Choose Joy

Seeking Jesus in this crazy journey

A message to all the Pray-ers and Do-ers

If you’ve read many cancer blogs, they’ll inevitably post the blog about “what’s helpful and what’s not” / “what not to say to someone with cancer” / “how to really help”.

I didn’t want to be that person.  Because I KNOW I’m going to put something on here and you’re going to be like “Ahh, I’ve done that/ said that and Alissa must’ve hated it.”  Lots of people have said lots of things to me.  Some of them have been more hilarious than helpful, but I know the intentions behind them were always good.  I know that you guys are navigating the sticky situation of when and how to bring up cancer topics.  I know you want me to get better.  I know that there’s always a lingering question of who knows what and did I say too much.

It’s okay.

This is our way moving forward, and we’d love to invite you into it.

We’ve prayed for healing for 6 years.  We still trust that God could choose a miracle and we’d love that.  We also recognize that incredible role of his sustaining healing and pray for continued sustenance for as long as he provides it.

A long time ago, I had a picture of God holding the sun in the sky for us to get the work done that he’d given us to do.  More recently, I had the same picture, but the sun was setting.  As we’ve had these really hard appointments and conversations with our medical team and our people, we’ve come to terms with this.  The logical, medical progression is that I will die from this.  We are so sad and are grieving/ will continue to grieve this.  You can be sad too.  But it’s also okay to accept it.

We’re very happy for you to pray as God leads you in your own prayer times, but with us could you pray for sustenance, for energy, for appetite, and for an ease in pain.  (Praying for healing is such a God-honouring prayer, but it is also hard for us.)  Would you pray for us to have great time together as a family for as long as possible, to make meaningful memories with the people closest to us, and to finish well.

When you’re with us, it’s fine to have those deep talks and to ask us how we’re doing.  Obviously we need that.  I do a lot of my processing externally, so I like to talk it out.  But I also like to talk about you!  I think sometimes people feel like their struggles aren’t as struggle-y, so they shouldn’t burden us with them.  We want to share your life like you share our’s.  Also, I’m a planner, so bear with me while I plan out the seemingly morbid details of the next coming months.  To me, it’s helpful.  If it’s not helpful to you, it’s ok for you to peace out of those conversations.

And sometimes let’s just pretend there is no cancer.  Let’s just have fun and make memories together.  Ask us “what’s up?” and let’s talk about our weekends.  Let’s go out for coffee and talk about our bratty kids and how much we hate PD days and how I still think you should become a foster parent and reminisce about how we looked in grade 8.   [Interesting Fact: Did you know, you can still have fun and laugh when you’re dying?  True story.]

We’re having these hard talks with our kids (so be sensitive around them), but we’re also trying to make these months good and not filled with fear.  Maybe I’ll write about that sometime, but please talk with your kids (the kids who I love and who have loved me throughout this journey) and let them know they can talk to me if they want.  We want this process to glorify God and draw people (kids and adults) closer to him, so let’s walk together in what it looks like when God’s answer to our prayers is ‘no’.  (PS. I’m okay with your kids’ awkwardness.  It’s not going to wreck me.)

 

Part of accepting where we’re at in our journey is recognizing that we have learned a lot about different health strategies.  We feel pretty good with where we’ve landed.  We’ve gone through so many appointments, so many pills/ chemos/ radiations/ surgeries, so many attempts to fight this cancer.  We know there’s always another thing we could try, but honestly I’m pretty tapped out from the fight.  We want to remember my last year as fondly as we can, packed full of skipping school and eating ice cream and going on fun road trips.  You can love us by joining us in that.

Probably the most practical thing that you can do to help us out is bring a meal.  I’m feeling pretty sick, pretty consistently – but I still have a family who thinks eating is a good idea.  If you just text me a few days in advance and offer a meal for a certain day, I’ll let you know if it’s helpful.  Some days are regularly covered (Thursdays) (THANK YOU!!) or if my dad is here, he does his whole master chef thing.  But if I know food is coming a few times a week, it’s a weight off.  (Alternatively, I won’t say no to a freezer meal if that’s easier.)

If you want to help us, then do it.  We’ll love it!  Think of something that makes sense to do and offer that up to us.  Asking us to let you know if we ever need anything will probably not have a huge response rate because accepting help is hard, but asking for it is even harder.

We’re grateful we have people who care enough about us to read another silly blog and try to meet us where we’re at.  We love y’all so much.  I hate that you need to navigate this with us and hope you find ways to “come to terms” with it all too, however that looks.

With much love,

Alissa & Carey

 

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Three months

Three months ago, two beautiful littles joined our family.  They instantly stole our hearts.  Sometimes attachment is hard, but this time it wasn’t.  We loved them – consciously, like you do when you’re fostering – but also unconsciously, with all the feels.  They fit in well; they were thriving and growing; we quickly developed good rapport with the workers and their family; we started sib visits, which were so fun and so good for all the kids.

We don’t know what their future holds right now or how it’ll be linked to ours.  That’s what we’re trying to wade into in the coming weeks, and we want to do it all right.  We want to be fair to their first family and act in the best interest of these littles’ long-term.  We want to be honest with ourselves and what we’re able to do and should commit to.  Honestly we want to hold on to them tightly and yet know part of foster care is keeping your hands open.

What we know is that God’s got really good plans for their lives and their forever family.  He already knows it all, and it is SO GOOD.  Isn’t there so much rest and joy in that?

I think I wanted to write this so as our life seems increasingly messy and out of control, I can look back and remember this season has been so intentional.

It’s been intentional in building our faith.  Coming to a point of saying yes, and even coming to a point of saying no – that takes listening to God and trusting him in really hard moments.

It’s been so meaningful to invest into the ministry of foster care that we value so deeply in a very intentional way, maybe one last time.  We had a chance to put action to the words that we are willing to make some sacrifices to care about the kids who are without a mom or dad.  We got to live out that we are pro-life, pro-birth family, pro-reunification, and pro-adoption.  We got to experience community (family, friends, and church) in a very significant way, as it would’ve been a hundred percent impossible for us to take on this fostering commitment alone, yet together, these precious kids got to stay together; they got family; and they got soooo loved.  (Thank you for being a part of that.)  And our boys got the privilege of temporary new siblings, the challenge to more selflessness, and a chance to see God’s Word lived out.

Lastly, we are really trusting God’s intentionality on the fact that these kids were in our home for a short while so they could soon be in their perfect forever home.  (I hope we get to see that and give God all the glory for it.)

All that to say, no regrets.

 

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A garment of praise.

A garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:3)

I could say the last few weeks have been marked by a spirit of despair.

This chemo is taking a toll, physically and emotionally. I feel exhausted – from the trips to the Cross, from the symptoms, from the unending meds, from the challenges of doing life while sick. My heart has felt heavy; my tears have come easily. I feel like my body is failing me and I am simultaneously failing everything else.

A spirit of despair.

Oh, how I don’t want to dwell in despair. We have prayed for 6 years that this cancer wouldn’t dictate our lives. We have strived to live fully and meaningfully and to choose joy during heartache. But in honestly, that is especially hard right now.

Last night, I had a big cry with Carey. Today, my dad babysat and I went to work; three friends took time to listen and pray. My sweet friend dropped by with ice cream and her kids picked me out flowers. I texted another friend who also did chemo Monday and we exchanged sad, sick selfies and cared about each other. Yet another friend from our girls’ small group texted out a “how’s everyone’s week?” as a reminder for us to be in our Bibles, listening to the Holy Spirit, and spending time with Jesus.

(Have I mentioned that I have the best people?)

So I (hypothetically) opened my (Biblegateway.com) Bible. I read a favourite passage, Isaiah 61.  “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

I am the brokenhearted. But he promises beauty. Joy. And a garment of praise. I don’t think I can get there all on my own, but I have the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord.

Tonight I am thankful for the people who walk these hard days with me. I am thankful for the many who lift me up in prayer when I feel too weary to do that for myself. And I am thankful for a faithful God who hears these petitions and gently draws me back into his presence where I can receive the things he wants to give me, where I can put on the garments of praise, where I can say (Isaiah 61:10): I delight greatly in the Lordmy soul rejoices in my God.”

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What you should know about my husband

It’s Thursday night and I’m laying in bed, half asleep, waiting for him to get home from hockey. I probably won’t fall asleep without him, but I will be too tired to talk when he gets in; I’ve kind of always been like that.

But I know after he gets in and gets himself ready, he’ll check on the kids and re-tuck them all in. He’ll tidy up the mess left in our kitchen after I ran out of energy, or put away the rest of the clothes piled on the bed that I gave up on half way through. Then he’ll warm up my heat packs and fill my water bottle and plug in my phone. Eventually he’ll crawl into bed and rub my back and we’ll fall asleep. I always want it to be me who falls asleep first, but often it’s him – and I’ll nudge him every 15 seconds to remind him he’s breathing a bit too loud.

Stay at home moms get a lot of cred – and I still kind of want some of it, at least – because it is a legit hard job. And there are a thousand blogs detailing how busy it can be and all the hats we wear.

But this husband of mine, he carries more than his ‘fair share’ of the load. I sleep in every Saturday and the kids have a “daddy day” where they get to do something fun together. And by fun, I mean they go to Home Depot. But I sleep in and shower and recharge.

More often than not, he comes home from work and plays with the kids, helps with supper and clean up, and then champions bedtime routine. He’s got no problem putting all 4 to bed if I’m sleeping or have plans to be out.

On top of *all of that* he plays the role of home care nurse quite well. He keeps track of my meds better than I do at times. He knows the difference between zofran and zopicolne. He can do a stellar bandage dressing change. Soon enough, he’ll be giving me my injections.

So he’s pretty much a superstar and and I don’t say thank you enough.

Being the husband of a girl with cancer is hard work. And he does the work well.

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Saying yes to a “bad idea”

In so many ways, we knew that agreeing to a new foster placement was a bad idea.  I’m doing chemo.  Sometimes I get sick.  I take a million naps.  It’s busy caring for our 2 and we’re already receiving a lot of help.  Our lives are busy with our current circumstances and our hearts our full, so why take on more.

When we got the first call for a new foster care placement, twin toddlers, we laughed.  We get a fair amount of calls and none of them have materialized, so we kind of put this out of our minds.

Two weeks later, we got the same call, but with a little more desperation and a lot more info.  We started praying.  We pleaded with God to speak to us clearly, to open or close the doors, to give us a united decision.

We talked to our people and processed the hesitations they shared.  “It will be a lot.”  Yes.  “Do you have enough energy?”  I don’t know.  “How will the boys do?”  Good question.

They were all good points that we’d thought about A LOT.  That we’d prayed about a lot.  Tears were shed thinking about saying yes and tears were shed thinking about saying no.  We thought about how it would effect us and our existing support system.

We processed these concerns with the workers along the way.  They thought they might have another family and we released the idea of these kids and told them to pursue their other leads.

It didn’t pan out.

We put in a request for supports and they said no.  We agreed that we couldn’t do it without some supports, so we released it a second time.

Then they came back and approved it.

It felt like we were laying out fleeces, like Gideon in Judges 6, and God was demonstrating his might and his control.  The kids were a good fit with our other kids’ ages, our giftings, and our passions.

We listened to sermons, read some books and blogs, and tried to listen to Jesus’ voice through it all. But our decision-making period was coming to a close.

We both felt like saying yes, but didn’t want to say yes on a whim or because we felt guilty or at the expense of our relationships.  Yet we both know the Bible is very clear about caring for the vulnerable and the orphaned.  We both know that God has clearly called us into the role of foster parents.

But was he calling us into it in this specific moment?

Here’s the things we realized.

We partner with a little community in the DRC.  We have visited and seen grandmothers caring for their grandkids.  You can’t tell me that the road they walk is easy.  They model what it looks like to care for orphans.  They show us what it is to sacrifice.  And they do it at a cost to themselves and their families.  We love them and support them, and we can’t say that in one sentence and then say that we aren’t willing to do similarly.  We don’t believe that the Bible’s call to care for the vulnerable or that the Gospel itself is written in terms of cultural context.  We know it and we are willing to take some steps to live it out more generously and sacrificially and joyfully.

We never felt a peaceful release from this specific calling.  And I may be sick, but I am not dead – so if we said no and if I live for 5 or 10 or 30 years, then I have to look back on this moment and give an account for my disobedience.  And my only reasons would be our own fear of the future.

We’ve prayed for physical healing for years.  And God has sustained my health faithfully.  There have been ups and downs, but we have praised him for his goodness in my health journey.  I sometimes question why I have not received full physical healing, and then I realized that saying yes to this placement could be a step of faith.  It could be God calling us to “step out of the boat onto water in which we will surely sink in our strength”.  But, oh!  We trust in a God who is so much bigger than our own strength or our own plans or our physical ailments.  He tells us to fix our eyes on him.  He tells us to focus on today and trust him for tomorrow.  He tells us to love God and love people.  So yes.  With my little sliver of faith, we said yes, and prayed that he would grow our faith through what we think is a little act of obedience.

And lastly, the need is there.  Carey said “If there were more people to do this, then maybe not.  But we’re not going to say no and see kids go to a group home or be split up.”  These sweet littles don’t get a say in their history or their future.  We have the ability to step up.  We actually have the privilege of stepping up.

And so I’d encourage you, especially those of you within the Church, to do as we did and think about what God is calling you into and process what makes it seem like the wrong timing or a “bad idea”.  Maybe, just maybe, hidden in there is an opportunity to step out in faithful obedience and experience a bit more of Jesus.

We did, yesterday, at 1:30 in the afternoon when we opened the door and welcomed two sweet new faces to our family.

 

 

 

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Thank you for showing up

I’ve said before that I have the most amazing people.

Our family, our friends, our church… You have been and are carrying us.

As I reflect on the past year, there have been lots of amazing, uplifting moments.  We got to go on our family cruise.  We are (slowly) getting closer to finalizing the boys’ adoption.  We have been making tons of good memories and in so many ways, living a really great life.

But this year has had its share of bumps.  I went on a trip that was supposed to be this awesome girls’ get-away plus inspiring orphan-care conference, only to have to fly home the next day and be hospitalized with a bad lung infection.  I spent the first half of the year preparing to go to the DRC, a place so dear to my heart.  I cautiously committed and got more and more excited as it drew closer.  A week before, some symptoms worsened and it seemed unwise to go to a country so far from the medical care I could need.  I hugged my friends and mom at the airport and cried every day that I wasn’t with them.  The cancer has progressed; the treatments have changed; the side-effects have been hard.  My kids “play chemo” with their stuffies and bring them puke pails and give them needles.  And I am sad that I can’t shelter them from my sadness.

This stuff, it breaks me.  It really does.  But my people come around me.  Every. Single. Time.  They bind up the brokenness, in big and little ways.

Thank you to the people who I don’t even know who made me and our family care packages over Christmas.  We were so blessed.

Thank you to our parents who take off work to come up on chemo weeks, who babysit during appointments on short notice (because sometimes I lack foresight), and who love us so tangibly through this all.

Thank you for the friend who brings me supper every week.  She doesn’t ask if it’s a particularly bad week; she just shows up.  (My kids ate like 8 pieces of pizza each tonight.)

Thank you to the sweet kids at my church who CHOSE to get needles over spray for their flu vaccines so I didn’t have to worry about their contagiousness.  (I cried buckets when I found out.)

Thank you for the generosity of meals, date nights, babysitting.  I know it involves sacrifice for you to serve us.

Thank you for our great workplaces, who are so good to us.  Thank you for our church, the great people I work with, and the people I’m lucky enough to serve with.

Thank you for the messages, the hugs, the ceaseless prayers.  You are carrying us through some hard days.  You are petitioning on our behalf when we don’t have the energy or the words.

Thank you to so many people who have walked into the mess with us.  Again and again and again.  I often think how much easier it would be on your hearts’ if you gave yourselves a bit of distance and if I wasn’t always dumping my burdens on you.  I feel guilty that I can’t reciprocate the way you serve me.  And yet you keep showing up.  You’ve come to me so many time, taken so many phone calls, talked me out of so many deep-dark places (and sat with me in so many others, when it wasn’t the time for a talking-out-of-it).

With so much love,

Alissa (and the family)

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