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Living drained

Depend on God...

Have you ever heard that phrase?  If you have been a Christian for any length of time, I am sure that you have.  What does it mean though?  What does it look like to depend on God every moment of every single day?  This is one of the many questions that I am sure I will continue to wrestle with until the day I see Jesus face to face.

Going through cancer brought on a level of weakness that I had never experienced before. Throughout the course of the 4 months I was doing chemo, I became extremely weak: physically and emotionally drained.  Empty.  I was anemic throughout the process and became out breath just walking around or bending over to get something.  I remember having to give myself pep talks to get top out of bed to go eat dinner with my family.  Getting dressed to go to the doctor was a huge task.  One morning (probably more than 1), I was standing in front of the mirror and getting this sense that God was saying, "I am here. It's you and Me.  We will do this together."  I was so aware of His presence as I walked through procedures and tests and hospital stays. Those moments with Jesus are incredibly sweet.  To feel His presence so near to me is what I long for every day. 

My emotions were all over the place.  For awhile, I was in shock, unable to process the whirlwind in which I was being carried.  When it all started to hit me, the anxiety, sadness, and frustration were intense.  Some of the medicines I was on made me even more emotionally volatile.  

People would tell me how brave I was and how well I was handling everything.  I will tell you this without a doubt in my heart:

IT WAS NOT ME

It wasn't Alyssa mustering up the courage or the smiles.  It was Jesus alive in me.  There was such a peace that came with the keen awareness of Jesus by my side. 

 

Now that I am better, I have noticed a shift.  I am starting to live life on my own, depending more on my own "strength" and not leaning on God as much.  

I don't like it.

Even in wellness, I want to live emptied out of self and filled up with Jesus. 

I am only kidding myself if I think I can live this life apart from God.  I need God every, single second of every day.  We all do!  I need His grace in my marriage and in my parenting.

Wisdom as a parent.  

Strength when I am worn.  

Mercy and a stronger faith when I doubt.  

We were meant to live abundant lives, but that is only going to happen when I recognize my shortcomings and my need for Jesus.  

I am so thankful today for the healing that has taken place over the past year.  

Lord, may we all be aware of our weaknesses and our desperate need for your daily presence.  

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On Sunshine and Fear...

Wow, have I been enjoying life!  It is summertime.  The weather has been AMAZING here in East Tennessee!  It has been sunny and breezy with just the right amount of humidity.  We recently returned from a trip up north to visit my family.  That part of the country has a reputation for being cool and dreary, but it was even beautiful up there!  It feels incredible to be able to feel like a normal person again:

To be able to take the kids to the park.

To go to the mall.

To go for walks.

To enjoy food.

To serve other people.

To go to the pool.

To go to Dollywood.

To travel.

To learn new things.

To HAVE HAIR!

To exercise.

I am even enjoying MEAL PLANNING and COOKING!!

I am even allowing myself to dream again.  Actually, I am allowing myself to dream bigger than I ever have before.  Anything seems possible.  Things that I used to view as barriers no longer seem  insurmountable.  I am a child of a BIG GOD who loves me and Who lives inside of me.  

Mixed in with all this joy and zest for life, there are some dark and difficult emotions.  Sometimes I catch myself really enjoying something, and I worry that I am feeling too happy. I am afraid that I am one scan away from my world being turned upside down again.

 

Certain places and things and conversations trigger memories of cancer.  Yesterday, I dropped something off at a friend's house.  The last time I was there was the day that I went to the oncologist for the first time.  When I saw her house, I felt a rush of panic.  

I will just come out and say it:

I am afraid that the cancer is going to come back.  

I am afraid that the rug is going to be pulled out from under me, and I don't want to be the sick mom again!  I don't want to miss out on doing things with my kids.  I want to be able to continue to go and do and be all that I desire.  

There has been this fight going on in my soul: a fight for joy and peace.  

I have a scan coming up in 2 days.  I have been quite nervous about it for weeks.  I find myself grasping for things in which to find comfort.  I tell myself that I must be well because I feel well.  I tell myself that I am doing so many good things for my body that cancer can't possibly find a way to live inside me.  I think about others who have had similar cancers who are doing great years after their diagnoses.  I tell myself that if I have cancer, I will "buck up" and do whatever it takes to fight it again.

But ya know, all that self talk doesn't help too much.  It doesn't completely drive out the fear.  

"God has not given us the spirt of fear..."

Ok.  So the fear is not of God.  It is from the enemy of my soul: the one who is out to seek and destroy.  The one who doesn't want me to happy or to proclaim God's goodness. I am in a spiritual battle and I am NOT ALONE.

"...but of power.."

God is not small.  He is more than able to protect my body from disease.  So  I pray for good health.  I pray for the ability to be a wife and mom.  I pray for a stronger faith that the One Who created me has a perfect plan for my life and my husband's life and my children's lives.  I pray for the courage to just keep putting one foot in front of the other.  I pray for freedom from the bondage of fear.  

"...but of love."

God has given me a spirit of love,  In the moments of intense fear, I close my eyes and picture myself holding as tightly as I can onto Jesus.  I picture myself being held tightly in His grip.  I think about how much He loves me, a love that I cannot comprehend.  God's faithfulness and love have carried us through some overwhelmingly dark times.  He has not changed.  He never will change.  He hasn't dropped us and He never will.  Praise Him.  

 

 

 

 

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Recovery

For the past few weeks after chemo, I have felt like a new woman!! I didn't expect to get back into my routine as quickly as I did, and it has been wonderful.  I am back to driving a car, cooking meals for my family, going to the grocery store by myself, cleaning, working out a little, taking my son to school, and eating out.  Since it had been 4 months since I had driven a car, I was so nervous the first time I got behind the wheel.  I was embarrassed to admit it to my husband, but I am glad that I did.  His response: "Of course you are!  Sounds like a normal reaction.  Alyssa, I would not let you drive if I thought that you weren't ready."  That is all I needed was affirmation and a vote of confidence.  The nerves were still there, but I did it and we all arrived in one piece. 

I am amazed at how much I missed the simplest things.  I would lie in bed during treatment, fantasizing about the day when I would be sitting in car line.  I would dream about joining a gym an participating in classes (not there yet but working up to it).  I spent hours on Pinterest, looking at new recipes that I could cook for my family.  Even going out to eat has gotten a little more special.  I don't have to look at the menu and think: "Ok.  Which of these foods is not going to make me nauseous or make my mouth burn?"

To paint an honest picture, though, recovery hasn't been a bowl of cherries.  I am still battling physical effects from the chemo.  While I am grateful to be on my feet and feeling SO MUCH BETTER, I am not back to my old self.  Today, I am feeling very frustrated with my body.  I want to be able to do a million other things, but I am not there yet.  Things (like exercising) that were a part of my everyday life wear me out, but I have to do it in order to get stronger.  Even the shortest workouts leave me feeling extremely sore.  As I get up from a chair, I feel like an 80 year old lady.  It is exhausting.  I feel discouraged that recovery is taking so long.  I am angry that the medicine that I had to take to save life has left me feeling this way.  

On the days when I feel the worst, fear begins to creep back in.  What if I never feel stronger?  What if the side effects are permanent?  What if the cancer comes back and I have to do this ALL over again?  When that last question rears its ugly head, I am intentional in banishing it form my head.  Dwelling on the possibility makes me absolutely miserable. When I think about worry, the verse "Cast your cares on Him because he cares for you" comes to mind.  I have heard it SO many times in my life that it had started to lose personal meaning.  Something that has helped to make Jesus' words come alive again is to make a fist and throw my worries at Jesus' feet.  The physical motion helps me to make His words tangible.  

This morning after I finished exercising, I became very emotional.  Exercise seems to have a way of releasing the anxiety and other negative emotions that are built up inside of me.  In my sadness and frustration, God reminded me that He is the SAME God that has walked me through the cancer tunnel.  He is still the source of my strength.  It is amazing to me how quickly I forget my need for Him.  That is one of the positive things about being so sick: it makes you painfully aware of how much you need God.  In the moments when I didn't think I good endure anymore pain or physically walk to the bathroom, I knew that I needed God and could do nothing apart from Him.  Today, nothing has changed.  I still desperately need Him.  It is just easier to forget. 

My prayer today is that I don't ever forget my need for God.  I want to be more aware of His presence every minute of every day...on the good days and bad.  

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.

Psalm 27:4

 

 

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Before and After

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Hospital week has proven to be a piece of cake compared to the 2 weeks that follow.  Sound crazy?  Let me explain:

In the hospital, I have one job: to take care of myself.  My focus is entirely on making sure that I am resting, eating, taking my meds, and staying entertained.  When I start to feel nauseous, I push a button and the nurse comes running to the rescue with meds to help.  I was so worried about throwing up a lot.  Once I learned to take the meds as SOON as I felt a little nausea, the vomiting stopped being an issue.   I have even learned to be a bit productive in the hospital.  I have read some great fiction and non-fiction books and have had more opportunity to blog.  

My "project" this week was meal planning.  I have been so OBSESSED with food lately!!  I think about it constantly and feel like my life revolves around what I am going to eat for my next meal or snack.  Over the past 4 months, I haven't always been able to eat what I want because of stomach or mouth issues.  When my mouth is on fire, eating is a chore.  It actually takes work to get food down.  I find myself jealous of other people who can chew, swallow, and enjoy their food without having to think about the least painful "method" to get the food down.  

Before cancer, I had been wanting to get more vegetables into our diets but had really taken any steps in that direction.  I spent some time on Pinterest and saved some great store fry recipes with chicken and veggies and some new ways to prepare tasty veggies.  I also bought an Insta-pot and can't wait to put it to use!

The two weeks after chemo have proven to be more of a challenge than I could have imagined.  While I am so happy to be home with my family, I experience this "tug of war."  I want to be the wife and mom I was before cancer but I am physically unable yet. I have to rest a lot. It has been incredibly difficult to adjust the expectations that I place on myself.  One day, I was crying and told been that I hated just sitting around and doing nothing.  I think my exact words were that I felt like an "amoeba."  My husband's response: "You aren't sitting around doing nothing.  You are in a battle-a fight!"  Those words were so encouraging because they released from some of the guilt I was feeing.  Great guy right?!

I also feel much worse AFTER the treatment than during treatment.  I still am able to control the nausea with meds at home, but the mouth sores have been a different story.  The treatments for the mouth don't work nearly as well as the anti-nausea meds, and the pain is tough to endure.  As I spend these last few hours in the hospital, it is tough to not get anxious about what is to come.  My mouth is starting to burn and I know that it will get much worse before it gets better.  

In the moments when I feel like I can't stand it one more second, I find myself just saying "Jesus" over and over.  Just saying His name when I can find no other words is a way of me drawing on His strength to keep going.  I have also sensed the Holy Spirit whispering the simple words "Look Up."  When you are in pain or feeling uncomfortable, it is so easy and natural to think only about how cruddy you feel and how awful things are. For me, simply remembering that there is a God who loves me, Who is fighting for me, and Who is holding me up has given me strength to get up out of bed and keep on moving forward.  

I remember one day standing in front of the mirror feeling drained.  The image of Jesus standing and walking right beside me "popped" into my head.  I remember thinking, "Ok Jesus its you and me!"  What a God we serve!  So big and powerful and majestic and yet so PERSONAL.  I love how He meets us in our most desperate moments even when we don't ask.  

I write all of this as somewhat of a "pep talk" to myself.  As I face the next couple weeks, God is going to be with me every step up of the way.  May I never forget!!

 

 

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A Shout Out to my People: More on God's provision for our family

I have been wanting to write this post for a long time.  I have put it off because I am afraid that I am going to leave someone out.   However, I believe that God wants me to share the amazing ways that He has provided for our family.  I read this verse recently, and it reminded me of the importance of sharing God's work in our lives:

"Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story."  Psalm 107

The people that God has surrounded us with have held us up every step of the way.  We have been fed, prayed for, lavished with gifts, and flooded with cards and notes.  Our kids have been loved and cared for.  People have spent hours with me in this dreary hospital room. Our home has been organized and cleaned by friends and family from near and far.  I even had a friend travel from KY to be with me during my surgeries!!!

Our families have traveled hundreds of miles to come run our household when I have been unable.  They have taken time off from work and their daily routines to come take care of me and my family.  They have sacrificed energy and money to travel.  They have put off home projects of their own so they could make sure that our house was in order and that my kids needs were being met. They have housed my kids for a week while I was in the hospital. The beautiful thing is that I didn't even have to ask.  They just jumped right in.  They have taught me a lot about what it means to "do for family."  It has been a humbling experience for sure, but one that I will forever be grateful.  

My diagnosis came 3 months after moving to a new city which had many people concerned.  People were worried that we wouldn't have people to help us out, but God knew exactly what He was doing.  Ben grew up in East Tennessee and we both went to college in the area. We both have family members around who have stepped in to help.  

When Ben and I were in college and later when we got married, we became very close with a group of friends that we have stayed in touch with over the years.  We have known some of these friends for over 20 years!  Yikes that makes us sound old!  I am confident that this group of special people will be our friends for life.  They have traveled 45-90 minutes to come spend the day with my kids, including homeschooling Chase.  They all have kids and busy lives of their own, but they have made themselves available to meet our needs on a practical level.  When we were going through the many years of infertility and waiting for our family to grow, I would get so frustrated because all my friends were having babies and we were not.  I so wanted our kids to grow up together and be the same age.  During this season of our life, however, it has been a BLESSING that my friends' children are older than mine!  My friends' kids have been able to help out with my littles, making it a little easier on the mommas who have added my 2 extra into the mix.  

In the beginning of this process, one of my sister in laws told me that the new friendships that I would be forming during this time would be formed in a different way than I was used to. She was right.  When I meet new people, I typically like to present myself as a mostly "put together" person.  Instead, here I am falling apart and making new friends in the process.  It is by God's grace that I have been able to meet people from Chase's school and our church who have been there to pray over me, encourage me, take Chase to school and back, and take my kids on play dates so they don't get cabin fever.  

And then there is our Village Church family in SC.  They have sent multiple care packages filled with books, goodies, precious handmade cards from the kiddos, music, clothing accessories to make me feel pretty, and tons of messages over social media.  We were a part of Village Church for 10 years and they will always be our SC family.  

The support has been overwhelming.  It has been amazing to see the body of Christ come together in such beautiful ways.  I will never be able to say thank you enough, but I know I will be more sensitive to the needs of others who are experiencing hard times. I know that when I see meal train requests come through that I will look at them a different.  Taking a meal used to seem so insignificant, but let me tell you, it is NOT!   It has taken such a huge burden off to not have plan and shop and prepare meals every day of the week.  

I cannot finish up this post without talking about the power of prayer.  I have often felt like my prayers are not good enough.   I always feel that when people are hurting that i need to DO something rather than "just" praying.  Let me tell you,  praying for me means EVERYTHING.  You, my dear prayer warriors, are how I am getting through this grueling process.  Most of the time, I am too weak or preoccupied to pray for myself and my family.  I find such comfort in knowing that i have an army of prayers warriors interceding for us everyday.  Thank you for bringing us before God's heavenly throne.

Love to all,

Alyssa

 

 

 

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Stories from the hospital

 

When I arrived at my "home away from home" yesterday, there were signs posted which read: Visitor restriction- No Children.  Aaaahhhh!  Not cool!  Because the floor I am on has mostly chemo patients, they take extra precautions during flu season.  One of the nurses came down with the flu last week and up went the signs.  

Well, there is no way that I was going to go 5 days without seeing my babies.  So we met downstairs in the cafeteria with cousin Julie!  It is amazing what visitors do for my body and soul. I was feeling yuck right before they got here.  I prayed that I wouldn't get sick while I was with them, and I am thankful that I didn't!

After our visit, I got back on the elevator to return to the "penthouse," as i heard it referred to yesterday.  A man and a woman (unrelated) were on the elevator with me.  The guy looked at me and said, "you keep hanging in there."  I said, "I will try."  

And then I burst into tears.  Woo!  Doesn't take much these days!  He then said, "I will pray for you right now.  What is your name?" 

"Aaaalllyyssa"  More tears.

He got off the elevator.

The lady looked at me and said, "No more crying.  I have cried enough!"

I asked her where she was headed.

"Same as you."

She was going to see her 25 year old daughter who is receiving chemo right across the hall from me.  Cancer is just cruel.  It breaks the hearts of so many moms, daughters, fathers, sons, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, and friends.

The lady invited me to come meet her daughter.  Her poor daughter was asleep, but she woke her up and insisted that I come in.  Awkward?  Yes.  But I could tell that it meant a lot to her.  So we chatted for a few and I left.  It was so nice to meet someone who understands. It encouraged my heart.   It is pretty isolating up here.  Most other patients are elderly and pretty sick.  Not that I feel great when I am here; but I do crave human contact, ya' know?  I get chatty with the nurses and probably see them from doing their job sometimes! Ha!

My encounters with the man and the woman were such great reminders that God is here and taking care of me.  I am so thankful for these moments where He shows Himself.  

 

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Slowing Down

 

Doctors and other cancer survivors have told me that cancer changes you:

Causes you to reprioritize.

Causes you to appreciate life more.

It is my last day of chemo for round 3 and I can't WAIT to go home later tonight. The last day always feels so long.

I have a lot of time to think (for better or for worse) and so I sit here and wonder how cancer is changing me and will change me.  Although this will mark the halfway point of treatment (wohoo!!!), I still feel like I am at the beginning.  I think I have exited the stage of shock I was in and and am able to start processing.

One thing I have noticed is that I have slowed down.  This probably sounds like a "duh" statement.   Of course it has!  My body has been beaten up by surgeries and chemo!  Let me attempt to explain:

In being forced to slow down, my life has been boiled down to the important things.  Before cancer, I moved fast all the time.  My brain moved fast and my body moved fast.  I lived with this constant pressure to achieve, accomplish, and produce.  I have always put a lot of pressure on myself and measured my worth by how much I was getting checked off my "to do" list.  I was constantly looking at what others were doing to see if I was measuring up.  I rarely felt like I was doing or being enough.  

The realization of how much less I would be able to do hit me HARD early on in this process.  I spent weeks mourning the loss of "my life:  By "life," I mean the ability to cook and clean for my family.  To hold my baby as long as needed or wanted.  To shop. To drive.  To do lots of fun things with my kids.  To teach piano.  To workout.  To simply feel good.

I was devastated. 

Since those beginning days, I have found a new rhythm and routine.  With A TON of help from friends and family, life has moved on.  I may have a long list of "can't dos," but I have begun to notice my "can dos" as well.  I am still able to show love to my husband and my kids. And that is enough.  The simple things in life that I used to rush through because I deemed them "unimportant" or "not enough" are the ones that I take the most pleasure in now:

Reading to my kids.

Sitting with my husband

Hugging my family

Sitting still long enough to just look at them and to notice the details of how they look, talk, and laugh.  

Putting my kids to bed.  

Just. Being. Together.

For these things and so much more, I am grateful.  

 

 

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God showed up

Yesterday I did not feel like going to church.  I was really down, tired, and unmotivated to get myself all "prettied up."   By "prettied up," I mean throw on the wig, do a 5 minute makeup job, and put on leggings and a sweater.   We are not talking about anything fancy or time consuming here.  

Right before we left, I was relaxing in my recliner and feeling very fearful.  Doubts about God flooded my mind.  The mystery of why God allows suffering is so tough to process and come to grips with.  I was feeling scared of what else God is going to allow to happen.  My eyes filled with tears because I don't want to be afraid of God!  I KNOW that fear does not come from Him and that the enemy is attacking.  

I peeled myself out of my recliner and got in the car to go to church.  

We sat in the back as always and I settled in with Dr. Pepper in hand to make sure I stayed awake. During the meet and greet time (my husband's favorite part :), I lady whom I had never seen before turned around and said "Are you Alyssa? My husband, children, and I have been praying for your family.  I have seen you around but never had the chance to meet you."  

Let me pause here and give you a little backstory...

We moved to Knoxville at the end of June.  We started attending Cornerstone Church of Knoxville regularly in August.  I was diagnosed with cancer in the beginning of October.  We haven't even joined a small group yet.   This church has loved and cared for our family in ways that are humbling and overwhelming.   Prayer, meals, kind words, cards, texts...and they really don't even know us! 

So back to yesterday...

When this lady recognized me and said that she and her family had been praying for me, I lost it.  I mean, big time ugly cry right there in the middle of church.  

It was as if God was saying "See!  I've got you!  My people are holding your family together by praying and providing for your physical needs.  They are loving your family because they love ME.  I am not a mean God who is sitting around thinking of the next way to make you suffer.  I LOVE YOU!   I want to use you to glorify ME!"

And I cried on and off through the whole church service.  

To top it off, one of the pastors ended with these verses:

 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”[a]) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[b] neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

When I went to pick up Chase from his class, his teacher asked my name.  She put two and two together and said "Oh I have been praying for you!  I didn't realize that you were Chase's mom!  Do you feel like our church is caring for you and your family?"

Wow.  Just wow.  More confirmation that God has His hand ALL over this.  I haven't even touched on the other friends and family who have been loving us so well.

Next post...

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It isn't called a "battle" for nothing

 

Now I understand why people say they are "battling" cancer.  Every day is a fight.  There is always some physical, mental, or spiritual war going on inside.  

The physical effects are never ending.  Just as one ailment heals, another one rears its ugly head.  The fatigue is always there.  I cannot figure out the balance between sitting idle all the time and remaining active.  If I rest too long, my body aches.  If I am too active, my body aches.  I can't find my new normal.  I hear the advice of experts in my head: "Go about your normal activity." or "Don't push yourself too hard."  The irony of it all is that I was functioning just fine before I went to the doctor.  I was an active mama managing all the things that come along with moving to a new city.  Then 1 visit to the ER changed everything.  Now here I am feeling sick everyday, attempting to push through the "yuck" in order to be some sort of wife and mom.  It really stinks that the medicine that will save my life has to make me so sick.

Feeling so bad has led me to think about people who deal with chronic illness like lupus, MS, and fibromyalgia.  Fighting pain and fatigue is part of their everyday.  To those of you who are suffering:  I am so sorry for your pain. 

I keep thinking about children and adults with severe special needs.  Before this, I naively never thought about how they were feeling physical.  My focus was always on the things they couldn't do like run or feed themselves or speak.  I assumed that because they were born with their conditions that they were just used to it and knew nothing different.  But they deal with pain and discomfort EVERY DAY!  Suffering is a part of their normal.  To those of you with special needs: I am so sorry for your pain.

In the moments that I am feeling decent, the mental battle tends to kick in.  I start thinking about the "what ifs."  What if this treatment doesn't work?  What if I have to go through a more aggressive treatment?  What if the treatment works but then the cancer comes back?  Whew.  The "what if game" is a quick way to crazy town.  I try to shut it down as quickly as possible.

And spiritually...the temptation to ask "Why me, God?" is always there.  But God did something really cool for me in the hospital which has kept me from going down the "why me" path. When the cancer diagnosis was confirmed, I had a very vivid image of God handing me this cancer in the palm of His hand.  I felt such a tremendous peace that this was all in His control.  He had ordained this for me at this time.  It definitely is not what I would have asked Him for, but I knew that it was no mistake.  There was such a profound comfort in knowing that His hand was all over this illness and that it was no accident.  His presence was so real in those moments. 

I am reading A Place of Healing by Joni Eareckson Tada.  She became a quadriplegic at the age of 16 in a diving accident.  She was 60 years old when she wrote this book, and was battling severe chronic pain.  She knows suffering.  I look forward to sharing with you her thoughts on God and the mystery of suffering.  

But now, it is time for some ice cream.  

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God causes all things to work together...for GOOD?

"And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them."
 

I have had this verse memorized for probably 25 years, but it hasn't been until the last 3 years that I have really begun to process it.  I have wrestled HARD with this verse, and likely will continue to do so during the course of cancer treatment.

About 2 years ago, I was sitting in a women's Bible study when this verse was quoted.  It was a few months after we had experienced a "failed" or disrupted adoption plan.  We had met with the young lady a couple months before she was to deliver.  She was clearly struggling with the idea of placing her baby for adoption, but at the same time was telling us how much she liked our family and wanted us to adopt her baby.  About 4 weeks after our meeting, we received a phone call from our social worker saying that the young lady had chosen to parent.

During that Bible study meeting, I exposed my doubts about Romans 8:28 to the ladies present. It felt so weird to express unbelief to other Christian women whom I held in such high regard, but it was good.  No one condemned me for it or looked down on me.  They let me wrestle while speaking words of truth into me. 

I just couldn't understand how it was "good" for this baby to stay with the birth mom.  Her situation was volatile.  Why didn't God allow this baby to be with a stable, loving, Christian family?  Where was the "good" in allowing us to get our hopes up only to be disappointed?

Months later, God graciously gave us a glimpse of the good that He brought out of these circumstances.  Our social worker called us to let us know that she had heard from the young mother.  She wanted to know how we were doing.  She wanted us to know that we had made a big impression on her by sticking with her through the process.  We had been able to show her the love of Christ.  Our meeting her was not about us adopting her baby.  It was simply that she could see Jesus.  God had a different plan than we did.  His definition of "good" was different than what we thought .  His ways are higher than ours and He sees ALL.  

As I muddle through cancer treatment, I wonder about the "good."  My life looks so different now than before the diagnosis.  My body looks different.  I go out in public and everyone knows that I have cancer.  I feel useless some days.  I wonder what grand purpose I am supposed to fulfill for the day when I feel so yuck. I can't even take care of my kids without help.   I know that it is often hard to understand and see the good in the middle of a trial, but I really want to see Jesus.  I want His presence to be so real. Today, I think He is simply keeping me from falling apart.  He is carrying me through this and allowing me to continue to put one foot in front of the other.  He is providing for our needs as a family.  Amidst the muck, the good is there,  

Thank you Jesus for being good to me.

 

 

 

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You Make Me Brave

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You Make Me Brave

The beauty of this song has made me cry multiple times.

 

I first heard the song "You Make Me Brave" by Amanda Cook and Bethel music about a year or so before our daughter arrived.  At that point, we had been waiting for 2 years to adopt again:  twice the amount of time that the average couple waits.  I was filled with so much fear.  I was afraid that God wasn't going to bless us with another child. I was afraid that I had misread God's leading to start the adoption process again.  I was afraid that I was just plain wrong about God:  that He wasn't loving or faithful or good.  

When we went through IVF, I went through a dark period when I was very angry and disillusioned with God.  I felt that He had let me down and left me alone.  I didn't want to go back to that dark place and was fighting to believe God's promises.  This song inspired me to  be brave in the middle of a long, hard wait.  The truths presented in the lyrics motivated me to continue to walk in the direction that God was leading us in spite of the unknowns.  

Now in this battle with cancer, this song has encouraged me once again.  

You are for us, you are not against us

God is on my side!   God allowing this stupid cancer to invade my body is not a punishment. It does not make Him the enemy.  It is not Him "being mean" to me.  "If God is for us, who can be against us?" Romans 8:31

 

You call me out beyond the shore into the waves

Being near the ocean is always such a powerful experience for me.  I love the sounds, smells, and sight of the water moving over the sand.  I am not a fan of swimming in the ocean though...too many shark sightings recently.  So the image of God calling me away from the security of the shore and into the uncertainty of the waves invokes conflicting emotions.  I feel both fear and excitement about what God can do.  

When I first heard this lyric, I felt that God was calling me to minister to women who were dealing with infertility.  This is around the same time I started blogging.  Today, God calling me away from the shore looks quite different.  

Today He is asking me to trust Him with my health and with my kids.  He is asking me to trust Him as He leads me through this storm.

No fear can hinder now the love that made a way

There is nothing like cancer to draw out every possible fear that I have ever had.  From a fear of needles and hospitals to the fear of being absent from my kids, I am being forced to face them all. I have always had this fear that something would happen to me and I would not be able to take care of my kids. It is so tough for me to even type that!  You know how they say that most of your fears never come true?  Well, one of my big ones has.  Honestly, I don't know how to fully process that at this point.  I am choosing not to dwell on it and instead to refocus on  what God has to say about fear:

"Perfect love casts out fear." 1 John 4:18

"God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind"

2 Timothy 1:7

"Nothing can ever separate us form God's love...neither our fears for today or our worries for tomorrow."   Romans 8:38

No fear can hinder now the promises you made

I love this line because it speaks to God's sovereignty.  NONE of my fears are big or powerful enough to change or block God's promises.   He is never going to leave me.  He is in complete control.  None of the craziness of the past month has shocked Him.  All of us are being held in His hand.  

"Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us--to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen."

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I have cancer: Now what?

This does not feel like my life.  One day, running around with my kids, moving into our house, and making plans for a fun fall.  The next, sitting in the chest surgeon's office, staring at this big black blob on a scan that was hanging out where only my vital organs should be.  Bewildered.   How the heck did this happen?  You would think with cancer that there would be some big warning signs-something leading up to the big diagnosis.  But there wasn't.  A dry cough and a little shortness of breath were the only symptoms.  

Since Oct. 8, life has been a series of never ending doctor appointments and procedures.  When they handed me discharge instructions in the hospital that included pages of future doctor appointments, I about cried.  After 1o days in the hospital, I had no desire to return 2 days later.   

Every time I go to an appointment, I can't help but look around the waiting room at the other cancer patients.  For the most part, they are old.  This is not "supposed" to happen to a healthy 41 year old non-smoker, non-drinker.  I feel out of place and nauseous by the smell of old people cologne and perfume.  (Go ahead..it's ok to laugh)

The strangest thing to me is that the other patients act like all this is normal.  Like they are waiting in a dentist's office or something.  Like getting treated for cancer is part of their everyday life.  They come dressed in work clothes, getting blood drawn and injections on their lunch breaks.   

This is so incredibly far from normal for me.  This is not even close to routine. I am fighting to accept.  Fighting to keep from getting depressed.  

I dread the doctor's visits.  I just want to pretend that the last two weeks are behind me and that there is no more sickness, treatments, or procedures to endure.  Going to UT and seeing the words "cancer institute" are just a reminder that this is real.  This is happening.  And I have no choice but to keep going. 

I have no clue how to navigate this battle.   I guess no one does really.  I refuse to believe that the next X number of months is going to be all about cancer and nothing else.  I refuse to be sad every day.  I have the Holy Spirit living inside of me.  I can have joy, peace, and even patience.

The question is:  How do I experience these fruits of the Spirit when my whole world has been turned upside down?  How do I have joy when each day brings a new yucky side effect of the meds that are supposed to cure me?  How do I exhibit patience when the meds are making me feel so "on edge"?

I have lots of questions today and not many answers.  I do know that I have never been this dependent on God.  It is a really unsettling feeling to not know who will be caring for my kids 1 week from today because I may no be able to lift the baby.  This is SO MUCH bigger than me that I can't even BEGIN to figure it all out.  I think that is where I am going to see beauty. It is in my need and in my weakness that God is going to fill in the gaps.   Already, so many puzzle pieces have fallen into place without my doing anything...I will have to save details for another post.  

The puzzle is far from complete, and I am trusting that He will continue to show up for us.  

Thanks for reading friends,

Alyssa  

 

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Cast your cares

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I do not typically follow current events.  My husband is the news watcher in the family. When I watch the news for any length of time, so much anxiety wells up inside me.  It is much easier for me to stick my head in the sand and attempt to ignore it all.  

HOWEVER, I don't think Jesus is calling me to live that way.  How am I to love and care for widows and orphans if I live unaware of their needs?

Jennie Allen shared this video on her blog about a month ago.   I have not been able to get this woman's story out of my head.  Take a few minutes to watch:

 

Can you even imagine what these women have been through?  

They were starving.

Exhausted. 

Mourning the loss of their babies.  Their Parents.  Their siblings.

Running for their lives.

It is all very sobering and heart wrenching.  It is the kind of suffering that I know nothing about.  

Purchasing soap to help these women seems so insignificant! But it is their livelihood!  It is how they are able to continue on living and supporting their families after being displaced from their homes.

As I was driving down the road one day, this verse popped into my head:

Casting the whole of your care [all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares for you affectionately and cares about you watchfully. [Ps. 55:22.] 

And the conversation with God that followed went something like this:

"God, do you really mean ALL my cares?  Because my cares are pretty insignificant in comparison to what people across the ocean are experiencing.  My "cares" lately have had a lot to do with finding the "right" house.  Making sure that my kiddo is prepared for school.  Finding a church family.  Healing from ailments.  My life is not in danger and we have everything we need and so much more.  Do You really care about my burdens?"

God's answer: "YES!"'

And that just blows me away.  I am so humbled that the God who is God over ALL is interested in what is going on in my so very blessed life.   He WANTS me to talk to Him about what is weighing me down and for me to listen to what He has to say.  

Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom" (Psalm 145:3).

 

 

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I remember: Encouragement for the childless on Mother's Day

I remember those childless Mother's Days.  The ache.  The deep desire to be celebrated as a mommy.  To be hugged by my child.  To be given a messy, adorable, handmade card. It was a day when the second and third bedrooms in our house felt that much emptier. 

On those first Sundays in May, I wanted to be able to go to church and worship like any other  Sunday.  But these weren't just any other Sunday.  They were special days to celebrate moms, and I felt excluded.  It was no one's fault, but feeling left out is part of the disease of infertility. I wanted to be brave and strong so that I wouldn't cry in the middle of church, but I usually ended up in the bathroom sobbing.  I am pretty sure I stopped going to church on Mother's Day.  I remember feeling guilty for being so absorbed in my own grief that I didn't feel like celebrating the moms in my life.  

I remember--and I don't ever want to forget.  Somewhere along our journey to parenthood, I asked God to help me to never forget what it was like to desperately want a baby and not be able to get pregnant.  My desire back then is the same as today:  I want to be able to empathize with and encourage women who struggle to conceive.

And so, if I had the privilege to speak to all of the women out there with breaking hearts on Mother's Day, I would say:

You are not alone.  You are seen.  I am remembering YOU this Mother's Day.  Celebrating your courage.  Your strength.  Your tenacity.  Your tender heart. 

Hold on TIGHTLY to Jesus.  Crawl into His lap and let Him hold and comfort you.  

"Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for your are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me."  Psalm 23:4

He loves you so much.  He is your heavenly FATHER.  He sees every, single tear.  He has not forgotten you.  He is with you ALWAYS even when He feels absent.

My heart echoes Paul's words:

"I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love,"

If you are facing tough decisions on where to go from here, remember that the Holy Spirit is INSIDE you.  Jesus left this beautiful gift for us before He ascended back into heaven, and He promises it to everyone who accepts Him as their Savior.  The Holy Spirit is your comforter and your GUIDE.   As you seek God for direction in prayer and through the Scriptures,  take comfort in the fact that the Holy Spirit is guiding your heart and your steps.   

"When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth."  John 16:13

Praise Jesus that He did not leave us down here to figure all of this out on our own!

One more thing:   in your sadness, don't forget to look at the man who is standing beside you:  your husband.  Try not to push him away in your pain.  He loves you and desperately wishes that he could give you what you want.  Lean on each other.  Celebrate your relationship and where God has brought you so far.  

I know it's hard.  Somedays, it feels impossible to take another step.  Keep trusting.  

Today I will remember what is was like to walk in your shoes.  I will lift you up to Jesus in prayer.  

"The Lord is good to all.  He has compassion on all He has made."  Psalm 145:9

 

 

 

 

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The Comparison Game

 

Comparison has been my #1 enemy.

It started in elementary school when I would compare friends.  I always wanted to be friends with the pretty, popular girls…yep, even in elementary school.  In middle school, I started to compare my clothes to the other girls.  I was obsessed with the “big” name brands: you know, GAP, American Eagle.  :;  I have been a pianist ever since I was 4 years old, so comparing my abilities with others has been a constant in my life. 

As a young adult, I was always comparing my status with my peers: single, dating, engaged, “close” to being engaged, married, married with children. 

Oooo…that last one still stings.  The toughest season of my life was the 7 years of infertility.  I regret the days that I spent comparing myself to all the women around me that had children when I didn’t.

So much healing has taken place.   God changed me.  No doubt about it. 

But the Enemy still has a way of whispering:

“Hey look at her.  What she has done is more noble than you.  She is more accomplished. Braver. More spiritual.  She is better than you.”

I recently was added to this Facebook group for adoptive moms and foster moms.  And when I say recently, I mean like an hour ago.

The feed is full of photos of families who have adopted.  Many of these families are made of biological and adopted/foster children.  Many of these families are larger than ours.

And the game begins.

“I don’t belong here.  The way we came to adopt is so different from everyone else.  These women have been blessed more than me:  they get to give birth AND experience the miracle of adoption.  And foster care..wow.  These woman are so much braver.  I don’t know that I could ever do that.”

And on and on it goes. 

Sigh.

Ok.  I don’t know about you, but I am tired of this game.  It is time for something new.

My prayer is that God will make me aware the very moment those damaging thoughts start to swim around in my head.  Instead of looking at people's differences and wishing that I were more like them, I want to EMBRACE the differences.  I want to be GRATEFUL for where I have been and where God has brought me.   I want to be FREE to cheer others on and look for ways I can support them in what God has called them to do.  

We are all in the race together.  We need each other!  There is no time for allowing jealousy to creep in and cloud our vision.   

Lord, help me to stop the game!

"since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us."

 

 

 

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GOD with us

It's Christmas Eve:  a day that I have always looked forward to with great anticipation.  When I was a kid, I couldn't wait to go to my Nanny and Poppy's house for a big lasagna dinner.  Wow.  Nanny always went ALL out.  Antipasto, garlic bread dripping in butter, olive salad, meatballs, sausage, cookies, fruit, lasagna....oh my goodness the lasagna.  She spent hours, no, DAYS, on the lasagna.  She had all the noodles perfectly measured out. Yes, she actually MEASURED the noodles.  Each layer had the perfect amount of meat, cheese, and sauce.  That pan must have weighed 20 lbs.  Her tables were set with her white China with the gold trim.  The fancy Christmas napkins were folded next to the gold fork and spoon.  And, of course, there were little bowls of parmesan cheese scattered everywhere.  One could never have enough cheese, after all. 

Nanny and Poppy's tree was loaded with ornaments that ranged from the antique to the homemade ones by us grandchildren.  And there were gifts EVERYWHERE!   There wasn't enough room underneath the tree to fit them all.  My cousins and I would go around counting gifts to see how many each person had in their pile. Nanny always knew the exact number of total gifts.  And she knew how many she had the year before. 

After the big dinner and chaos of opening gifts, Poppy would have the "privilege" of clean up duty. Poor guy.  I will never forget him going around his living room buried in wrapping paper, holding a Hefty garbage bag while we tossed in the crumpled up paper.  

We celebrated Christmas Eve at my Nanny and Poppy's house until about 10 years ago.  

Christmas Eve has evolved over the years.  Family has moved to different parts of the country.  Nanny and Poppy moved out of their house.  We had children.  Poppy went to heaven. 

I am really missing my Poppy today.  He has been in heaven for 4.5 years, but it feels like twice as long.  

Today, I find myself feeling so nostalgic.   I think the holidays can do that to a person.  

I find myself reflecting on the past year...the struggles and the beauty of it all.  Oddly, I feel anxious. The kind of anxious that I cannot exactly define.  Tomorrow, we fly out to see my parents and my brothers and sisters and niece and nephew.  I am so excited!!!  I am excited to celebrate my daughter's first Christmas.  I am excited to see my son's reaction to his gifts.  But I also feel nervous about the year to come.  What challenges will 2016 hold?  How will I handle them?  

So many mixed emotions!

As I sit and quiet my heart, God reminds me of this:

And they called His name Emmanuel.

GOD WITH US.

He was with us around Nanny and Poppy's table.

He was with us during the struggle to have a family.

He was with us when we buried Poppy.

He is with us in this season and al that it holds.

Thank you God.  

Thank you for sending your Son.  

Thank you for being my constant in a life full of change.

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A look back

I started this post months ago and have been hesitant to share.  I don't ever want to come across as someone who claims to have figured out the magnificent and mysterious plan of God.  He knows all and sees all and has a plan that involves all of eternity.  I will never comprehend it and that makes me look at Him in awe.

But looking back on the 3 years that we waited for our daughter to arrive, I can see that God was preparing us. He used various circumstances to get us ready for her grand and sudden entrance into our family.  Check out one incident that happened about 5 months before she was born:

One afternoon in the spring, we received a phone call from our social worker.  A baby had been born who needed a home.  With very few details, we decided to move forward.  A conference call with our attorney and social workers was scheduled for 9 PM.

At this point, I was in shock.  In an effort to prepare and process what was happening, I pulled out some baby clothes and went to Target for diapers and formula.  I can't say that it helped much.  We were about to become parents again overnight!

The conference call lasted about 45 minutes.  After finding out more details about the situation, we were left feeling torn.  Our attorney's honest assessment of the situation revealed a high legal risk.  If we chose to adopt this baby, there was a chance that we would find ourselves in a custody battle.  There was a possibility that the baby could be taken from our home someday.  

How in the world were we supposed to make this decision overnight?  It seemed impossible.  Was this a time when we were supposed to take a leap of faith in spite of the lack of peace we were feeling?  Was this the baby that we had been waiting for?  Or was our lack of peace a sign that this was not the right baby for us?

It probably goes without saying that not much sleep was had that night.  The next morning, I spent some time out on our back porch praying.  I still did not feel at peace about the situation and neither did my husband.  I wanted to move forward.  I wanted to be able to feel confident about getting in the car and going to get that baby.  But I didn't.  

I called our social worker in tears and told her no.  It was horrible.  I second-guessed our decision.  How could I turn away from something that I had wanted for so long?  

But the bottom line was that neither of us felt a peace about the situation.  As days passed by, we eventually became more confident in the decision we had made.  

Fast forward 5 months...

We received a phone call about a baby that had been born who needed a home.

Dejavu, right?

We moved step by step through the situation, and 22 hours later brought our daughter home. 

I believe that God used the situation in the spring to prepare us for our daughter's arrival.   It was a sort of "dry run," so to speak.  There were details about our daughter's situation that made it clear that she was the one for us.  Details that gave us the courage to move forward into what God had for us.  

I am often reminded of the lyrics by Steven Curtis Chapman:

"God is God and I am not.  We can only see a part of the picture He's painting."

It is cool to be able to look back and catch a glimpse of what He was weaving.  I know that there is SO MUCH MORE of the tapestry of my life and our daughter's life and her birth family's life that is hidden from me.  I don't know all of the whys and hows.  I am ok with that.  It is part of what makes God, GOD, right?

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"We make our plans, BUT GOD..."

We had every reason to give up.  The average wait time for a domestic adoption was 1 year.  It had been almost 3 years.  I watched all the other prospective adoptive couples on the agency website disappear as they brought their children home.   In my rough estimation, we were passed over by about 75 birth families. We waited only 3 weeks to be chosen by our first child's birth mother.  We had no reason to think that it wouldn't happen again.  Our adoption workers could offer no explanation .  

In November 2011 when our firstborn was only 15 months old, I was worshipping with our church family.  I distinctly remember God impressing upon my heart, "Do not be afraid to start the adoption process again."  It seemed early.  Our son was so young, but we decided to go for it.  

As months turned into years, I began to question God's leading on that Sunday.  Why would He lead us to adoption again if the process was only going to result in heartache and tears?  What was God doing here?

In 2014, I began to look into international adoption.  Up until that spring, I didn't even know that it was an option for us.  Back in 2006 when we first started looking at adoption, we were told that we were ineligible for international adoption due to medical concerns.  I was stunned to learn that international adoption was an option.  I honestly didn't know what to do with the information.  Was God changing our direction?  Was our child waiting for us somewhere overseas?

My husband and I talked and prayed and talked and prayed some more.  I talked to international adoption specialists and read up on different countries.  

But we never had a peace about moving in that direction.  There were obstacles in every direction.   Adopting from another country is no simple task. There are several factors to consider. We all see beautiful families everywhere who have made the journey, but it certainly isn't simple and definitely not for everyone.

On  August 15, 2015, my husband and I sat in his truck in a parking lot.  I was melting down in a puddle of frustration and despair.  We had recently experienced another disappointment in our adoption journey and emotions were running high.  I was certain that I could not bear another disappointment and rejection.  I felt like I was falling apart.  I wanted to quit.  But how could we  walk away from the possibility of another child?  How could we give up on the child that we felt God had for us?  

That morning in the truck, we came up with a "plan."  We decided to stay in the domestic adoption program for a few more months.  If we did not have a placement by the end of that time period, we were going to drop out and pursue international adoption.   Did we have a peace about our "plan"?  Not really.  Were we convinced that it was what God was leading us to do?  No.  

But in the end, our "plan" did not matter.

God is sovereign.

And He had a better plan.

That Saturday, August 15, 2015, our daughter was born.  

"We can make our plans, but the final outcome is in God's hands."

Proverbs 16:1

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5 easy meals for busy mamas

With a new baby in the house, homeschooling, and teaching piano lessons,  I don't have a lot of time and energy to be cooking.  But who wants to eat frozen dinners and fast food all the time? Not me!

Everything that I cook these days has to meet the following criteria:

Tasty

Easy

Healthy

5-Year Old Friendly

Here are some of the yummy recipes I have discovered:

Chicken Fajita Soup  I used rotisserie chicken for this one and it turned out great!

 

Spicy White Chicken Chili  I make this in a crockpot.

 

 

Slow Cooker Taco Soup This makes a ton!  We love eating the leftovers for lunch and dinner

 

Slow Cooker BBQ Chicken Soup  My hubby thought that this needed more beans and corn so you may want to add more.

 

 

Slow Cooker Bean and Kielbasa Soup  I use turkey kielbasa for a healthier alternative.   

 

Hope you enjoy these as much as we have!

 

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Be Brave: Watch the Planned Parenthood videos

 

Abortion. 

Somewhere along the way, I had started to ignore its horrors.   It was just another one of those evils in the world that I could not control.  It was legal and there was nothing I could do to change that.

My husband and I tried for years to have children.  We tried artificial reproductive techniques several times without success.  No doctor has ever been able to tell us why we cannot conceive. 

In the midst of the pain of infertility, I couldn’t allow myself to think about the fact that there were thousands of woman getting pregnant and killing their babies.  It would have made me even crazier than I already was.  I avoided the posts on abortion on social media.  I did not listen to segments on the news.  When the Planned Parenthood videos were released, I had no intentions of watching them.  I didn't see the point.

When I tell people that we have been waiting for years to adopt our second child, I am met with looks of disbelief:

Person: “But there are "so many children" out there that need to be adopted!”

Me:  “really?  Well where are they?”

Today, I got my answer.

I got brave and watched.

I saw the "so many children" in pieces, in a container that looked like one of my 9X13 baking dishes.  The people in the lab were talking about the “specimens” as if they were talking about mining coal.  The callousness of the technicians was, well, there is no word to adequately describe it. 

Watching the videos sparked something inside me. Anger. I cannot in good conscience keep my head buried in the sand.  I cannot turn my head the other way.  I cannot just breeze over the stories that are being talked about in the news.

I just. Can't.

I can list reasons why I shouldn't get involved:

-it hurts

-I don't have anything to offer

-This world is too far gone

But those are just excuses. 

Babies are being killed.  People are being killed.

I will no longer look the other way.  I will educate myself.  I will pray.  I will keep my eyes open for ways to save the preborn children.  I want to be able to look my children and grandchildren in the eyes and tell them that I did my part to end the great genocide of our generation.

Be Brave.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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