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.


Carol Smale said...

YAY!! Tammy I'm so happy for you! It's been a blessing, as well as an encouragment to read this. Agga, you have a beautiful way with words.

This is Hannah, not Gramma, by the way ;)

Thiago said...

Praise God! You folks have been rock solid through these tough times. Such a beautiful example to be followed.
May God's love and mercy continue to abundantly bless your home and your church.
My thought and prayers are with you Smale family - always.
Sao Paulo, Brazil