It’s been a year since my last post. In just a few days my daughter Jenna will have been cancer free for one year. I am so thankful. We’ve had many wonderful things happen in this year here are just a few.

- Jenna wrote a book called “God’s Got This” based on her journal entries as she went through cancer. She wrote it for children dealing with sickness.
- Our family went to DisneyWorld! Fun!
- Jenna’s book was published and is now in the hands of many children and hospitals across the US. Her book can be purchased on Amazon.
- Our son Josh started playing the drums….prayers appreciated.
- Jenna has gone back to school full time and I have gone back to work.
- We are currently teaching our two oldest children, Jenna, and Jacob, to drive….. Prayers appreciated.
- Our daughter Joslyn had her first voice recital and …..totally rocked it!
- And last but not least Jeff and I celebrated 18 years of marriage.

Life is so full of ups and downs isn’t it? One day we are standing on a mountain top and the next day we are standing in the valley. Then, there are times the ground shakes underneath our feet as we struggle to stand. Everything changes and we find ourselves just trying to keep up with those changes. But there is one thing that is consistent. It does not change. It does not shake. It does not fall. It is our God. He never left us. He was there with us through it all. We never once walked alone. This life will without a doubt bring more challenges, more uncertainty, more pain but when we walk with Him he will bring us through. I believe that. And I will cling to that truth for the rest of my life.

imageI just finished writing the forward for my daughters book. As I reflected back to those first few days after diagnosis the tears started to flow. The pain of those moments are still so very real and in the past few months I have found myself running away from them. I have prayed that God would heal me from this pain. I have prayed that I would be able to let go….to forget. But today as I remember my pain…I think about the people in my life who are still in those painful moments. I feel a connectedness to them. I feel a closeness to God and I know without even thinking about it, what is really important in life. Could it be that remembering and feeling that pain in my heart …is a good thing? I have always been a pain-flee-er. I have in my head that God wants me to forget my pain. Be happy. Be positive. And while I do believe he wants us to think about what is noble, what is good…I think remembering pain might be woven into that. Jesus tells us to take communion and remember him. Remember. Remember what the cross represented. The cross was ugly. Our Savior died a gruesome death on it and yet when we look at it today we see its beauty. The cross can be beautiful because Jesus made the cross beautiful and he can do the same thing with our pain. Remembering our pain helps us to have compassion for those who are in deep pain of their own. It helps us draw closer to God. It’s helps to remember this earth is not really our home. It helps keep our eyes on the goal. I am embracing my pain today. I am letting my heart experience the hurt…and I believe that a pure, God given, beauty will flow from it.

jesus-handAt 1:20 today…February 21, 2013… My daughter Jenna will finish her last radiation. 6months, 17 days and 18 hours. That is how long my beautiful daughter has been struggling through treatment for her brain tumor. That time has consisted of tears, chemo, radiation, drives back and forth to the hospital, hard discussions, crying out to God, total exhaustion, frustration, fear, kneeling on the bathroom floor begging God for Jenna’s life, surgeries, constant sickness, watching my 15 year old sob as she held handfuls of her hair. More tears. More doctors. More hospital stays.

And now as we emerge on the other side of this cancer nightmare I can’t help but think, that tonight, another mother will be told…”we’ve found something.” Another couple will cry in each others arms as they are told they might lose their child. Another child will face a battle that feels like it will consume them.

We have walked in their shoes and we have been changed forever. We will never see life the same again. We have a clear view of what God wants our lives to look like. We know we are called to love. To love people deeply and unconditionally. We are called to reach out to this hurting world. We personally are called to hospitals…to the hurting and the sick. We are called to the depressed, the tired, and the weak. We are called to love others not to get anything from them…or to receive applause from men. We are called because that is what the Church is supposed to do.

Friends…you have loved our family so well. We have felt your love and prayers. We have smiled as you visited our daughter in ICU, and held us as we cried. You have sent our family loving gifts and have helped us cover medical bills. You have fed us, clothed us, and wiped our tears. As our journey comes to an end I have one last plea. Please, please, I beg you from the bottom of my heart….be the church. Someone said to me a few months ago “Jo so many have reached out to help you guys because of what you have done for them. You have invested in their lives and they want to give back to you.” That may be…and that is so kind and wonderful….so…here is how you can give back to us. If you have been inspired by Jenna, if you have been encouraged…. wonderful. But I want to ask you now…please….love those who haven’t invested in you. Love those who may even be hard to love. We have watched as so many walk through the doors of of these hospitals who do not have a community of people to care and love them.

We as the church have to get involved. Involved in our communities, schools, and hospitals. Not to try to win people over to our side or our way of thinking but to love them, to truly care for them. If we as the church, are not willing to visit the sick and dying in the hospitals, why are we here? If we are not willing to show loving and safe guidance to our children….why are we here? If we are not willing to step outside of our safe comfortable Christian circles….why, Church, are we here?

So…with all that being said, again, I am begging you, as tears stream down my face…. to find a way to love others. Feed them, clothe them, help make their lives better. Beautiful Church that is why we are here.

imageI was thinking about a conversation Jeff and I had yesterday. I was sitting on the couch not feeling very good and realizing I hadn’t gotten him anything for Valentine’s Day yet. The past few months have been a blur. I find myself living from moment to moment. As I’m considering a quick run to the store he turns to me and says ….so how about we celebrate Valentines Day on Friday? Haha he was in the same boat. “Yes” I said. “Oh my gosh I’m so glad you weren’t prepared either.” We had a good laugh and that was that.

It is so wonderful to celebrate love with roses, gifts, and sentimental cards. And Jeff and I have done that for years. But there is something very special when you have no gift to give, except the gift of love in your heart and soul for that person. I am overflowing with love for this man right now. I am so grateful knowing our love does not depend on anything from this world. Sometimes it takes emptiness in your hands to realize the fullness in your heart.

We woke up this morning with no gifts or cards for each other and yet as we embraced and told each other Happy Valentines Day, I realized we have the best gift in the world…..each other.

image“I don’t like Valentines day”. Those were the words my 14 year old daughter Jenna muttered a year ago today. “Why honey?” I asked. “Because its just a day where all the popular girls get candy and roses, …or the girls with boyfriends. It just makes me feel bad.” I turned to my son Jake and said… Do you feel the same way? “Well, I don’t want flowers (smile) …but ya, it’s a day the popular kids get candy and gifts and everyone else gets to watch. “Hmmmmmmmm well then….lets change it” I said.

We immediately went to the store and bought bags of candy. It was the day before Valentine’s Day so the selection wasn’t the greatest, but bonus, it was on sale!!! We got home and divided it into four bags.

“Ok” I said. “Welcome to Operation Valentines Day…here is your mission”. We proceeded to talk about love. Not the romantic love, but the love Jesus had for others. We talked about how Jesus would be looking for the people who needed some encouragement. He would be looking for the people who weren’t always noticed. The people who might be discouraged, lonely, or just sad. “So….look for people who need love. Give them some candy and give them some encouragement. Smile at them, ask them if they want to sit with you at lunch. Be their friend. Love them my darlings…like Jesus would.”

My kids embraced this challenge with excitement and enthusiasm. They headed off to school with smiles on their faces. This day was no longer about watching the popular kids get candy and valentines. This day was about finding the people out there who needed to be loved…and loving them.

They came home that night saying it was the best Valentines Day ever. That night we ate spaghetti and listened to story after story of how people responded to them. Many of those stories brought us to tears. It’s amazing the amount of joy we experience when we realize life isn’t about us.

We are gearing up for our 2nd annual Operation Valentine’s Day. Jake, Josh, and Jossy will head out to their Middle School and seek out kids, teachers, and anyone else who needs someone to appreciate them. Jenna will head to the hospitals. Lots of wonderful people there who feel forgotten, alone, and unloved.

So what if you did the same? Yes as Christians we should be doing this everyday …but are we? Maybe this is a good place to start…the day that claims….to celebrate love.

Jenna-Bald and PrettyThis morning Jenna and I had a moment to just sit down and talk for a while. I was so encouraged by our conversation.

Me: Jenna a lot of times when people are faced with something very hard in life, they pull away from God, but you drew closer. Why do you think some people distance themselves from God in hard times and others grow closer to him?

Jenna: Well for me, I felt like I was stripped of everything. I could no longer go to school and see my friends, I lost my hair and felt ugly, and I almost lost even my life. I felt stripped of everything but God. I think when a person is stripped of everything that they felt made them who they were, they have two ways they can look at that. They can see that as God hates me. He isn’t there for me. He is blessing everyone else but me. Or you can look at it as God loves me so much, he has allowed me to be stripped of everything so I can just focus on him….and grow even closer to him. Mom…I think it comes down to choice.

My darling…I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Praise God He has loved my baby so much that he allowed her to be stripped down, so she could grow closer to him.

imageTo most, this is just a picture of a chair. But to me this picture holds the memory of a life changing moment for me. I sat in this chair August 5, 2012 at 4:11pm. As I sat in this chair, a doctor explained to Jeff and I that we might lose Jenna. That moment will never leave my mind. That moment changed me forever. As you hear those words….you might lose your child, something awakens in the deepest part of your soul. As I sat in this chair and heard those words…a part of me woke up. I feel as though I stumbled out of a dream. A dream that I thought was so important….so real. A dream where I had a picture in my mind of what my life was supposed to look like. A bigger house, nice things, perfect wardrobe. Picture perfect family. Order and organization. Control. A dream where I thought I understood priorities, goals…..and a plan to achieve them. More….more things, more success. All the things in life so many of us desire and the prideful heart that goes with them. But as I sat in this chair and heard those words I woke up from this dream, and now as I look back I realize it was more like a nightmare. I walked away from that chair wide awake. I feel like I have a renewed view of life. I think about the things I have read in the Bible…and they make more sense to me while I find myself confused more and more by the views of the world. For example, why do we work so hard, threatening our health and well-being, for material things that we don’t need? We acquire more and more, thinking it will bring us joy and happiness….but we are only met with disappointment, letdown, and eventually the urge to acquire even more. Why do we ignore the people we say we love the most, as we sit around an electronic black box that tells us lie after lie of what matters? We say God is number one in our life but we ignore him most of the week. We say we want our children to love God and have a strong Faith but we spend more time pushing them in sports or encouraging them to look a certain way, and we rarely ask them about their relationship with Christ. We believe this life is really all there is….heaven seems like a distant dream. But I believe one day when we get to heaven, we will look back at this life and realize how many things we missed. I am no longer ok with missing out. I want to spend the remainder of my years here…..loving well. I want to walk with God everyday and know I am here to serve him, not the other way around. I want to speak words of encouragement. I want to laugh a lot. I want to show compassion to the hurting, and stand strong with the weak. When I pass from this world I want others to remember me as someone who loved God and loved others. I am thankful for this chair. For it was in this chair that I thought my heart would break in two, but instead my eyes were opened. Thank you God!!!!!

We have a giant iceberg in front of our house. I cant stand it!!!! There is just enough of a shady area, that when it snows its gets packed down really hard and becomes ice. And it NEVER melts. Seriously two years ago the neighborhood kids came over at the end of May and went sledding on it. The problem is when it snows and starts to melt, the water has no where to go, can’t drain, and becomes more ice which grows onto the sidewalk and into the street. Earlier this week I declared war on my iceberg. I have thrown icee melt on it, pounded it with a shovel and even took a pick-axe to it….which I think freaked out one of my neighbors….sorry Carol. I’m standing in the middle of the street and waiving at the UPS guy, who is, I’m pretty sure laughing at me as he drives by….sweat is running down the back of my neck as I think, if only I had taken care of this problem when it was small. But I kept putting it off and now this thing is huge!!!! It reminds me of another problem I have. Worry. If I stay on top of my worry…read my Bible every day, pray, hand my problems over to God…then my worry stays very small and almost nonexistent. But when I fail to do that…it grows and grows everyday, taking over more and more of my inner thoughts and peace. I worry about my kids grades, the economy, my family’s health….the cancer coming back. I hate my worry…the way I hate my iceberg. The only way to deal with both is to everyday face it, and chip it away. And with God’s help I can do just that.

imageToday is my 40th birthday!!! So here’s how I feel about turning 40….I love it!!!!!! We live in a society that says getting older is terrible….but it isn’t, it’s so great!!!! I like myself more today than when I was 15, or 26, or even 35. I’m more secure in who I am!!! I love that! I know my worth comes from Jesus and him alone!!! Not beauty, not youth, not status…but from the fact that I’m a child of God. So what’s a few wrinkles and grey hairs? Here are a few things that I think are great about turning 40……

- I have a little more wisdom.
- I understand priorities.
- I’m not pregnant.
- I’m wiser with money.
- I understand its ok to have boundaries…and I implement them.
- I’m more organized.
- I love others better.
- Failure doesn’t scare me as much.
- I enjoy life more.
- I don’t get caught up in drama.
- I don’t get upset over the small stuff.
- I am better at living in the moment.
- I forgive easier.
- I’m not pregnant.
- I enjoy being able to take my family on day trip without packing a
ton of diaper bags.
- My marriage is healthier.
- I am more disciplined.
- I have deeper friendships.
- I have learned valuable life lessons.
- I understand my worth and value.
- I take care of myself more.
- My relationships with my kids get better and better.
- I read more.
- I learn more.
- My faith is stronger.
- Did I mention I’m not pregnant?

Last and most important…..I’m closer to heaven!!!! We have a joke in my family where I have said for my 40th I want a Tshirt that says “Halfway to Heaven”, because when I turn 80…ya it’s just time for Jesus to take me home. I think I’ll be tired by then!!! Haha. So to all my 40 and up friends….lets celebrate the best years of our life!!!!! And to my younger friends….hang in there darlin…40′s a comin!!!!

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This is Jen’s friend Gary. Gary like Jenna has been fighting a brain tumor. It has left him unable to use portions of his face, his right arm and legs. Sometimes it is hard for him to communicate. Gary is 70, Jenna is 15. But they laugh and have the conversations of two best friends. Everyday Jenna can’t wait to see her friend. This precious unexpected friendship makes me smile. They are both very different from each other and yet, as they have shared their experiences they have come to realize how much they have in common. They laugh, sometimes cry, and always talk about Jesus. I have learned so much from this very special friendship. Day after day we pass some of the same people but because of physical differences we may smile and keep walking, say hello but never really get to know them. I think we are the ones missing out. Many times people with sickness, disabilities, and disease have a closeness with God and a very different, very beautiful view of life. We can learn so much from them. I am so thankful for my daughter’s new friendship with this sweet man. I am so thankful she was wise enough to get to know him. I want to encourage all of us, myself included, to get to know the people in our lives who seem very different from you and I. Because as we get to know them I think we may discover we’re really not that different after all.

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