Monday, December 26, 2016

To die, to live

Dear Family and Friends,

At our Christmas Eve service last night we sang a carol I was unfamiliar with, “Where Shepherds Lately Knelt.”  The last verse of this song really spoke to me.  It goes like this:

Can I, will I forget
 how love was born, and burned
 its way into my heart
 unasked, unforced, unearned,
 to die, to live, and not alone for me, 
to die, to live, and not alone for me?

Even more specifically, I have been reflecting on the paradoxical words “to die, to live.” 

Christians celebrate Christmas so that we will never forget how love was born, the night God came to earth in the form of a newborn babe lying in a manger.  While love may have been born that night, love was put to the ultimate test when Jesus willingly gave His life, in the most inhumane, excruciating manner, so that we could live a life reconciled to God.  John 15:13 puts it this way:  Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus loved us so much that He died—so we might live as people of faith and hope who have the opportunity to get to know God in a most personal and life-giving way.

The concept “to die, to live” may have started with Jesus’ death, but it doesn’t stop there.  There are two deaths each of us must consider.  The first is a spiritual death—a dying to oneself.  We are asked by God to give up the idea of controlling our own lives and destiny, and realize we belong to Him, and were made to be in relationship with Him.  The Bible says that because of Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).  Even common sense should tell us that the air we breathe, the complex way in which our bodies are formed and function, and the sleep that renews us each night, are just a few of the multitude of things required to sustain our lives, and yet which, are totally beyond our own ability to control.  So why do we work so hard to believe that we have no need for God?

In C.S. Lewis’ book, The Great Divorce, citizens of Hell are offered a chance to take a bus trip to Heaven for a day.  At the end of the day’s sightseeing, the tourists are offered the chance to stay in Heaven, but under one condition.  They must give up control and lordship of their own lives and submit to the authority of God in their lives.  Surprisingly, most of the tourists prefer to re-board the bus and return to Hell, where they don’t have to answer to anyone but themselves.  To be reconciled to God through Christ’s death for our sins requires that we die to self and give up control of our lives and hearts to God.  “I” must die, to live. 

The second death required of us is our physical death, whenever that time should come.  While the spiritual dying to self is not a requirement, but a choice, if we want to have a relationship with God, the physical dying is required of each and every one of us, whether we believe in God or not.  But the good news is, for those who have given their lives to God, this second dying also produces life—life everlasting with God in Heaven.  As someone living with a very serious cancer, I give a lot of thought to this second death that will be required of me.  When will it come?  What will it feel like?  Will it hurt?  Will I feel afraid?  How will my family handle the grief of losing me?

When these thoughts come, I can turn my thoughts to the words of that Christmas Eve carol.  I can remember how love was born that starry night, and burned its way into my heart, unasked, unforced, unearned.  How Jesus died, that I might live.  How at age 14, I gave my life back to Him, that I might live a life filled with purpose, and the love and closeness of God.  And how, when that final dying comes, there lies a life eternal with Him in Heaven that is beyond my wildest imaginings. 

To die.  To live.  And not alone for me.  The gift of Christmas is for you, too.

Love,
Gabrielle


Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Christmas homily

Steve here with a short Christmas homily.

I just looked up "homily" and came up with two potential definitions:
1.  A tedious moral discourse.
2.  A religious discourse which is intended primarily for spiritual edification rather than doctrinal instruction.

I will let you decide which of the those definitions to apply to the following.

We went to Renee's church last night (Phinney Ridge Lutheran) for a delightful Christmas Eve service.  The children's choir was out in full force, along with wonderful instrumental music and great singing all around.  People were dressed in the festive best and there were smiles all around.  What's more, even the communion bread was homemade and there was real wine!  How cool is that?  I realize that you aren't supposed to rate communion on how good the elements taste, but thought I would throw that in just as an aside.  And one more thing:  there was no sermon!  Apologies to all you hard-working pastors and ministers out there who burn the midnight oil to come up with interesting sermons each week.  Just saying that last night, I was happy to skip it.  So instead, you dear folks get one this morning.  It won't be a long one.

I just wanted to say that singing the songs about Joy to the World, Away in a Manger, and those dear heralding angels really drove home the point of what all this Christmas hullaballoo is about.  God stepped out of eternity into time to bring any who ask into a state of grace and love through His dear Son.  Lost souls being found.  And that's the Christian message pure and simple.  A huge corollary to that, is that we, too, are creatures of eternity.  One day each of us will breathe our last and at that point, we will step from a world of time into eternity.  That's an awesome thought.

In the recent weeks and months, being faced with the terror of a cancer that just doesn't want to give up easily, it is a welcome meditation to reflect upon the fact that life here on earth is but a vapor as St. James so eloquently wrote.  And that, my friends, is something worth rejoicing over. 

As Gabrielle faces a very daunting and scary scan on the 29th, this is a good time to step back and realize that God is behind everything and that He has Gabrielle, and all of us, in the palms of His hands.  What better place to be than that?

Merry Christmas!  Or as Tiny Tim would say, "God bless us everyone!"


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmas thoughts

Dear Family and Friends,

This Christmas season I find myself once again thinking a lot about the juxtaposition of joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure.  And about the things that cause our hearts to overflow with happiness and break in despair. 

The month began with great joy.  Steve and I were able to spend a week on Kauai with my sister, Marti, and her husband, Merle.  It was my pre-chemo week, so I felt great!  I was able to hike a beautiful trail along a bluff overlooking the ocean and swim laps in a giant saltwater lagoon.  I got to eat puka dogs (get one if you go to Hawaii!), mouthwatering fresh fish at an open-air restaurant overlooking a koi pond, and to share an enormous ice cream sundae at Lappert’s with my sweetheart.

Then, the day after my return home, my blood counts were again too low to get my chemo.  That week was filled with five days of stomach injections of the drug that stimulates my bone marrow to make blood cells—and in the process, produces a truckload of bone pain!  Remember those growing pains you had as a child as your bones stretched and lengthened?  Well, multiply that pain by about 100!  It was a tough week, followed by chemo on the 15th, which brought yet another rough five days, this time with extreme nausea, fatigue, and no appetite.  On the positive side—I have unintentionally lost four pounds in five days!  So much for my usual Christmas weight gain!  J

In the midst of my own modest sufferings, I have encountered people this month whose sufferings are far greater than mine.  People who cause my heart to break.  The day before chemo I was well enough to attend my volunteer day at Children’s Hospital, where I was assigned to a 4-year-old boy with cancer.  We played Legos, and he led me on a “tour” of about 10 bedpans scattered about his room that were filled with water and contained all manner of plastic sea life!  He knew the names of each animal and told me that his Make-A-Wish was that he wanted to ride a dolphin.  Can you think of anything sadder than a child gravely ill with cancer who will be spending Christmas in his hospital room?  Or the heartbreak I saw in his father’s eyes when he returned to the room after my time spent playing with his son?  Having cancer myself, after the blessing of living more than five wonderful decades without it, is so very much better than the thought of my children—or any child—having to face this dreaded disease at a young age. 

And yesterday, Steve and I joined five friends for a volunteer day at Hope Place, a residential program for homeless women and children run by the Union Gospel Mission.  We worked in the kitchen, chopping bags of oranges and onions, wrapping potatoes in foil, making cheese quesadillas, and Steve, master griller that he is, put perfect grill marks on 70 mammoth rib eye steaks that had been donated for their Christmas dinner party later that day.  As I was serving lunch and chatting with the residents, my heart ached for these women who, through poverty, abuse, mental illness, and addictions, had arrived at this place in life with their precious children in tow.  I have so much.  They have so little.  Plenty and want.

I read in my advent reading this week that “A broken heart isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  You can think of it as something broken apart and shattered, like glass, or as something broken open, like a crack in a seed about to sprout.  Opening our hearts to pain increases our capacity for hope.”  I definitely feel that the brokenness our family has experienced throughout my battle with cancer has been an opening through which we have come to experience God’s presence in a deeper way, through which we have developed greater empathy for all those who suffer, and through which we have come to feel an exponentially larger sense of gratitude for each day, and each blessing, large and small. 

May the heartbreaks we experience allow us to see that through the cracks, the light of hope can emerge, and may we be a beacon of light and hope for others. 

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”  Isaiah 9:2   

Love,
Gabrielle

Steve, Marti, and Merle at Kauai Lighthouse Park

Mini Golf in December...and I won!

Hiking on a rainy day in Kauai.

Poipu Beach.

Lappert's sundae!




Friday, November 18, 2016

A Year of Lukewarm Showers

Dear friends and family,

Well, November is here, and that means I have been in chemo, this third time, for a full year.  I'm not going to sugar-coat it.  This past year, without a remission in sight, has been tough.  It has included:


  • 12 days of chemotherapy.
  • 12 weeks of post-chemo sickness.
  • A few other weeks of colds/flu due to my low immune system.
  • About 100 mouth sores (Doxil causes them).
  • About 100 bruises (from low platelets--currently at an all-time low of 57, normal is 150-400).
  • About ten days a month with low energy (due to low blood count--normal is 35-45, I'm at 26, and my oncologist just called to say they are going to give me a blood transfusion).
  • 12 months of lukewarm showers (Doxil causes hand and foot blistering if exposed to too much heat).
  • And a partridge in a pear tree!  No, just kidding.  That is for next month's post!
But as Thanksgiving will be here in just six days, I am trying to focus this week not on the trials of the past year, but on all I have to be thankful for.  Just a few of these things include:
  • Experiencing God's presence, love, peace, and strength on good days and bad. 
  • Steve, Renee, and Daniel, who love me, serve me, and shore me up, even on my crankiest days.
  • Weekly Green Lake walks with my aunt Julianne, equal parts mother and friend.
  • My sister, Marti, who has moved heaven and earth this very week to get our other sister, Xan, into the Union Gospel Mission's Hope Place, a residential program for women struggling with homelessness and addiction, and who was a great chemo buddy last month, and caring sister always.
  • The smart, deep, loving, and faithful women in my Monday noon Bible study who make sure God hears my name daily.
  • My new oncologist, who brings years of training, research, and renown to help me live my longest, fullest, and best life.
  • The basics--our home, food, clothes, health insurance, and enough money to pay our bills, give to the charities we love, and have a little leftover for some trips.
  • All my other friends, family, and acquaintances who read this blog and think about me and/or pray for me (aka YOU)!
  • And lastly, the fact that I will be in Kauai for a blissful pre-chemo vacation in just 12 days, two hours, and 39 minutes.  But who's counting?!
This Thanksgiving, I hope your list of struggles is shorter than your list of blessings.  And as I struggle to come to terms with the post-election turmoil in our country, I hope I can be a person who does this:

"Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you."  Colossians 3:12-13

Love,
Gabrielle

Thankful for a son who is going to be a great dad one day!

Thankful for an Alki Beach walk with Steve, followed by a delicious dinner and fierce game of dominoes with our friends, Lynette and LaVonne.

Thankful to see the play of Carole King's life story with Renee and Riley on our "girls day out."

Thankful for my Sis, Marti, who loves me always and understands how the difficulties in our childhood have impacted our lives today.

Thankful for grandson/godson/great nephew, Jericho, who brightens up all my Saturdays.

And I close with a photo of Jericho and me, jamming and singing with our guitars, "our version," of Jesus Loves Me!




Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Bell Lap

Dear friends and family,

Let me give you a quick update since we last spoke, and then I’d like to share with you something I have been thinking about.  As you know, I had to delay my last chemo by one week, due to the fact that my neutrophils (cells that help fight infection) and my platelets (cells that make your blood clot) were too low.  To remedy the situation, the 1.5 doctors I live with gave me daily shots of a drug that helps my bone marrow grow good cells more rapidly.  The shots had to go in my stomach, and despite Steve’s and Daniel’s tremendous medical skill, they hurt like the dickens and made some colorful bruises that look like blobs of modern abdominal art!  Thankfully, the shots worked and I was able to get my last chemo on October 4.  Thanks to all who prayed for those precious neutrophils and platelets!

Because the chemo schedule got thrown off by a week, I had to go straight from chemo to a previously booked annual charity event that I love, called the Feast at the Market.   The event benefits a wonderful nonprofit called Neighborcare Health, which provides free and sliding fee scale medical care to low-income families at many clinics throughout our community.  For this great fundraising event, you arrive at the Pike Place Market and they give you a coupon book good for one appetizer at about 20 of the Market’s best restaurants!  You go from restaurant to restaurant, enjoying amazing food for three hours, in what has to be the world’s best progressive dinner—and then conclude with a dessert buffet!  Have I ever told you I like desserts?  ;-)  Anyway, I knew I should have given my ticket away.  I knew it would be a mistake.  Renee told me it would be a mistake.  But it is such a fun event and Daniel and Steve were so looking forward to it, that I went.  I ate less and less as the evening wore on and I became sicker and sicker.  I didn’t tell Steve and Daniel how badly I felt, as I didn’t want to ruin the event for them.  But oh my...to put it delicately, things became “dire,” and I suffered not only that evening, but for a day or two after.  Mark my words:  Do NOT attend any type of food-related event immediately following chemotherapy.  Don’t do it.  Don’t even think about it.  Ever.

On a happier note, one week after my nausea-filled chemo week, Steve and I went on our Sunset Magazine prize trip to Tofino, BC!  Vancouver Island is beautiful, and Tofino, in the middle of nowhere on the west coast of Vancouver Island, takes your breath away.  Picture driving past farms and lakes to get there, and then hiking through the freshest, greenest rain forests, with trails leading to long, undeveloped kilometers of majestic Pacific Ocean beaches.  The waves are immense and it is a surfer’s paradise.  On the other side of the quaint town of Tofino is the Clayoquot Sound, dotted with tiny islands to kayak around.  Our hotel room at the Wickaninnish Inn was a stunning two-story suite, with gigantic picture windows—and a Jacuzzi tub (!) looking out over Chesterman Beach.  And the restaurant meals that came with the trip included some of the best food we had eaten in a year or more!  Mark my words:  Plan a trip with someone you love to Tofino, BC.  Walk the beaches.  Hike the trails.  Kayak the sound.  Eat marvelous food.  Get away from it all and refresh your soul.  Seriously.  Do it.  Do it right now!

And now that the life update is complete, let me tell you something I’ve been thinking about…and that something is “the bell lap.”  The bell lap in a harness horse race is the final lap of the race, signaled by the ringing of a bell. The bell rings, and the horses (and drivers) know that the end is near.  Those horses have been running at full speed for many laps, out of breath, dripping sweat, feeling the pull of the bit in their mouths, muscles and joints throbbing.  Then the bell rings, and they know they have just one lap to go before the race is over, and blessed rest awaits them. 

Barring a miracle, my cancer is incurable.  Sure, we can beat it back with surgeries and drugs, and perhaps a little radiation thrown in for good measure.  We can do this for what is currently an unknown period of time, if we ignore statistics that say I should be dead by the five-year mark in January 2018—and we do our best to ignore them, for I am not a statistic to God!

But at some point, I too will be facing my life’s bell lap.  As will you!  I’m not there yet, as far as I know.  I feel as though I have lots of fight left in me, and I want to keep running lap after lap, chemo after chemo, doing my best to endure the suffering that comes with obliterating cancer cells.  But I also talk with God and Steve fairly often, about my hope that I will know and accept when the bell lap is approaching.  That I will hear the bell.  I don’t want to be in denial.  I want to be sure that I’ve said everything that needs saying to all those I love.  That I have lived as fully as one can despite cancer.  And I want to know when it’s finally ok to just give one last push and have the race be over.  All the treatments.  All the nausea.  All the fatigue.  The daily thinking about cancer and what death will be like.  I want so much to be able to recognize the bell lap, and accept it with the assurance from God that I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  2 Timothy 4:7  And the assurance, which I and my family have, that blessed rest, the end of suffering and tears, and eternal life and joy with God and loved ones who have gone before me awaits me in Heaven.  Thanks be to God!

Thank you for reading, for caring about our family, and for keeping us in your thoughts and prayers.  I have said before that it takes a village to get through cancer, and you are our precious village!

Love,

Gabrielle

P.S.  Here are some photos from our Sunset Magazine Tofino trip! 

Relaxing against a log on a beach after a hike!

Welcomed to our room with gifts of fruit, chocolate, and port from the hotel and Tourism Tofino!

The view of Chesterman Beach from our living room, bedroom...and jacuzzi tub at the Wickaninnish Inn!

Bundled up for a stormy walk on the beach!

The food at The Pointe restaurant at our hotel was beautiful and as delicious as food can ever be!

Steve. Soul mate. One true love. Forever friend.

More delicious food at Sea Monster Noodle Bar.   And be sure to go to the Wolf in the Fog restaurant too!  I mean it.  Go there!