that you’ll be there.” And he says to you, “No one is good enough.” You see, he is not going to heaven because he is so good. He does a lot of good things and he has helped many people and shown “goodness.” But that is not why he is going to heaven.

And he does not want anyone left with the misconception that he is going to heaven because he’s good enough.

My husband is going to heaven because he trusted Jesus Christ as his Savior…to save him from an eternity without God. There is only One good enough to make a way for us to get to Heaven to be with God. Jesus is the only One. He took all our sins, our total badness and paid the price the required price on our behalf.  (I know on the inside you feel it, that badness, unworthiness, dirtiness – that’s sin.) But Jesus didn’t stay on the cross or in the grave; He rose from the grave to live again! He rose to prove that He has the ultimate victory over death! Jesus conquered sin and death. And He did it for you. He did it for me. He is the essence of goodness. And it was all because of love.

He will urge you to ask questions. He will encourage you to make a decision about what you’re going to do with Jesus. Will you deceive yourself that you are good enough, or will you believe that Jesus is all goodness and all love and take His gift of eternal life?

He will also say to you, “Remember this conversation. I want you to think about it and remember it. When you look back to this moment from the other side of death, I don’t want you to regret this conversation.”

To you, reader, I say “Remember this posting. Here you see the truth about how to spend all eternity with Jesus. Ponder this posting. Ask your questions. Make sure you think it through and decide what you’re going to do with Jesus. When you look back to this moment from the other side of death, I don’t want you to regret your decision. I want you to have life.”

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The Ocean in a Five Gallon Pail

I know my last posting was turbulent. I wanted to set the stage for this posting. From the middle of our second appointment, which lasted an hour longer than scheduled everything was so chaotic in my mind and in my spirit. I saw Bud losing hope and shriveling up within himself. I knew the enemy was there siphoning off our joy in drips and gushes. We were tossed about in our emotions, heaved with force out of our nest of hope.

And then we met Kathleen. She entered and quietly introduced herself. She had a few questions to ask Bud to “measure how he was doing.” When she got to the emotions of the situation, she pulled right up to the table and listened. And she made the connection. She could see the turbulence, the agitation, the shifting—all of it, very clearly. And she let Bud talk and share.

And then she spoke. “As a sister in Christ, I want to remind you . . . .” That statement alone was amazing and comforting. It was the catalyst that started to set our world right again. This soft-spoken, well-spoken Christian woman took the issues well into hand and started to deal with them.

She reminded Bud that the timelines are based on statistics and tables. But “I have seen the hand of God in this place,” she said. To God the timelines and tables are foolishness. He is not inclined to follow them. They are man’s attempt at a best guess at what is coming. “I want you to remember,” she said, “that you belong to Him and he has you right here.” This said as she placed her finger in the palm of her opposite hand and closed it tightly around that lone index finger.

And the chaos was pushed back by peace, by the Prince of Peace as he took control and said “Peace! Be Still!”

She continued to make an analogy – God, His being and His ways, are like an ocean. Man’s attempts at explaining God is like putting the ocean in a five gallon pail. We all know that will not happen. Yet we are so willing to limit God. It is our job to do our part and then to be still and watch the ebb and flow of the working of the Lord; observe and relish the beauty of the ocean of God.

“Kat.” This gracious woman with words of wisdom was placed there by God for Bud for that day. He knew exactly what Bud would need to carry him to the next thing. The ministry of hope that she has is pivotal in so many lives. We have been blessed by Kathleen.

Great Big, Whole Lot

In my first cancer post I wrote about the cancer diagnosis.

“That is just a great big whole lot of nothing, and a great big whole lot of everything.”

The “great big whole lot of nothing” stepped into our world and grabbed us by total surprise. While I live in a world of cancer awareness, I have never learned about it on a personal level. So this five six-letter word was almost totally foreign to me. I have listened to your stories in what I thought was empathy. Now I understand that I was listening in ignorance.

Some of you have used the word “terminal.” And to my mind, that means that a person is going to die “soon.” I looked up the term and find that I’m kind of on the mark.

Terminal illness is an incurable disease that cannot be adequately treated and is reasonably expected to result in the death of the patient within a short period of time.

But let me also say, that some of you who were “terminal” obviously didn’t understand the definition, or you are simply non-conformist. Because you yet live! Praise to our God!

The problems with my education come with the word “treatable.” I know people who have had cancer for an incredible length of time and they are in otherwise good health. I suppose that being the optimist that I am, that is what my brain chose to target as my definition of “treatable.”

The term “cure” means that, after medical treatment, the patient no longer has that particular condition anymore. Some diseases can be cured. Others, like hepatitis B, have no cure. The person will always have the condition, but medical treatments can help to manage the disease.

In this explanation of “treatable” the wording leads me down a path of longevity. However, “treatable” in lung cancer, basically means that the medical community will do what it can to “stabilize” the disease and keep a person comfortable. It is focused more on palliative care issues:

Palliative care (pronounced pal-lee-uh-tiv) is specialized medical care for people with serious illness. This type of care is focused on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family.

So when we received the first diagnosis I had an improper grid through which to Mrs Othmarpush the information. And quite honestly, some of the conversation soon just started to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher during a particularly rigorous lecture.

At our meeting on Wednesday, the order of the visits was booked poorly. We saw the oncologist in charge after the neurosurgeon but before the radiologist. The neurosurgeon was very optimistic about his portion of the care. We gladly chose to wear his optimism and were feeling pretty good about things. Because, remember, we were already thinking that we would be living with long term treatment. (No, I didn’t do any research in the eleven day interim.)

Then we saw the oncologist in charge. And from the moment she started talking, things felt different. Finally, Bud asked her to put a timeline to this event. And our optimism was shattered.  Once again, we were numb and we just couldn’t process much of what she said after that.

From there we went to the radiologist and by then, the questions were coming, that poor man. He knows his radiology, no doubt. But he was getting medical oncology questions (my vocabulary is already changing) and his base of information was greatly reduced. The interchange was, thankfully, sufficient to provide us with the information that we needed for his part of the care.

And I am back to my statement that the cancer diagnosis is a “great big whole lot of everything.”

It is incredible how this enormous vacuum opens up into your sphere of living that seems totally empty; yet it is so overwhelmingly full of the unknown that life as we know it stops. This crowded void takes over every aspect of your life, if you let it.

Suddenly, the most consequential event in your life is as mundane as what you’re serving for lunch. Cancers grow better on some diets than others. Laying out a plan is much more difficult than actually following the plan. All this planning takes a great deal of time and research, honestly, agreement.

Your time has suddenly been invaded with medical appointments. The consultations are long, the treatments are frequent, and the drive time is lengthy.

Your schedule is disrupted to the point that now you are going to have to give up some things that you may have been doing for years. You need to accommodate this despised interloper; it is a cruel invasion.

And you are going to have to prepare to see your loved one immediately “get sick” due to treatment. In our case, the only presenting symptom is some back pain. But once the regimen begins, the treatment is sure to have side effects; and those are most likely going to reduce the quality of life that we are now experiencing. Dealing with the idea that the treatment is the thing that is going to transform our lives and bring my husband low seems to be the most difficult right now. Something that is supposed to give comfort and maintain a quality of life is actually going to make him uncomfortable and reduce his quality of life.

 

amsler-wet-amd-mod-300x300Lung cancer – when it is presented should be exposed as the killer that it is. Tell me that it’s treatable if you want, but it absolutely cannot be adequately treated. Just tell me that it’s terminal. That is a grid that I can work with.

 

1 – Wikipedia, retrieved 10/20/2017: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terminal_illness

2- Get Palliative Care.org, Retrieved 10/20/17: https://getpalliativecare.org/whatis/

Running High

Emotions are running high these days. I don’t know exactly who coined the phrase or exactly what “running high” means, but I have an image in my mind.

The stream that runs through our town sometimes runs low, like right now. The Ashbaugh boys aren’t doing much fishing these days. The creek bed is open for some great rock hunting, though.

Sometimes the stream runs high. After days of rain, and with snow melting, that little stream becomes a formidable force. It is pretty amazing to watch it as it runs through Elm Valley and gains more volume. Sometimes it appears that the next little rivulet will be the one that causes it to wash out the deteriorating rail road tracks. Or maybe as it joins the creek on down the way, the result will be a total overflowing of the banks.

And you can’t see what’s happening below the surface. The current is running pretty strong, as if it’s on an urgent secret mission. It keeps moving, never slowing, never stopping.

That’s what I think of when I say emotions are running high. After days of pondering a cancer diagnosis, with the stresses of normal daily events, emotions can transform into a strong force. Sometimes I have found that the slightest little thing will create momentary meltdown. An unexpected comment might cause a total overflowing of tears.

What I have experienced is something similar to that stream. The stream goes along and navigates the lay of the land to the best of its ability, sometimes with some overflow. But at a certain point down the way there is a river, bigger and deeper and broader than the stream. The stream plunges itself into the river and becomes one with the river. The river takes on the stream and carries it through the valley.

As I move through each day, I have a lot going on below the surface. Those things that I prefer to not reveal as I struggle with transparency. So the current moves along, but during the movement I pray, meditate, seek; silently pondering submerged emotions. And then, I reach the convergence; I’ve come to the river. I willingly plunge myself into the river of God’s love, help, comfort, and resources.

And He takes me on and lovingly carries me through the valley.

So, even though emotions are running high these days, ultimately there is peace in this valley because He carries me.

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Of His Choosing

There is something to be said for choosing to stretch your faith. People do it all the time. They might choose to take a job far from home where they have no known support group nearby.  Or they might choose to support a missionary when they barely have room in the budget for making the ends meet.  Or someone might choose to embark upon a new ministry that challenges them.

We recently decided to “stretch our faith” with the building of an addition on the 3256 Riverside Drive facility. Many know the story. It did stretch us and it did grow us. It was truly a journey of learning, and it was a journey of our own choosing. I believe God honors our efforts in trusting Him more. I believe that He desires for us to “grow our faith.”

In choosing that journey, we were able to imagine some of the obstacles that might be coming our way that would stretch us. We could run various scenarios about how God might provide and direct. In essence, we could calculate the risks and the possible growth. So as a result, we felt somewhat in control as we anticipated what we thought God would do. That doesn’t mean that the growth, the stretch, wasn’t real. It might mean that it was not all that God had in mind.

And I believe He used that time to prepare us for this time… a journey of His choosing.

When I think of examples of faith journeys in the Bible, I recall primarily where God chose the journey and the believer made the choice to take the path before them.

God called Noah to build the ark and proclaim the coming flood. And Noah put his foot on the path. God called Abraham to move to a place that he did not know. And Abraham put his foot on the path. In their bondage, the Israelites cried out to God and God called Moses to deliver them. Moses put his foot on the path. God called Joshua to lead the people into the Promised Land. And Joshua put his foot on the path. God chose the way that each of these people would take as He worked to draw them closer to Him.

Our route is being laid out for us even now. We would not have ever chosen cancer as an instrument to grow our faith. But our new journey is to be lung cancer–for my husband who has never, ever smoked anything. Nor is there a family history of lung cancer; there was virtually no secondhand smoke and no exposure to asbestos or radon. The irony of it does not escape us. That we are on this trail is clearly not by our design.

But we’ve put our foot to the path. Obviously, the more arduous portion of this journey will be on Bud’s shoulders. But together we are stepping forward … with some nervousness, with some uncertainty of the process, with some anticipation of watching how God works.

We cannot imagine the coming obstacles and how they will stretch us. We have no clue how God will provide and direct. Except for that ultimate “risk” of heaven, we are absolutely unable to calculate other risks or possibilities for growth ahead of us. But in this journey of His choosing, He will be with us all along the way.

 

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It’s Not a Wall

Joe. Not his real name. But he may have been severely beaten over some kind of Strong Memorial Hospitaldrug/money deal and he may have undergone surgery. And he may have been sharing a room with my husband in the hospital last week.

But he was definitely a hard roommate. Probably around 20 years old. Probably had been pretty healthy and hospital-free. Probably a bit entitled.

Definitely without loving family at his side. He was all alone and he knew it. He asked for someone to call his family. He demanded attention when his pain escalated. He was vocal about the medications he wanted. He was a heart-wrenching case.

Bud introduced himself through the curtain and a tentative relationship began. Joe occasionally asked Bud to help him, which he did. One time Bud went over and talked with him for quite some time and got to read to him from the Gospel of John. And at some point in the relationship, Joe cried out that he wanted to change. Bud showed him the way to the One who can change everything. And Joe prayed to receive Him.

And Joe was moved to a different room.

Matthew arrived – also not his real name. Matthew was on the opposite end of the spectrum from Joe. Good job, loving wife, clean life. But Matthew struggles with anxiety. We saw some of his anxiety response and it was pretty intense.

Bud sat with him a couple of times and listened to him talk about his anxieties, about what brought him to the hospital, about his life. And Matthew had a front row seat to our drama.

The curtain is not a wall; it is not a soundproof barrier. That thin fabric hanging between beds is simply a flimsy attempt at dignity for those who are publicly enduring hardship.

Matthew heard every time the doctors came in and all asked the same questions. He heard Bud’s medical issue and what brought him to the hospital. And he heard every time a doctor came in with a not-so-great report. He heard the words with us, “mass,” “tumor,” “lesions.” And he heard it at the same time we did – Cancer. As we were absorbing the words “lesions in the brain” Matthew was absorbing right along with us. This poor man, who struggles with anxiety, was enduring all of this with us.

And, thankfully, he was absorbing our prayers as well. In our grief we prayed; in our fear we prayed; in our sadness we prayed. Matthew was there. It is my belief that our prayers ministered to Matthew (as well as ourselves.) As he saw us cast our anxiety on God, Bud also shared with him just how to do that for himself. I don’t know that there was any great shift in Matthew’s belief system; but I do know that seeds were powerfully sown. Matthew had a very clear picture of how to cast all his cares on the Lord…I believe that image will stay with him for a very long time.

Mercies in Disguise

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‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise – Laura Story

I would like to begin this story about a week ago, but I’m not going to. Perhaps I will go back and make a timeline at a different sitting. Right now, time has no relevance. The laundry in the dryer has no relevance. The event I volunteered for next weekend has no relevance.

The reality I now need to embrace is this: my husband has cancer. That is just a great big whole lot of nothing, and a great big whole lot of everything. If you’ve ever sat in the chair and heard the diagnosis, you know exactly what I mean.

I originally started this blog to talk about the “funeral directing life” — I am going to detour the blog now to talk about our “life in the valley.” It is obvious, from this past few days, that people want to know what is happening and how we’re doing. It is also obvious that I cannot keep up the marathon of information dissemination via text.

The first item to address is that we are still here for you. The exact “how to” of running a business during this season of our lives is still coming into focus. We are making decisions to eliminate and alter those things that we need to; we will get help where help is needed; and we will continue to focus on three things – God and our community of believers, our family, and our business family. We are committed to providing funeral service to our community. And we are thankful that you are committed to us as well.

Many of you have taken this hike that we’re about to begin. You know the lay of the land. It has many twists and turns and evades anticipation and planning. But as we move forward, we are confident that God is with us every step of the way.