Thursday, August 26, 2010

Rockin' A Ranch

I am sitting in beautiful Silverthorne, Colorado at the Rockin' A Ranch.  I am doing nothing, and it couldn't be more pleasant! I have been fishing, watched deer walking to the water, stalked beaver in the lake, and been overwhelmed by the gorgeous flowers and scenery; and by the perfect weather!  Mark and I are enjoying some time alone, and time with family and friends. 

How strange to think that a year ago I was laying in a hospital bed recovering from the first of three surgeries, consistently pushing the button on the morphine pump, and trying to learn how to care for my new ileostomy. A lot can  happen in a year!  

Here are some words from my journal on the anniversary of my surgery:

"Today is the one year anniversary of my first surgery - the removal of "Bob" the tumor, 11 lymph nodes, and the formation of my ileostomy. What a difference a year makes! Since then, I have been through 6 months of chemo, 8 months of life with an ileostomy, so many struggles, lessons, tears, dreams and hopes. So many new friends, so many friends lost. And now I have no evidence of disease! Today I sat by the lake at the Rockin' A Ranch in awe of the beauty, in awe of the fact that I'm alive. In awe of You! Thank you. I have had the most amazing, fun life. I have been loved by my family, by my husband, by my children, by so many friends, by my church. It's enough - so whatever your plan is, it's OK. I'm going all the way with You. I could never ask for more. You are all I need. I am yours."

"Taste and see that the Lord is good..."
Psalm 34:8

Monday, August 23, 2010

Divine Love

Last week I was reading my Bible and came across an incredible verse. I'd read it before, but for some reason it really hit me this time. Maybe it was the translation I was using, or maybe it was just something God wanted me to see now.

"I have hope when I think of this: 
the Lord's love never ends. His mercies never stop."  
Lamentations 3:21-22

I love that! His love NEVER ends! His mercies NEVER stop! 

Have you ever turned on the faucet in your bathtub, and then got busy and walked away and forgot to turn it off?  What happened?  That's what this verse makes me think of. Imagine I have a cup and I have a bottomless pitcher. I start to pour into the cup, I keep pouring and I never stop. What would happen? First the water would fill up the cup, it would get to the brim, and then it would spill over. It would begin to run out over the table, then spill over the edge, getting the carpet wet until it was saturated. It would trickle across the floor and begin to fill up the room, eventually making its way out the door and down to the street... 

I think you get the picture. That's how God's love is. That's how His mercy is. It never ends. God never turns it off. It is constantly pouring out all over me, filling me up; and then it spills out of me onto everything and everyone around me. It's like a faucet that is never turned off. 

And water, poured out, changes things. It moves things, It covers things. It carves rivers and canyons. God's love, continually poured out, does the same thing. It changes us, it moves us, it covers a multitude of sin, it carves the landscape of our lives so that things are never the same. 

What an amazing gift - divine love poured onto me, continually, daily, surrounding me, covering me, carrying me, changing me! Thank you, Lord, for your mercies that never stop! Let it pour!

Women of COF

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ms. Shook's First Classroom!

Our oldest daughter, Sarah, has been a teacher all her life. From the moment she became a big sister, she started teaching Ashley everything she knew! Beginning Monday, she will get paid to teach! 

I had the awesome privilege this past week to spend a few days with Sarah helping her get her classroom ready for the school year. We planned and cleaned and shopped and organized and worked for two days straight!  It was so much fun!

I know she will be a great teacher! God has obviously gifted her to do so. I was amazed at all her ideas and plans for the school year.  She is excited and nervous. Please join me in praying for Sarah and her students:

  • Pray that God would handpick her students
  • Pray that her students would successfully learn to read and write in English
  • Pray that God would give Sarah wisdom to do the job and insight to meet the educational needs of each of her students
  • Pray that Sarah would connect with the parents of her students
  • Pray that Sarah would develop good relationships with her fellow teachers, principal and school staff
Here are a few pictures of her classroom:

We love you Ms. Shook!
Go Mustangs!

Friday, August 20, 2010

"Labor Day Holiday Extravaganza!" - Part I

True friends make sure their friends get colonoscopies.  

Several weeks ago I called Teri and told her that I had an appointment with the surgeon to schedule my next colonoscopy. Teri has never had a colonoscopy and she is past the magical age of 50.  I instructed her to call and make an appointment for the same day and we would go together.  (Sometimes, friends don't want to have colonoscopies and you have to push a little bit to get them to do it.)  Thankfully, Teri called and was able to get an appointment at the same time.

Fast forward to Monday. I text Teri to see if she is ready to go to the doctor.  She tries to tell me that she doesn't have an appointment.  She even checks her calendar where she has a doctor appointment crossed out:

Actual photo of Teri's calendar

After further investigation and discussion, Teri realizes that she has made a mistake, and that, yes, she does in fact have an appointment to see the doctor about scheduling a colonoscopy. (I think her brain had blocked it out!) She races to pick me up and we head to the doctor's office:

Teri with her eyes closed, trying to block out the inevitable

Teri fills out her paperwork. She finally gets it finished after having it returned to her twice for corrections. I think maybe she is nervous...

Third time's the charm!

While waiting to see the doctor, Teri reads the following article. Seems appropriate given the trouble she had with her calendar!

Everything goes well with her appointment. She likes the doctor. We sit down together with the nurse to schedule our colonoscopies. The next available date is Tuesday, September 7th, the day after Labor Day. I remind Teri that it is a holiday weekend, thinking she might want to schedule it for a later date so as not to spend the holiday in the bathroom enjoying the colon prep experience! But she replies, "No, it's OK. It will be a Labor Day Holiday Extravaganza!!"  It sure will!

Thank you, Teri, for having this done! It means the world to me!

More to come later...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Spoke Too Soon

I am at the surgeon's office on Monday. Since it has been four months since my last surgery, he asks me, "So, do you have complete control of your bowels now?"

"Yes!" I proudly respond.

I am shopping with Sarah on Wednesday afternoon. I realize I spoke too soon...

End of story.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


I had an appointment with my surgeon Monday. He talked about the fact that we are in surveillance mode now. We discussed how important it is to have regular surveillance in order to make sure I am healthy. He reminded me that if rectal cancer recurs, it most often occurs within the first two years after the initial diagnosis; and it most often returns at the site of the original tumor, or in the liver or the lungs. I didn't really want to be reminded of those things, I don't like to focus on that possibility, but I guess it is good to remember. So, we have a four-part surveillance plan in place:

1. Vigilance - I have to pay attention to my body and listen to it. If I experience any of the symptoms of colorectal cancer - bleeding, excessive gas, change in bowel habits, abdominal pain - I need to report those symptoms to my doctor right away. (All clear for now!)

2. Physical Exam - I will see my surgeon and my oncologist every three months to be examined. Exams include blood work, and all the instruments of torture that I have discussed before. (Thankfully, my abdominal exam and all my surgical sites looked good yesterday!)

3. Colonoscopy - I will have an annual colonoscopy for several years. My next one is scheduled for September 7th. (More on that later!)

4. Scans - My surgeon agrees that the best scan for me is the PET scan. Unless something changes, a scan will be ordered every six months. I will have one scheduled in September. I won't know if my insurance will approve of another PET scan until the oncologist's office tries to make that appointment in September, so please continue to pray that a PET scan will be approved.

When I saw the doctor yesterday, here is how our conversation went:

The doctor asks, "How are you feeling?"
I respond, "I feel good!"
Then he asks, "Are you feeling strong?"
"Yes, I feel strong!" I reply, thinking that's a good way to describe it.
"You look strong," the doctor says.
And I wonder... is "strong" doctor-speak for "You've gained weight"?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Hair Update

Our dog, Biscuit, is Maltese. If he were well groomed, he would have a long soft shiny white coat of hair. This beautiful top coat would cover the undercoat of shorter hair that grows close to his skin.

One of our cats, Shadow, has a thick long coat of shiny black hair. Most of the year it looks like velvet until she starts shedding in the summer. If she is not brushed daily her gorgeous coat becomes a mess with the hair matting down to her undercoat, a layer of short hair close to her skin.

I never really gave much thought to the fact that my precious pets had a topcoat of fur and an undercoat of fur. That is until I noticed the same thing happening on my head! I was so happy when my hair stopped falling out! Then I was so happy that I had new hair growing in. Now... well... I have a topcoat and an undercoat!

My topcoat is dry, dull, brittle, faded, graying, and very thin. Super attractive! My new undercoat has grown in about 4-5 inches. It is very fine, soft, and CURLY!! This new development has made it difficult to do anything with my hair. It is thicker on my head and much thinner hanging down.  The new baby hairs are very unmanageable; most days they stick out all over my head doing their own thing. Some days, I want to wear a t-shirt that says, "Yes, I know what my hair looks like!" I told my girls that I was going to title my photo album from Costa Rica "Chemo Hair", as a way of explaining all the photos! 

So, if you see me around, and my hair appears to have a life of its own, know that it is a work in progress! For now, I'm just happy I have hair!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Sacred Treasure

I knew when we returned to Houston that we would be jumping back into the frying pan so to speak. I knew we would hit the ground running. But I didn't really expect things to be as crazy as they've been since we got home.  We've been on the go non-stop!

Last night, after a good cry upstairs in my girls' rooms, grieving the fact that they no longer live at home, I crawled into bed at 11:30 p.m. thinking to myself, "I survived another day." Mark was still busy counseling some sweet COF friends.  Thankfully, I slept hard.  

I awoke to the sound of my alarm clock calling me to another busy day.  I sat down to spend some time in prayer and Bible study, thinking to myself, "God, why did you choose me to live this life and to be in this position?  You know I'm a weakling... You might have chosen better..."

I opened up my devotional book, "Jesus Calling" and - no joke - this is what it said:

Come to Me when you are weak and weary. Rest snugly in My everlasting arms. I do not despise your weakness, My child. Actually, it draws Me closer to you, because weakness stirs up My compassion...

I have gifted you with fragility... Accept this gift as a sacred treasure: delicate, yet glowing with brilliant Light. Rather than struggling to disguise or deny your weakness, allow Me to bless you richly through it.

And then I looked down at the Scripture references listed at the bottom of the page and smiled. How great is my God!  Isaiah 54:10 was one of the verses for the day - none other than my very favorite Scripture!  It's so like God to do that for me! 

" 'Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,' says the LORD, who has compassion on you."

Thank you, God, for meeting me where I am today. I am amazed by you again! 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Physically, Emotionally, Spiritually

Several people have asked me how I've been feeling, and how I felt while I was in Costa Rica. So, I thought I would give you a quick update! 

Physically, I feel really good! I feel strong. I only had a couple of days in Costa Rica where I felt especially tired, but those days happened while we were working in La Carpio with the COF groups, and I would have felt that had I been sick this past year or not!  All is settled with my bowel system. I am able to eat a normal diet with just a few off-limits foods (nuts, popcorn, and chips) which seem to mess me up when I eat them.  The numbness caused by irritated nerves in my fingertips and feet continues to incrementally improve. 

Emotionally, I am on the mend! When we first arrived in Costa Rica I had about a week of weird emotional days - lots of tears, and strong emotions. I think I was finally able to release some of the things that were suppressed while I was busy fighting this disease; so that was a positive experience. I had a few days during the past month when the reality that I am healthy and alive crashed through and brought me to my knees in gratitude. Again, another positive experience!  There are still moments when I experience some "survivors guilt", and moments when fear tries to creep in. I have become adept at recognizing those moments and those thoughts and choosing instead to continue to trust that everything is in God's hands.

Spiritually, I am a different person than I was 15 months ago. I have a deep peace. I don't worry anymore, or at least not for long. I was reading in 2 Timothy the other day and came across a verse that I have known forever, but for some reason, this time I read it differently:

"...I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return." 2 Timothy 1:12

I have always read this verse as "I know who it is I am trusting," as in I know his name, I know who He is. But when I read it this time, it was different - I don't just know who He is, I don't just know His name. I KNOW Him.  I know HIM. I am intimately connected with my Savior. In the past year, through the darkest of times, I learned things about God's character that I can't even begin to express in words. I committed my life to Him years ago, but in the past year I saw in a very real way how He is committed to me. That is incomprehensible to me. Now... He is absolutely everything to me. "I know the one in whom I trust..."

Saturday, August 7, 2010

My Journal, Friday, August 6, 2010

Thursday, at 5:15 p.m., my friend, Tony Trinchini died. His wife, Debbie, told me he had a tear in his eye, and he smiled as he took his last breath. He must have seen you, Jesus. 

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to know Tony. Thank you for his smile, for his stories, for his strength and endurance. Thank you for his hope. Thank you for the things you taught me through Tony - how to live, and how to fight this disease with courage and grace. Thank you for letting me get home to see him one more time, to be able to tell him good-bye. Thank you that he was surrounded by so many friends and family members who loved him. He always loved a good audience! Thank you that he didn't suffer long...

Please bless Debbie, their kids, and their family today. Give them the strength they need to make it through these days. Please hold them tightly in your hands and heal their broken hearts. 

Anthony Trinchini
October 14, 1956 - August 5, 2010

"He will wipe every tear from their eyes, 
and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. 
All these things are gone forever.”
Revelation 21:4

Thursday, August 5, 2010


As the plane leaves the runway in San Jose, I can't keep from crying. I have so many conflicting emotions swirling around in my head and heart.  I have had such an awesome time these weeks in Costa Rica. I will miss my Tico friends who are like family to me, but I will be happy to see my friends and family in Houston. I will miss my quiet times on my Costa Rican porch, but I look forward to getting back to Community of Faith. 

And for a moment, I can't help but wonder... is this it? Will this be the last time I'm ever here? God, will you let me come back again?  Then I push those thoughts away, trusting that my life and future are safe in God's hands. 

Three and a half hours later we land in Houston, slowly wind through the long line at immigration, collect our luggage and head to the house. I walk through the door and am welcomed with a spotless house! The refrigerator is cleaner than it's been since the day I bought it, the garage has been swept out, even my closet has been straightened up and vacuumed!! Once again I am overwhelmed by love - God's love, and the love of his people - and I know that everything is going to be OK. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

One Year Later

Last Thursday Mark and I, and our friends, Donald and Gretchen, decided to visit Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica. We put on our tennis shoes and sun screen, packed up our backpacks with water and cameras, and left the hotel around 10:00 a.m.  We climbed over the rocky shore to get to the beach, hiked for twenty minutes on the beach, crossed over the main road, then hiked a mile down the road. It was hot and it was humid. We were all sweating through our clothes. We arrived at the national park to find the gate closed. They only allow a certain number of people in the park at any given time. So, we waited for about twenty minutes until the gatekeeper determined that we could enter. Did I mention that it felt like we were in a sauna? We entered the park and hiked for about a mile and a half, up hill and downhill, until we made it to the end of the trail at the beach.  We were supposed to be enjoying the flora and fauna of Costa Rica, but I think by this point we were all pretty miserable. We plopped down on a log on the beach and stared at the ocean. 

Not long after we arrived at this spot the trees began to rustle. Suddenly a whole tribe of white-faced Capuchin Monkeys arrived on the beach! It was amazing to watch them swinging through the trees with such agility! They were playing with each other, chasing and wrestling. They searched for fruit and insects in the trees; and then they quickly started scavenging for food among the clothes and bags they found on the beach. We watched them steal a bag of potato chips and a container of yogurt and scamper to the safety of a high branch to enjoy their snack. They weren't afraid at all, coming close enough for me to touch their tails! Our agonizing hike was worth it to see these fun creatures!

Later, as we hiked out of the park, it began to rain. A soft rain, just enough to cool us off. As we walked, it hit me that a year earlier I had been just finishing up my radiation treatments and oral chemotherapy. And now I was healthy and strong enough to go on this adventure. The tears came easily and joined the rain to water the earth. I experienced that deep gratitude that seems to be a constant companion of mine now. Gratitude for life, for health, for for the beauty and goodness of God. 

These lyrics have been playing in my head ever since that day:

"Open up the sky, fall down like rain
We don't want blessings, we want You
Open up the sky, fall down like fire
We don't want anything but You

Our beloved Jesus, we just want to see You 
in the glory of your light
Earthly things don't matter, they just fade and shatter
when we're touched by love divine

We won't be satisfied with anything ordinary
We won't be satisfied at all

Here we go, let's go to the throne
the place that we belong
Right into His arms"

(Open up the Sky by Deluge)