God takes each of us down different paths for many reasons. There are many twists and turns along the dusty roads we travel, many valleys that we will walk through, many mountain tops that we will stand upon. Through it all we are growing and learning each step of the way through trials and tears, victories and celebrations. What we are left with in the end will be a legacy for our children and those around us. The story that follows is an excerpt of a speech that I wrote to present to our church for a mother’s day tea. It is lengthy and will take some time to read, but it is an important starting point of being able to view a glimpse of me and my family and the journey that God has taken us on.
In one form or another, we are all affected by the individuals in our past. For some of us we have been fortunate enough to have women in our past that have left us with a godly legacy, which reflects how we live our lives today.
A very important person in my legacy was someone I never met, my great grandmother Jessie Pearl Guttery. She married my great grandfather Harry Cole on Christmas Eve of 1901. Harry and Jessie started life with very meager beginnings. They helped to start the Church of the Nazarene in Cimarron Kansas, in 1925. They believed so much in the church that they sold their wedding rings to help pay for the building of God’s kingdom. Many hours were worked long into the night as kerosene lanterns cast enough light for my great grandfather to pound nails into the boards that slowly became their new church. They had no salary from the church and relied only on faith in the Lord and odd jobs to get by.
In 1931, my great grandfather’s church held a two week revival meeting. It was on the way home from this revival meeting that my great grandfather was killed in a car train accident.
Now, my great grandmother had a lot of choices to make at this time. Many of the merchants told her that she did not have to pay her husband’s debts, but she insisted that his debts were her debts. Right before my great grandfather passed they had just purchased life insurance paying $1.00 into each plan. This in turn paid out $3,000 for my great grandmother to cover their debts. Her belief in doing what was right was rewarded as the Lord provided for her needs even during times of sorrow.
My great grandmother exemplified a life of truly serving the Lord. I have always admired my great grandmother’s faith and determination to follow the Lord wherever He led. It has inspired and strengthened me in my journey through life. I often wonder if I had the capability of turning back time and stepping into her shoes, would I make the same choices? Would I have sold a very priceless possession, and given the money to the church when it needed it? Would I have the faith to know that my needs would be provided for, even though I did not know what tomorrow might hold?
My questions were soon answered, as I looked back towards her example of faith when on August 4, of 2003 my life changed forever; this was the day that I found out I had breast cancer. That morning I was filled with much apprehension as our family traveled to Krispy Cremes to get some doughnuts. At times Krispy Cremes can help make anything better. All the way there and back I kept asking my husband “Do you think I’ll be ok?” “What if I’m not ok?” He of course reassured me saying, “Sure you’ll be ok, you worry too much”. However, when we got home there was a message on our answering machine to call my surgeon. The reality of the morning was, I was not ok. I heard the words that no woman ever wants to hear: you have breast cancer. My first thought was, what I am going to do? My kids are so young, they need their mother. My next thought was I do not want to lose my hair. I am not going into public without hair and have everyone know what is happening to me. Little by little God helped me work through all these things.
The next month was a tearful whirlwind of tests and more tests as we decided what we should do. One of these tests was called a PET scan. This is a very high powered x-ray that is supposed to detect cancer anywhere within the body. As I spoke to the technician administering the test, he realized I was a Christian, as was he. He then placed me on the table, and went back into his room to make sure everything was set up properly. When he returned he came to me and said, “God has spoken to me and has something He wants you to know. He hears and He answers.” My husband and I looked at each other in amazement, not aware at the time that this would be the first of many times that God would speak to us and make His presence known.
At the beginning of my long and at the time unwanted adventure, my husband and I went in to speak to our pastor who offered us words of encouragement found in Isaiah 42:16 and 43:2 which reads, “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” I didn’t know why I was going through this or for what reason, but I did know that God would be with me. I told myself I would get through it one step at a time. First the surgery, then the chemotherapy, then radiation, and after that making sure I stayed well.
A month after the surgery my chemotherapy began. A few days later I awoke in the middle of the night to find my arm wet. I thought well that’s odd, I guess my port, the place where your chemotherapy is administered, must be leaking. I turned on the lights and found out that instead of my port leaking, part of the site that had been reconstructed came open. If the Lord would not have woken me up that night to go into the emergency room, I probably would have bled to death due to the large amount of blood that I lost.
Shortly after this incident, my left arm where my port was began to get very sore. A few days later we again ended up in the emergency room in the middle of the night because the pain was so great. It turned out that I had a blood clot in my arm and an infection in my port. This resulted in a longer than excepted hospital stay. During the time I was in the hospital I kept telling my oncologist I wanted to go home because my children did not understand why I was there, and I needed to go home to be with them. The oncologist replied, better you stay here and get things taken care of then go home and die. That’s when we realized that the infection was extremely dangerous as one of the most powerful antibiotic Vancomycin had to be administered. Finally, I was able to go home and go through my next six rounds of chemotherapy.
But before I left, the thing I dreaded most started to happen. As I laid there in the hospital bed, I ran my fingers through my hair and large chunks of hair started to come out. One of the things that I wanted to happen least was now happening. Shortly after we got home, I decided I wanted to take control of when my hair would actually come out. I went into the bathroom and my husband gave me a haircut, and then shaved the rest of my hair off. Later he said that was one of the hardest parts of my sickness, as it was for me too.
Once I received my second round of chemotherapy, I went home and tried to carry on with life as normal. I picked up the house and did the laundry, not realizing at the time I was overdoing it. On day two after the chemo, I became very sick. My back had gone out, and I was not able to keep anything down. I went to the doctor the next day bent over looking like the letter C, and extremely dehydrated. I sat in the chemo room of my oncologist office stating, “I don’t want to do this anymore, I can’t do this anymore, I am done”. As they were giving me an IV to increase my fluids, my oncologist, Dr. B, offered me words of encouragement. “You can do this. Don’t quit. I know it’s hard but once your done you’ll be able to look back and say I did that.” Very simple words but I believe they were from the Lord as they gave me the strength to move forward.
At Christmas time we had family and church members that were very generous to us. They did everything they could to make Christmas special for our family. But, the most special gift I got that year was from my 8 year old daughter Emily. My kids always ask what I would like for gifts, to which I reply something made by them. That year Emily copied a poem for me and rolled it up like a scroll with a ribbon around it. This is what the poem said:
Every little thought or word,
Jesus knows it all,
Every little deed that’s good,
Jesus can recall.
Every little sob or sigh,
Jesus always hears;
Every little pain or hurt
Jesus always cares.
So let no one ever think
He is all alone.
Jesus is so very near
Reigning on his throne.
This is one of the most treasured possessions I have and is now framed and hanging in my room. After Christmas came and went it was time for me to have my eighth and final round of chemotherapy. I felt very elated once it was done, thinking yes, I finished now on to the next step. But my joy was short lived because that night we ran into another road block. My port was now in my right arm, since the port in my left arm had to be taken out due to the infection. That night at dinner my right arm began to swell and was very painful. I knew in an instant that I had another blood clot. The ultrasound the following morning confirmed my suspicions. I went through a wide variety of tests and x-rays. An angioplasty was done on my arm to help remove part of the clot. I was sent home after being put on two blood thinners Coumadin and Heparin. The heparin had to be administered in the form of a shot which I gave myself in the stomach.
Finally, it was time for step three, my radiation treatments. This was the easiest by far out of all the steps I had to go through. At times a little scary though. They made me lay very still on a metal table while a huge machine moved around administering the radiation in the proper places. Before the treatments started, all the technicians left the room so they did not get unwanted radiation exposure. As I lay there on the table and the lights would flash and the machine would beep, I can remember praying that Jesus would send his angels to be with me and that they would protect me with their angel wings so that the radiation did not go anywhere that it was not supposed to go. Eventually, I finished step 3 and my hair began growing back. This to me was like a reward signaling a new beginning as I had to focus on a new way of life and staying well.
Little by little as I saw God’s hand working through those close to us, I began to hear God speaking to me. I felt as if He was saying, “You will not be healed right away, but later you will. For now, there is a reason and a purpose that you have to go through this. I need you to be a witness for me through this, and I’ll be with you every step of the way.” James 1:2-4 brings this into even clearer light, “Dear brothers, is your life full of difficulties and temptations? Then be happy, for when the way is rough your patience has a chance to grow. So let it grow, and don’t try to squirm out of your problems. For when your patience is in full bloom, then you will be ready for anything, strong in character, full and complete.” It was at this point that I realized that good times and bad times will come to all of us; it’s what we do with them that count. I had a choice to make I could get angry and bring everyone down around me, or I could decide to leave a worthwhile legacy for my children and others close to me.
With God’s help, I tried to daily move past the anger and doubts and towards something that would make this trial have meaning. One of my main concerns began to focus on getting better for my kids because they needed their mom. With the possibility of me not being there for them in the future, my mind raced with ideas as to how I could still impact their lives, even though I may not physically be with them. An important priority to me was to make sure I still homeschooled our children. I wanted to let them know I was there for them, and that we would work together as a family through this. Other ideas that ran through my mind included making sure they had hand written birthday cards from me for their upcoming birthdays and making personal videos for them that talked about things they would face such as how to drive a car, or how to put on makeup. Whatever the situation, I wanted to make sure that I would be with them in the future, that I would leave a legacy for them.
Over 4 years have past since I was diagnosed with cancer. Now I can say that in many ways I value the experience that I have gone through because it has helped me to grow and has made me a different person. As of this day there is no sign of the cancer returning. What the Lord allowed me to go through taught me many things. Just like the disciples became afraid as they were getting rocked to and fro during the storm as Jesus slept, I too was afraid many times, but He was always there with me, just like He is for all of us, and just like He was with the disciples. What we need to remember is to trust in him, because He will guide us through our storms. Secondly, I learned that I went through this for a reason, to let others know about the goodness of God, of how He healed me and how He was there with me. I felt as if I was specifically being told this as I was listening to one of our pastor’s sermons. In his sermon he spoke about the story of Jesus casting out the legion of demons from a man. Once the man was free from the demons he wanted to go with Jesus and accompany Him on His journey. Instead Jesus stated in Acts 4:19, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.” Likewise, we should be proclaiming to others around us, the goodness of God and how He has helped us through our trials. Thirdly, through this experience I learned I need to daily re-evaluate what kind of legacy I want to leave for my children and others around me.
I have opened up a chapter of my legacy to you for 2 reasons. It is first off to say that God is with us in every detail of our lives. He answers prayers, it may not be what we expect, but they are answered, in His time and His ways. Secondly, I want to encourage you to look at the legacy you will leave your own children and loved ones. My experience has been a wake up call for me. It has taught me that time is precious and not to be wasted. Many of you may be going through trials, but just look at how you can turn those trials into something good. Make those experiences have value and meaning. Just like trees that need to be trimmed and pruned to remain healthy, so do we. God puts us into difficult situations so we can grow to be more in His image. Let those experiences you have gone through in the past or are going through now be created into a priceless legacy.
In the posts that follow you will see the day to day journey of my family and the road we walk on together. It will not be a journey of perfection, but rather one of learning and growing as we weave together our family legacy of character, faith, and love. Along the way I hope you will ask yourself, “What kind of legacy do I want to leave for my family and loved ones around me?”