Monday, October 19, 2009

Blessings Upon Blessings

Deuteronomy 28:2
All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God."

When we took Julie to Manhattan for her freshman year of college in 2004, we kind of stalled. We took a little longer in the restaurant. We kept making trips to the car. We did everything we could do to stay with her for another minute or two. But we knew it was inevitable. Our baby had grown up, and it was time for the next stage of her life, a stage in which we wouldn't be involved as much on a daily basis.

As we drove away, we spoke—through tears—about when we first brought David Lee home from the hospital. We remembered saying “our lives will never be the same.” And then we thought of the blessings that we experienced as parents. We then thought about when Julie went to first grade and was gone all day, every day and our house was empty of children during the day. We remembered saying “our lives will never be the same.” And then we thought of the blessings that we experienced with a little bit of free time away from the kids.

We then said, “With David in his own apartment and Julie away at school, our lives will never be the same.” And we thought about the blessings that might be in store for us.

It's been a great five years for us. We are closer than we've ever been. We have more flexibility in our schedule. We have been able to take two missions trips together and get even more involved at church.

Then, a year ago last week, we got some devastating news. Tammy's blood counts were dangerously low. We made the mistake of getting onto the Internet and finding out what that might mean. We saw “leukemia” among the possibilities, and we knew it was not going to be a smooth ride. Above all else, we knew our lives would never be the same.

It was hard to think of Tammy getting leukemia as a blessing. (Technically it never developed into full-blown leukemia, just the pre-cursor.) But a look back over the past year reveals many blessings.

Many couples go through problems like this and are driven apart. They can't deal with the pressure, and they bail. Through God's provision, this journey has brought us together. I'm one who needs a purpose each day. My overall purpose has never changed: to glorify God in my life. But my daily purpose during this time was doing whatever Tammy needed to get better. I could see results on a daily basis when I did what I was supposed to do. I've never felt so needed.

It also gave me an opportunity to repay Tammy for years of taking care of me. As many of you know, I have been a diabetic practically all my life. I am very well controlled, but occasionally there has been trouble. Numerous times Tammy has awakened to find me in diabetic shock and has done what was necessary to get me back to health. While I can never get even, I have been able to “even up the chair legs” just a little.

David Lee returned from Poland the day before our first visit to the cancer clinic at KU, where we found out the details of her pre- and post-transplant journey. We heard the odds of her recovery (at least according to the statistics), and came to grips with her possible mortality. David has been a huge help over the past 10 months, as he has lived at home and taken his turns taking Tammy to the clinic and watching her at home. Julie hasn't been able to spend as much time here because of her jobs in Louisville, but she has been a big part of things too. She has provided inspiration as she has continued to serve the Lord in the missions field even while distracted.

We've also been blessed by the opportunity to share our faith, in person and through the blog. We have lost count of how many people have told us they've enjoyed reading the blog. As we've written, people on five continents are reading the blog and praying for Tammy. We've shared our story—and thus our faith—with people in stores, at the hospital and the clinic, at work and school for the kids and me, and pretty much everywhere we go. People tell us they've seen us on television and that we inspired them with our trust in God.

Today we were blessed by the news that Tammy has a “clean bill of health,” according to the lead doctor at the clinic. He said she still needs to be careful of being around sick people, but he said her counts continue to look good. Her immune system is still not where it needs to be, but it's better than normal for this stage of recovery. The doctor gave her permission to get into public more, with the exception of church, where people will hug her. And he even gave her permission to have plants and flowers in the house (see the picture above), as long as she doesn't dig in the dirt.

Life is returning to normal—sort of. Tammy doesn't have a lot of energy, but she's able to do more and more. In a sense, we're settling into a routine.

Yesterday was Day 200. It's hard to believe we've gone through another 100 days since our big celebration July 10, when we got the first batch of good news that it appeared Tammy was going to beat this disease. If we count the time before the transplant, and all the uncertainty it brought, it's been a year-long journey through the desert.

We're studying Exodus in small groups at our church. We're learning a lot about Moses' and the Israelites' journey through the desert. Last night, one of the questions was “How can God get you out of a tough situation when you’re willing to follow His plan?” We kind of bounced around the answer until we finally reached the conclusion that we must distance ourselves from our own plans and buy into His plan, even when it doesn't seem like the right plan. We talked about the concept of praying “Send me where You're blessing” instead of “Bless me as I go down this path.”

Tammy and I did not choose this path. We could have looked for ways to get out of it, and at times we prayed for God to take it away. But most of the time we have chosen to focus on what God wanted to teach us through this, and how the situation, and our reaction to it, could glorify Him.

Our goal over the past year with this blog has been to be transparent. When we were struggling with something, we wrote about it. When we were celebrating something, we wrote about it. When we realized something new, we wrote about it. We hope you learned something through us, if not from us. We hope you have a closer relationship with the Lord through being partners with us.

The journey is not done. Tammy still has hurdles to clear. Her immune system still needs to rebuild. She'll never be able to completely forget the cancer, and will always have to be aware of signs of recurrence. We'll update the blog as new milestones are cleared, but we probably won't do much regular updating for the sake of writing something.

We hope you have enjoyed the ride with us. We thank you for your continued prayers. We thank you for your words of encouragement.

God bless you.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Lots of Good News and a Little Disappointment

2 Corinthians 1:10-11
"On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many."

It was an early-morning start for us as Tammy had a 7:30 appointment at the clinic. After getting some blood drawn we waited to see the doctor. He came in and gave us mostly good news.

Tammy's counts continue to go up, and he said she is 100 percent IN REMISSION. We are so excited about this news. It means that the past year (it was mid-October last year when she was diagnosed) has not been for naught. She's not completely out of the woods; that won't happen for five years. But she has NO graft vs. host disease, which is the biggest risk from a bone-marrow transplant. The doctor called her "beautiful" (which I seconded), and he has called her "the perfect transplant patient" before.

He did give us one piece of disappointing news, though in the grand scheme of things, it's a minor set-back. He said with all the flu going around and Tammy's compromised immune system, he would like her to wait until next spring before going back to church. His exact words were, "You'll have 50 more years of church. God will understand if you wait another six months."

From there, we went to the hospital, where Tammy had her trifusion set removed. The procedure lasted only 40 minutes and she walked out of the treatment room (they gave her a local only). We got home around 11:30 and she has rested all afternoon. She is not supposed to lift anything for a couple of days, which wouldn't have happened anyway because she's pretty sore.

We can't thank you enough for your prayers over the past 12 months. We ask you to continue them as well. We believe that God has answered the prayers of many righteous people.

Monday, October 5, 2009

A Few Requests

Jeremiah 29:11
"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"

We had a wonderful weekend with Julie in town. We took her to the airport this morning, so she could head to Ethiopia with a team of 13 from our church. She was very excited to go again, and we are excited for her. But we also miss her. We ask you to pray for the team, that they would be safe. More than that, we ask you to pray that their trip will impact another part of the world for His kingdom.

Today is David Lee's 26th birthday. We are so proud of him and the man he has become. He still has the same sweet disposition he had as a little boy (though he doesn't like it too much when we call him sweet), and he is totally in love with the Lord. He wants to serve Him more than anything in the world. We ask you to pray that he will be able to continue to follow God's plan for his life.

Tomorrow is a big day for Tammy. After more than six months of having a trifusion set, a surgically implanted IV port, in her chest, she will have it removed tomorrow morning. It has been used to draw blood samples and distribute medicines. Having that port has helped keep her veins from collapsing from frequent use. This is routine surgery, but you know the old saying, "It's not routine when it's someone you love."

We would ask for your prayers for the hands of the doctors, and for Tammy as she goes through the procedure and the recovery process. It's all part of the journey.

Our lives are a journey. Each of us has a course that was designed specifically for us. Sometimes the path is clearly marked; other times it winds through a desert or a forest, and we have no idea what the next step will bring. We all have roadblocks and even planned obstacles on our journey. It is our job, as Christians, to follow the path that God has laid out for us. It is our prayer for you that His will would become very clear for you, and that you chose to follow it.

Thanks for the prayers.

"God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times...."

Friday, October 2, 2009

Special Weekend

1 Kings 4:20b
"...they ate, they drank and they were happy."

We're celebrating a special weekend this weekend. This afternoon, Tammy and I went to the airport and picked up Julie. She's spending the weekend with us before heading to Ethiopia Monday with a group from our church.

We're very proud of Julie, as she serves the Lord all around the world. In the past year and a half, she's been to Holland, Dubai, the Middle East, Poland, Sudan, Ethiopia, England, Hungary and Romania, as well as church-planting trips in Baltimore and New York City. Everywhere she goes makes an impact on her, as she makes an impact on the people she serves.

Yet she's still our little girl. The same innocent smile is always spread across her face, regardless of how tired she is or what pressures she's under. She has such a great disposition, and an all-out willingness to serve God by serving others.

David Lee is like that as well. He can't wait to get back to Poland, probably in about a year, so he can go back to his work of teaching English to Polish kids. He doesn't consider it a sacrifice, because he enjoys it so much. But he is willing to give up the lifestyle of a typical American 26-year-old (as of next Monday) to serve.

They come by that attitude very naturally. As you know, Tammy gets the most joy when she is serving others. We have heard from many people who have been blessed by Tammy's reaction to this whole journey. When she reads or hears those comments, it pleases her. It has helped her endure the difficulties, knowing that others have been blessed by her journey.

We had a great evening together, laughing like little kids and eating as a family for the first time in several months. We are so blessed to have two kids who have grown up to be great servants, as well as our friends. We enjoy spending time with each of them, and the times we get to be with both of them together are very special.

We hope you have a blessed weekend.