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Friday, March 8, 2013

Practicing What I Preached-My Dad Has Cancer

Get a coffee, this is a bit of a long one but I hope, worth the read.

Sometimes when I write, it's simply a relaying of information, keep you in the loop as to the happenings here.

Sometimes it's because I get 'inspired', I feel something welling up in me and almost feel anxious until I have the time and the quiet (which is hard to come by!) to allow the words and feeling in my heart and head to spill out onto the page.  I believe that God does guide my words and my ideas,  and my hope is that some of these writings cause you to pause and think, or to be inspired and spoken to, even if just one of the 1,000 hits per month speaks to one of you in the place you needed to be touched, then my work is not for naught.

Sometimes, I think God inspires me to write because he is preparing my heart for something on the horizon.  This past week when I wrote 'Trusting the Father With My Father' I believe that's exactly what was happening.  God knew what was about to happen to my dear Dad and the news that was about to turn me upside down.

As I was at the back of our house with some of the kids who come to enjoy the daily play time here on the chacara, Phil said, 'Your sister is trying to facetime you'.

My heart immediately began to race and I felt a bit sick.  Lately, when someone is trying to get in touch with me outside of a time when we've agreed to chat, the news isn't good.

This time was no exception.

"Hi" I said, "What's up?"

"Where are you right now?" She asked, and my heart raced more wildly, my legs turned to jelly and I feared the news she was about to deliver.  I knew in my soul that it was about my Dad.  Almost like I had been expecting this call.

When I was finally sitting, her voice began to crack as she said the words I dreaded to hear.

"It's what we feared Jen.  Dad has cancer."

I am a 'feeler' I feel things deeply, for myself and for others.  Sometimes it's a gift, sometimes it sends me spinning.

For the next 30 minutes, my sister relayed what she knew.  My Dad had cancer of an unknown source, but they suspected greatly there was a tumour in his vertebrae pressing on his spinal cord and causing the pain, also weakening his bones causing them to break and to not heal properly.  There was no prognosis, not even a name for the type of cancer it was, just that big scary 'C' word.

We wept openly with each other as we shared our fears, the old feelings coming up from when our Mother was diagnosed, and prayed together.

When I got off the phone I fell apart again, the full reality of all that she'd said landing on my like the weight of an elephant, the possibility of what this could mean whirling through my mind and my heart.

Hey Jesus? Are you sleeping down there in the boat, because these waves? They are HUGE! And this wind? It's tossing the boat so hard I'm not sure I can keep it afloat!

Was it any coincidence that it was that particular scripture I used in my last writing?  I don't think so.  And now, I was being challenged to practice what I preached.  Tough stuff.

The next 24 hours was a whirlwind of online chatting with my large family ( I have 4 brothers and a sister-many nieces, nephews and in laws)  as information  was relayed from the hospital where my Dad had been taken to us in Ontario, New Brunswick and Brazil.  So thankful for technology!

After six months of my Dad being in agony and feeling like nothing was being done things were happening at lightening speed.

He was sent for another MRI and a bone surgeon was discussing surgery to strengthen his spine.  No radiation could be done on the cancer until the spine was in good shape.

They waited for an OR to be ready, surgery would be done THAT NIGHT!  Over the two and a half weeks preceding my Dad has lost feeling in his legs.  The cracked vertebrae and possibly the tumor were putting pressure on the spinal column.  Without surgery, chances of my Dad being permanently paralyzed were 100%.  The surgeon could not guarantee that his pain would be reduced by the surgery nor could he guarantee that feeling would return to his legs.  This was hard to hear.  Finally something was being done, but it might not mean the end of the pain.  I prayed hard that he was wrong.

Nine hours after arriving in the ER my Dad was wheeled into the OR so they could remove the damaged vertebrae and replace it with screws and bolts.  My Dad joked that he would need a new license plate, currently his says, '5 ft 10' "I'll be shorter when this is all done", he said.  I truly love that man.

I'm so thankful for the sense of humour my Dad has, and that he passed it on to us, his kids.
The last time we were all together October 2012
all grown up and we still can't get a good picture!

Five hours later he was taken from the OR and into the ICU, where he was kept sedated for some much deserved, pain free rest.

The not so good news:

  • He has to have another surgery, they were unable to close the gap at the front of the spine as much as is needed. (He's not going to be happy to hear that)
  • He will need lots of rehabilitation to get his body working again
  • We wait for news about the cancer.  They still don't know it's origin but we pray that it was isolated to the tumour and treatment will be easy and short.

The good news:

  • His legs have full feeling again!! 
  • They were able to remove the whole tumour (they believe it's cancer but need the biopsy confirmed)
  • As of today his pain level is down to a 2 out of 10.  For the past six months it's been about 18 out of 10.
  • We now know what we are dealing with and can attack it with medicine and prayer!
  • His sense of humour is intact! 

I feel like I'm asking for prayers all the time these days.  For someone who likes to help others it's hard for me to ask for help, repeatedly.  But, I know we can't do this, get through these issues without help.  Help from all of you and help from above.  I lived heartache and loss without God and honestly now, looking back I don't know how I did it.  He is my comforter, my big fuzzy blanket on a cold night, the one that I hold on too when the storms are raging, and lately it's felt like an ongoing hurricane.

I leave you with Psalm 23 in the good old King James version, it just sounds better.   It was my Mothers' favourite, and I find it brings me great comfort these days:

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell[a] in the house of the Lord

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Trusting the Father with My Father

Before I could leave Canada I had to come to terms with the reality that anything could happen.  Having lost our friend Rob Hall in Zambia after a construction accident, the reality that life can be so short struck me with a painful jolt of reality.

Little did I know how true that would become.  Just two months before we left my brother, only 49, died suddenly of a heart attack.  Less than a month after leaving for Brazil my 26 year old nephew died within a week of being admitted to the hospital because of blood clots, also of heart related issues.  Two months after that one of my dearest friends also died suddenly at only 42.

My Dad, this past summer
Throughout all of this my Dad has been struggling with immense pain due to a cracked vertebrae and a condition called spinal stenosis. He has been in and out of hospital.  He went from being a strong, vital 77 year old man who looked more like 67 to being bed ridden.  He has been on many pain killers all which cause loss of appetite and so his hearty frame has begun to shrink.  It breaks my heart to see my 'Daddy' suffering.  I was and always will be a Daddy's girl.

My Dad, last week
The other, newer issue we've been faced with is the fact that the heart condition that took my nephews life is genetic.  There is a 50% chance of first degree relatives having it.  We now have to find the source, was it his Dad, my brother?  Or his mother?  All of my brothers have had an issue with their hearts over the last number of years, these are all being looked at in a different light.  We all have to be tested, see cardiologists, there is a chance that my kids, or I could have this same condition which is life threatening. Breathe.

I knew we were getting on a roller coaster when we said yes to this journey.  I knew it wouldn't be easy, that troubles would come.  But the knowledge of trouble and the reality of living in it are two very different things.  I will admit there are days and sometimes weeks when I want to get on a plane and be back in Canada, at my fathers' side, doing whatever it is I can to ease his pain or just to simply be with him.  The feeling of helplessness is sometimes so overwhelming it hurts.

What do I do with those feelings?  The pain the confusion the hurt and yes, sometimes the anger?  I fall on my bed in a heap of tears and pour it out to my heavenly Father.  I can't carry this weight myself, and I was never meant to.

Some might say, 'maybe you should go home, maybe this is a sign that it's time to leave, to put family first.'

The truth is that NONE OF THIS IS A SURPRISE TO GOD.  He knew all of these things would happen before we left Canada, and in fact we were even given a bit of a heads up during prayer one night.  We had asked some friends to pray with us about timing for us leaving for Brazil.  At that time we were hoping to come in November of 2011.  After praying, one of the people felt they were given a few words for us.  Two of them I didn't like, not even one bit.

'Later rather than sooner' (with regards to us leaving-we ended up leaving almost a full year later than planned)
'Doctors and hospitals' That one gave me a feeling in the pit of my stomach that I didn't like even sort of.  I wanted to tell him to take it back, to rebuke it.

Now, however, I get it.  It was a message to the future me to remind me that God knew what was going to happen in my family (that at the time was perfectly healthy).  That when things started to unravel I was to remember that God was completely aware of the things that were about to happen, and yet he was still sending us.

I'm not going to lie, I'm not going to sugar coat it with rainbows and white doves, sometimes this walking with God and trusting Him completely is just down right painfully difficult.  It's hard, it hurts and it seems to go against everything the world says, but then again he tells us to be 'in the world but not of the world'.

There is a story in the bible that many of you are probably familiar with.  The disciples are with Jesus in a boat and a huge storm begins to rage around them, winds hurl the boat, waves crash, and Jesus lies peacefully sleeping in the boat, not a care in the world.  The disciples completely lose their cool and shake him, waking him up and asking him why is he just lying there when it looks as though they are about to perish??

To this Jesus replies, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

This means two things to me,  that when I get those urges to hop on a plane, I need to remember I'm in the boat with the one who can stop the wind and the waves, who has it all under control and that I need to remember to give him my fears, that he will in fact calm the waves.

My Dad has an appointment with a spine surgeon on April 11, please pray they are able to correct this issue with surgery.

We also can't do this without all of you out there reading this and praying for us, your prayers are felt and needed, keep em coming.  Thank you.

Surreal Moments-First Night of Alpha

Ten years ago my sister asked me if I was interested in taking a course called 'Alpha'.  I had heard of the course because she and her husband had both been through it, and they didn't come out the other side the same way they went in.

Quite honestly, at the time I found it scary.  What happened during this course that was so powerful it turned my 'spiritualism of the month club' brother in law into a bible reading, Jesus loving, cross wearing Christian? Did they brainwash you?

Sharing my story in Portuguese for the first time.
I was also at a point in my life that I was wondering if there was more to life than what I could see around me.  I had just finished living my life dream of working with primates in Africa but now I was back in Canada and wondering what the point was?  Where was my life going?

I decided to take the course.  Curiosity got the better of me.

To say it was life-changing would be an understatement.  My whole view of the world, of things beyond what I could see and touch changed.  I have since been involved in the Alpha course at my home church, Cambridge Vineyard for several years and I'm always amazed at the outcome.  I've seen people physically healed, brought to tears and making a complete 180 degree turn in their beliefs. Yes, some come and go with little difference, it's not a formula and no, it's not brainwashing, but if you go in with a willing and open heart to see and hear things from a different perspective I doubt you will come out unchanged.

"Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends." Rev 3:20

As I sat in the back of the church while our participants watched the translated Alpha videos, I had a flashback of my first night at Alpha.  Ten years later and thousands of miles from home I'm now introducing my new Brazilian friends to the the Alpha course in another language.  If someone had told me that on that first night this is how things would unfold I would never have believed them.

We are so excited to be able to start this here.  Our church is at a point where we are beginning to see more adults attending, people who are seeking and looking for God in their lives, their hearts are open, the timing is right.  We are hoping to train leaders in the this group for the next Alpha.

Who knows what God will do during this time, and what this will look like ten years from now, maybe there will be missionaries in the midst of this group, traveling to other places to bring the amazing news that there is a very real world beyond this one, where a God who loves us has a huge and exciting plan for our lives, we need only to open the door and let Him in.

For more information about the Alpha course you can go to and find out where there is an Alpha course in your area.  If you live in the Cambridge area, The Cambridge Vineyard ( also runs the Alpha course twice a year, in the spring and fall.  You can contact them for start dates.

Ready to go!

Luke and Faith played waiter and waitress and served the food.