Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Best


It was springtime in Missouri, nearly Easter as a matter of fact, when Todd and I went on our first date some twenty seven years ago.  We saw the movie, Home Alone.   Though the movie had come out months prior it took a while for it to reach our theater in small town Missouri.  We found it quite amusing to watch a recently released Christmas movie at Easter, yet the timing was perfect...the best, actually.  It was a moment made just for us - the start of our beautiful relationship, and a special memory we'll always cherish. 

I’d love to tell you I am patient in all things and with all people, but there would probably be a be lump of coal in my stocking if I did!  What I can honestly tell you though is this –God specializes in timing – even if it means seeing a Christmas movie at Easter.  His plan for our lives is always perfect, always best, and always provides exactly what we need right on time...every time. 

While Home Alone holds a special place in my heart and Todd’s, it also holds a special place in the hearts of our two boys as well.   Every year the four of us watch the Home Alone movies together while putting up our Christmas tree.  I hope the boys continue that tradition years from now when they put up their Christmas trees with their own children; and I pray they'll fondly look back on these times we've shared and remember how much they were and are loved. I treasure my opportunities to connect and make memories with my family; even more so now - as the boys get older and as we face my cancer diagnosis.  Life goes by quick and time spent with my husband and our boys is the best, most precious gift ever.

Recently, I submitted a wish to the Stella’s Wish Foundation, a foundation which grants wishes to adults with stage IV cancers.  For nearly a month I wrestled over whether or not to submit a wish.  I wondered if it would be selfish. Afterall, our family is certainly not the only family in the world dealing with the dark cloud of cancer, and so many, many others are far worse off than us.  Submitting a wish also meant facing the reality that I meet the requirements to even do so, and that, quite frankly, is a hard reality to stare in the eye.  But, I knew what I wanted, and I also knew I wasn’t going to be able to make it happen on my own.  I desperately wanted to give my family the best Christmas ever.  So, I prayed, "God give me what is best... whatever that may be", and I submitted the wish. 

The foundation receives 60 to 100 wishes every month.  I am no more deserving than anyone else to have my wish granted. I am also keenly aware that just because we want something that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best or right thing for our lives at that time.  I’ve learned that wanting the best thing in my life and the life of my family means I’m praying, trusting and asking God for that best thing.  There was no guarantee my wish would be chosen and I was okay with that.  Again, my desire was for our family to receive the best thing – even if it was no thing at all.  

The wish… New York City at Christmas time. We’ve never been to New York, but thanks to Home Alone 2 seeing the city at Christmas is something we have long wanted.  The movie, set in New York City, has many scenes depicting the grandeur and magic of the Christmas decorations which adorn the area.  Further, prior to my diagnosis I made a promise to my boys that I would take them to NYC before they graduate high school.  We are so fortunate in our country to have many memorials and monuments which provide us the opportunity to pay homage to those who’ve gone before us and serve as reminders to pause and appreciate the freedoms we enjoy in our great nation.  It has always been important to me to make sure my children see some of these important and reverent sites and to teach them to respect the men and women associated with those sacrifices and freedoms.  New York City is among the cities having many such memorials and monuments. 

Early last week, I got a call from Stella’s Foundation.  We will be leaving for New York soon.  My heart is humbled and full of gratitude. Thank you, Lord.  It will be the best trip ever. 



**Many thanks to the Stella's Wish Foundation for honoring my wish.  You can read more about the foundation and Mrs. Stella by clicking the link.  We are grateful for Mrs. Stella's legacy and the difference she and the foundation continue to make in the lives of many families such as ours.  

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Balance


Last week we completed round 5 of 6 rounds of chemo.  The further we get into the treatment, the harder it becomes.  Chemo has a cumulative effect, so each round builds on the previous one and the side effects often become stronger and more frequent.  We’ve certainly noticed.  My stamina has decreased significantly and my stomach pain has increased.  I’ve been spending a lot of time sleeping and taking more days off of work to rest.  Finding balance has been tough, but we are hanging in there, and reminding ourselves to take one day at a time.  It’s so easy to get discouraged through this journey, and admittedly, there are days that I truly just want to stay in bed and cry.  I know that’s a normal response, but not one of which I’m particularly fond.  I suppose I thought I would breeze right through chemo and it would only affect me as much as I allowed.  Boy, was I wrong!  Daily I am reminded it’s not my own strength that will get me through this, but Christ’s strength in me.  Some days I do a better job leaning into His strength than others though.  I pray my witness and testimony continue to shine through – even on the hard days. 

We are so very appreciative of all your prayers and encouragement, meal deliveries, cards, hugs and thoughtfulness to our family.  It means a great deal to the four of us and we are incredibly blessed with so many caring, kind friends and family.  Next week I will complete my final round of chemo.  It will be a bittersweet ending.  The fatigue and stomach pain will eventually fade and my hair will start to grow back. Some of the side effects won’t go away, however.  Recently, we learned that the chemo has caused severe hearing loss in both of my ears, and I’ll be fitted for hearing aids soon.  Thankfully, I haven’t lost all my hearing, nonetheless, the hearing loss is a hard pill to swallow and another new normal to which we must adjust.  Sometimes, learning to balance involves a whole lot of wobbling until our gait is steady again.  And, right now, I feel like a wobbly, hot mess.   

We also know that the chemo has been effective in shrinking the tumors and slowing the growth of the cancer.  What a blessing!  When I finish my 6th round, chemo will no longer part of our treatment plan and the cancer will eventually start to grow again.  When that will happen is anyone’s guess, but we are encouraged that about 40% of patients tend to go one to two years without growth and the need for additional treatment.  We pray that is the case for me, plus some!  When the cancer does grow again, however, immunotherapy will likely be our next step and then ultimately clinical trials.  There is strong likelihood the cancer will be what takes my life, but we also know that none of us are promised tomorrow.  I am so thankful for my faith and the confidence I have in knowing that when my time on earth is through, whenever and however that may be, I’ll be rejoicing in Heaven.  And, I guarantee there’s balance there! 

As I close out this update, I would ask that you continue to remember us in prayer.  Specifically, I ask that you lift us up as we contemplate important decisions for our future.  Many patients with stage IV bladder cancer file for disability.  We’ve started some difficult conversations in this regard and for now are still gathering facts.  The timing of when to file is weighing heavy on our minds and shoulders.  Please pray that we would be wise and at peace with our decision. 

I have the following verse written on a note card by my Bible.  Every morning I look at it and remind myself…

Be joyful in hope. Patient in affliction. Patient in prayer. – Romans 12:12

Balance. 

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Waves


The Florida beaches along the Gulf of Mexico are one some of my most favorite places to visit!  The soft, sugar white sand and turquoise water.  The lullaby of the tides that eases weary souls and minds to stillness and rest.  The breathtaking sunrises and sunsets.  Serenity now! I love every. single. bit of it. 

Just a few weeks ago, my family took a trip to one of those beautiful beaches. What a blessing it was to spend moments together making priceless memories.  At the time, we were waiting in the wings for news of whether or not I had cancer.  Having already received the results of some of my scans, we knew the possibility of cancer was a very real one.  But, having gone through cancer before, we are/were also all too familiar with riding the waves of survivorship.  Sometimes, there are scary test and scan results that turn out to be nothing at all.  We've learned it's imperative to find balance while riding the waves, and that balance requires a steady footing. Sometimes that is much easier said than done, but regardless, without it, we find ourselves overwhelmed by the waters. 

One morning during our vacation, we got up early to take family photos on the beach.  Thanks to my sweet husband, who also served as our photographer, we were blessed with many great photos.  One of those photos, however, speaks to my heart the most.  It’s a photo of me with my boys gazing out at the vast waters before us. 

Like the stillness of the ocean in the photo that morning, sometimes the waters in our lives is calm. Other times, as we all know, it’s full of many unexpected waves…some waves will be breathtaking and wonderful and some will hit your heart so hard you don’t know if it will ever be able to beat again.  But, for every wave that crashes, my faith in Christ will stand.  He steadies my footing.  He calms the waves.




Who is like you, Lord God Almighty? 
You, Lord, are mighty, and your faithfulness surrounds you.
You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them.- Psalm 89:8-9

This past Monday I received my first chemotherapy treatment. I am feeling well, just riding a few waves of nausea and fatigue.  But, God’s got this.  And, He’s got me.  And, for whatever waves you’re facing, He’s got you too. 

I’ll close with the lyrics from the song, “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” as performed by Hillsong United.

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

(Chorus)
And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You've never failed and You won't start now

(Chorus)

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

(Chorus)

Saturday, August 11, 2018

A New Chapter...

Confession: I am somewhat technologically challenged!  I had hoped to upload a video here to the blog page, but it appears the file it too large to do so.  So...if you feel so inclined, I would love for you to visit the Facebook page for the blog and watch the video there. 
Our family is embarking on a new chapter and we would so love for you to continue walking The Slickery Road of life with us.  

Much love to all of you,
Angela



Friday, November 25, 2016

Thanksgiving, Stretchy Pants, and Jars of Clay

I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart.  I will enter His courts with praise.  I will say this is the day that the Lord has made.  I will rejoice for He has made me glad.

It is the day after Thanksgiving, and my family of four is slowly rising this morning, one by one, from our Thanksgiving slumber.  Our bellies and hearts still full from the copious amounts of food and love we feasted upon yesterday.  Thank you, Jesus for family, friends, pumpkin pie and whipped cream…but, mostly Lord, thank you for stretchy pants.  Amen?  Amen. 

“There is always, always, always something to be thankful for”.  I placed a sign with that phrase on my dining room wall a few years back.  It serves as a daily reminder to me (and I need that reminder) that thanksgiving is so much more than a holiday.  It’s a place to enter and abide - a place where hearts are stretched and filled with life, goodness, grace, abundance, and joy.  It’s totally our choice to binge and reside in that place of thanksgiving though.  And, it’s not always easy to do so, especially when life is full of circumstances beyond our control.  The circumstances themselves, hard as they may or may not be, are not nearly as important as what we opt to do with them.

When someone suggests you’re sick it is easy to dwell in that place.  And, though it’s of utmost importance we take care of ourselves, it’s also important we realize sickness does not have to become our new address.  We have the power within us to overcome that frame of mind. The more focus we place on being ill, the more we begin to believe that’s all we are.  “I can’t do this or I’m not capable of that because….” It takes determination, balance, and a thankful heart to stay out of that pit.  Sickness doesn’t define you no more than it defines me.  Jesus does.  I read this profound statement the other day:

“Though we may think we are at the end of our rope, we are never at the end of our hope!”   

Praise God He is our hope!  I am thankful.  The past six months have no doubt been wearisome and many times I’ve felt at the end of my rope.  There have been moments my face has been so hot from tears, stress, and anxiety that I wanted to stick my head in the freezer – thinking the cold air would somehow manage to keep me from spontaneous combustion.  I have been hard pressed, crushed, perplexed, struck down…but, I’ve not been abandoned.  I’ve not been destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:7-9).  God’s power is alive and well in me and because of Him I can keep showing up…facing each day with a thankful heart. I may feel at the end of my rope, but I’ve never been at the end of my hope. 

We’ve ruled out many things, but we’re still searching for a cause of my health concerns and symptoms. Tuesday I will undergo a kidney biopsy.  My physicians now considering lupus nephritis as a potential culprit.  Your continued prayers are much appreciated.  I don’t want to go through the biopsy.  Sitting at home in my stretchy pants and eating pumpkin pie sounds like a much more fun and exciting way to spend the day.  But this, this is the circumstance I am in.  And, the circumstance itself is not nearly as important as what I opt to do with it. 

I’ve been reading lately the book of 2 Corinthians.  It is chock-full of reassuring, comforting, God breathed words spoken and gifted to us through the Apostle Paul.  Paul penned the heartfelt words of 2 Corinthians around the time period of A.D. 55-57.  It blows my mind that something written that long ago is still completely applicable and appropriate for today.  God is good.  He always knows just what we need at the exact time we need it…even if it’s more than a thousand years later.  He’s pretty awesome like that. 

The focus of Paul’s message was Christ, not himself.  He wanted others to see Christ’s work in him, and he fully acknowledged that his abilities, his strength, and his accomplishments were not the result of anything he himself could do, but rather what Christ was doing in and through him.  Preach.  In 2 Corinthians chapter 4 Paul writes that those who love the Lord are like jars of clay – frail and fallible.  Yet, despite that frailty, they are jars filled with the priceless treasure of Christ’s power dwelling in them.

You guys - I am a jar of clay, frail a fallible, but God is alive and well, and He is at work in and through me.  What an honor and privilege that is! Sometimes I just need that reminder – a kick in the old stretchy pants, so to speak.

If there is but one thing you take away from reading this blog, I pray it is this – God’s saving, all consuming, merciful, powerful grace.  He is my hope.  My strength.  My power.  My salvation and my song. 

It is because of the strength I find in Him I can even remotely begin to have a heart of thanksgiving.  A heart that overflows for His glory (2 Corinthians 4:15).  Because of Him, in the midst of unmet expectations and unanswered prayers – there is appreciation.  On those days when my chin quivers and my eyes fill up with tears – there is gratitude.  Because, there is always, always, always something to be thankful for. 

Hurt, anger, frustration, resentment, bitterness…the list goes on – these are all totally normal emotions or feelings, and believe you, me – I experience them.  I don’t necessarily know how to avoid them. But, I am learning not to reside in them.  And, that my friends makes all the difference in the world.  Those feelings strangle and choke when I feast upon and dwell in them.  And, you know what?  It’s difficult to breathe, much less move from that dwelling place when you’re suffocating. Plus, I’ve already mentioned I’m partial to stretchy pants, pumpkin pie, and breathing.  So…

I will choose to enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart.  I will choose to enter His courts with praise.  I will choose to say this is the day that the Lord has made. And, I will choose to rejoice for He has made me glad. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Learning to Lean

Thank you for praying for me and my dear family over the past few months.  Shortly after my last blog post, I underwent surgery to remove and biopsy a suspicious area in my bladder. I am overjoyed, however, to tell you that during the procedure, the area in question was nowhere to be found!  There was literally nothing, NOTHING to be removed!  Permission granted to dance happily amongst yourselves.  I may or may not have danced a jig myself.  (No, I’m not a good dancer.  But, hey, Jesus doesn’t judge my lack of dancing skills, so let's move on shall we?)

I will be seeing a kidney specialist in a couple of weeks to determine whether kidney disease is the culprit of these ongoing health concerns.  The symptoms that started five months ago are still very much present.  So, while we are rejoicing over the absence of a cancer diagnosis, we continue to wait with anticipation for answers.  Each day I’m learning to lean more and more on the grace and goodness of the Lord...trusting in His timing and His plans.  Desperately trying not to run ahead and control things myself.  I know His ways are better than my own.  And, because of that I’m so very thankful that He loves me despite myself and despite my failures in leaning on Him as often as I should.  More of Him, less of me.  I’m learning to lean.

This learning to lean thing is hard.  It’s truly a daily decision...sometimes it’s a minute by minute, or even second by second decision.  We, as a society, are so accustomed to instant gratification that any amount of waiting or not getting exactly what we want can often lead to tantrums of toddler like proportions.  Bless.  Trust me when I say I could easily be mistaken for Veruca Salt’s understudy in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  And, she was a bad egg, my friends (Check it out here).  Thank God He doesn’t always give us what we want, but He is oh so faithful to meet our every need.  He saves us over and over and over again; steadying our stride and reminding us to lean.  For goodness sake, He’s the creator of the universe.  So, um, He's perfectly capable of handling the hot mess we are, no? 

From my study Bible, in the introduction to the book of Proverbs, the commentators write:
 

“Knowledge is good, but a vast difference stands between ‘knowledge’ (having the facts) and ‘wisdom’ (applying those facts to life).  We may amass knowledge, but without wisdom our knowledge is useless.  We must learn to live out what we know.” 

Mercy. That gets me right in the feelers.
  We can study, and even memorize the entire Bible.  We can be Bible scholars (and heaven knows there are many scholars out there who can quote the Bible from cover to cover) but, without application of what we know and learn from scripture – all we have is...knowledge. Being smart is good.  Being wise is greater.  If we aren’t applying God breathed instruction to our lives, then God's word is nothing more than a bunch of useless information floating around in our big ol’ brains.
Let me be perfectly clear here, I don’t share with you as an expert on this subject by any means.  I’m just a girl longing to serve and honor the Lord, working out her salvation each and every day.  If my sharing is helpful to you along your spiritual journey, then I am ever so thankful for the ability to share.  But, hear me when I say - Praise God His mercies are new every morning.  Cause, you guys, I need some mercy.  For reals.  I can’t even tell you how many times, in the last week alone, I have laid down my crown at the feet of Jesus just to pick it back up again seconds later. 

The Lord has proven Himself faithful time and time again in my life.  I could talk till I’m blue in the face of His providence.  I have no reason to doubt Him.  I know His plans are best, but living out what I know...sigh.  That’s where the rubber hits the road, and I’m like a teenager learning to drive.  Jesus take the wheel.  Each day I’m learning to loosen my grip on my own agendas, my friends, food (props to Reese’s peanut butter cups), music, retail therapy...you name it - whatever or whomever I’m leaning on for temporary satisfaction and security in place of the One who grants eternal satisfaction and security.  I’m learning...learning to lean on Jesus. 

Running after instant gratification is such an easy mistake...it takes us off of the perfect, individualized path God has designed just for each and every one of us. And, it’s a trap that I (and I pray you do too) know better than to fall into. The more aware we are of the traps and snares, the greater chance we have of avoiding them in the future. I liken this to my boys’ math homework. Todd and I require the boys do their homework as soon as they get home from school.  It has to be done before they can watch TV, get on the X-box, or whatever else their little hearts desire. I can’t tell you the number of times I have graded their math homework and found careless mistakes. They know most of the answers, but make errors because they aren’t focused on their work. Instead they are in a hurry to get that temporary high of playing games or watching a show. So, they rush to the finish line and end up getting off track – only to find they saved no time at all and have to go back and correct mistakes that shouldn’t have been made in the first place (at which point whining ensues on their end...and mine. Algebra gives mama a headache). 

Slow and steady wins the race, but often we are too concerned with satisfying our desires that we run ahead and end up taking a detour down the wrong path, tripping over ourselves along the way. Have I mentioned I trip a lot? In the hurdles of life, we find success, joy and peace when we lay aside our own plans and expectations—and surrender to His. His pace. His path. His answers. His plans.

The wisest man who ever lived, Solomon, wrote the book of Proverbs. He also wrote the books of Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. In these books, Solomon shares his wisdom with readers. But, Solomon wasn’t wise by his own merits or doing – his wisdom came from the Lord. Solomon literally prayed for it, and God, in His great faithfulness, granted it to him (2 Chronicles 1:7-12).

In Proverbs 1:7 (NIV), Solomon wrote, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”  Knowledge is plentiful.  But, wisdom, wisdom is scarce.  Wisdom requires putting into practice what we know, not just taking charge and running full steam ahead.  Everyone is looking for a source of strength.  We can choose to lean on ourselves, on others, on things, or...we can lean on the everlasting arms of Jesus.

Our human understanding always limits God. Learning to lean on Jesus - to depend, rely, and rest on him is a crucial part of our spiritual journey. May we seek His wisdom as we run with endurance the race He has set before us.
 
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.”  -Proverbs 3:5, 6 (NIV)

I'm learning to lean.

 


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Music and Lyrics

"My favorite thing is to hear how the songs start showing up in people's lives, and help them talk to God in their everyday situations". - Matt Redman (Christian singer/songwriter)

From a very young age music has been a central part of my life.  It gives voice to my feelings, emotions, and thoughts when I can't quite find the words to express them myself.  It is also a mode through which the Lord speaks His truth and promises into my life.  And, oh how I love that He sets those truths and promises to music.  As I sing them over and over I am able to memorize the wisdom and encouragement they hold, and am reminded He is ever present and ever faithful.  Just think of all the wonderful God given lyrics that speak so dearly to our hearts...

 "On Christ the solid rock I stand all other ground is sinking sand"
"In Christ alone my hope is found, He is my light, my strength, my song"

Most recently I've been loving the song, "In the Eye of Storm" by Ryan Stevenson.  It's good, good stuff, people.  You should totally check it out. 

"In the eye of the storm, You remain in control
In the middle of the war, You guard my soul
You alone are the anchor, when my sails are torn
Your love surrounds me, in the eye of the storm"

As the Lord speaks to me through song, I am reminded of this passage of scripture in the book of Zephaniah:

"For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With His love, He will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs." – Zephaniah 3:17 (NLT)
  
I"ve been filling up on His joyful songs lately (and chocolate...lots and lots of chocolate).  You know the old saying, "Garbage in, garbage out"?  My mind is prone to wander and worry, and if allowed to roam free I would quickly find myself wrecked with fear and anxiety.  God breathed, joyful songs of love are just what my weary heart, mind and soul needs! 

This past Sunday marked twelve weeks of walking this present road my family and me are on...this detour we did not anticipate we'd be taking.  Twelve mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting long weeks of walking, trusting, singing, and waiting for answers yet to come.   I'm still experiencing symptoms of a potential cancer recurrence. There's been no change in my condition...no diagnosis either.  Just waiting, waiting, and more waiting. 

I feel I can see a "Y" just ahead in the road, but when we"ll reach it is anyone"s guess.  One path takes us down the road of cancer again.  The other allows us to continue life where we left off twelve weeks back.   I struggle with wanting to run ahead to get to the "Y" faster, and slowing my pace dreading what may come. It"s been hard to juggle the thoughts and feelings we've had along this road, and I'd be lying if I told you it's been easy to keep the faith.   This limbo of desperately wanting answers yet being scared of hearing them rips at my heart.  Somedays it's all I can do to keep the tears at bay, to whisper prayers and scripture over the fears that haunt my mind, and to wait patiently on the Lord.   

One of my favorite scriptures is:

"But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." – Isaiah 40:31 (KJV)

A few years ago, I wrote a song around this verse.  It's titled apropos, "They That Wait". A friend of mine recorded and produced the song for me.  He also played all the instruments on the song. In retrospect maybe I should have had him sing it as well... :) If you can stomach my vocal, you can listen to the song here: https://soundcloud.com/angela-winterbower

This song, and many others have been such a source of encouragement to me lately.  I've got a playlist, and I'm not afraid to use it!!  The lyrics in the second verse of my song are as follows:

When the days get long and I feel so weak
I'll keep pressing on cause You are my strength
I will rest in Your divine delays
And choose to follow You all my days
(They That Wait, © Angela Winterbower 2011)

God breathed, joyful songs of love for the wait.  I'm doing my best to press on, rest in the divine delays, and follow God’s will.  Some days are easier than others...this waiting is hard.  And, it takes a whole lot of focus to stay...focused. 

Next week and the following week, I will return to the doctor for more scans.   We would truly appreciate your continued prayers.  And, if you have some songs you think I should add to my playlist, or perhaps some encouraging words or scripture to share, well, feel free to pass the suggestions along!  I'll just be here waiting. 

Thanks guys!  Much love.