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Monday, December 29, 2014

‘Tis the season

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Thank you all for your ongoing prayers! It has been some time since I last posted, we have definitely been staying busy during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season. Many of you have asked how I am doing during this time of the year. The time from Kelsey’s birthday on, along with the last couple weeks of Alexa’s hunger strike, have been the two toughest periods since the loss of Kelsey. As Alexa and I were flying out to California on Christmas Eve, I had a chance to finish a book I was given recently. The book is Lament for a Son, by Nicholas Wolterstorff (thanks Kenneth Merrill for sharing it with me). It is a profound book (I am sure I will share more thoughts from it in the days to come), which certainly speaks in many ways to the craziness of the road of grief. While Wolterstorff experienced a different loss (his 25 year old son died in a climbing accident), there is a universality to many of the thoughts he expresses. Here is what he says about holidays:

“The worst days now are holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, birthdays, weddings, January 31 – days meant as festivals of happiness and joy are now days of tears. The gap is too great between day and heart. Days of routine I can manage; no songs are expected. But how am I to sing in this desolate land, when there’s always one too few?”

They are days of heartache in many senses. As I hear Christmas carols proclaiming the joy of family, “the most wonderful time of the year” doesn’t always seem so wonderful because there is a gaping hole in our family. Many of you who know Kelsey well know how much she enjoyed the entire season from her birthday on. She had such fun decorating the house for Thanksgiving, then getting all of the Christmas décor put up. She loved getting together with friends and family. She loved the joy of figuring out perfect gifts for those around her. She loved giving gifts – it always pained her a bit because we had a gift budget, she sometimes felt a bit constrained. She delighted in watching Alexa experience the joys of the season: advent calendars and devotions, “dancing lights” (what Alexa used to call Christmas light shows), time with family, snow, and opening gifts. She enjoyed reflecting on the prior year and determining how with God’s help she would face the new year. If you missed the post last year, or just want to be reminded of how much she loved this time of year, check out this post from December 24th, 2013: http://goo.gl/nueiZx.

Thanksgiving has come and gone. Christmas has done the same. The new year is fast approaching. The days march relentlessly on, the same as they have each year before, but there is something different. There is an absence. To quote Wolterstorff again, “There’s a hole in the world now. … A person, an irreplaceable person, is gone. … Only a hole remains, a void, a gap, never to be filled.”

Yet, there still is a sweetness to the season, albeit tempered by the stark reality of Kelsey’s absence. We are blessed. Here are two examples of the unexpected blessings. Every year, we decorate the inside of our house for Christmas. This year was no exception. Alexa was thrilled to help decorating our tree (she got to help several people decorate this year and loved it) and loved to see the final product come together (LED candles, Christmas tree, greenery). I hung our lit outdoor wreath and set up the two small Christmas trees outside our door. Alexa decided they weren’t up to her standard, “Dad, can we have more lights?” I said something lame and moved on. Alexa didn’t move on, but come to find out, there were some “Christmas elves” who came to decorate our house. Alexa was thrilled to see the new décor which now graces our house.

Another friend got Alexa and me tickets to the Nutcracker ballet at the Oklahoma City Civic Center. Alexa thought it was fantastic. She spent a good percentage of the ballet dancing in our aisle (there were a few open seats next to us). Afterward, this same friend helped us get backstage to see the set. Alexa actually got to hold the nutcracker which was in the ballet, got to ride the toy horse, walk down the stairs Clara used to enter the room, and meet the “princesses” (as she called them: the sugar plum fairy and Clara). She was on cloud nine!

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It has been fun to go to see Christmas light shows with Alexa, to hear her singing “Mary Did You Know?” loudly and proudly (she is enamored with the Pentatonix – we have listened to their newest album multiple times), to watch the joy on her face as she spends time with family, and to see her face light up as she opens a present.

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In the midst of grief, there is joy in the Christmas season. God’s plan to rescue us from our separation from Him due to our incredible shortcomings in living up to His holy standard became tangible through the birth of a baby in the little town of Bethlehem. As Christ lived a sinless, perfect, holy life, obediently went to the cross where he was crucified and died like a common criminal – taking the punishment for our sins, then rose again, he set the stage for the day death will ultimately be conquered. The day we hear of in Revelation 21:4 – “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away.” The salvation I have through Christ ensures I will see Kelsey again. So, in the midst of pain, still, ‘tis the season. Maybe not a season when I am feeling “jolly” (as in happy and cheerful), but a season of joy in knowing there is a day coming soon when death is no more. A season of reflecting on the pain of our Father God who sent His beloved Son to be condemned to death. A season of rejoicing in God’s love for us – a love which chose incredible grief for Himself to ensure one day, we who trust in Him will never have another moment of grief.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Happy Birthday, Kelsey!

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Happy Birthday, Kelsey! Although you are not here to celebrate with us this year in person, it is an opportunity for us to celebrate your life and the many lives that you touched in your 35 years here on earth.

I am not sure if the day of our physical birth is as celebrated in heaven as the day of our second birth, but I would imagine that Kelsey is enjoying some chocolate cake made by Nonie (her grandmother) and making those around her laugh as she regales them with hilarious stories. It is crazy to think she has been in heaven for over four and a half months and, in light of eternity, she isn’t even getting started!

But, back here on earth, there is definitely a huge void. Kelsey loved birthdays, regardless of whether it was hers or not. Having an excuse to eat cake always made for a good day. She had such fun sharing her special day with her niece, Rylen.

And, her birthday is another day which reminds us she is not here. She is missed for so many reasons! Thank you all for the sympathy you have shared with us today. Thank you for your prayers. Thank you for the memories you have shared of Kelsey. Thank you for taking opportunities to share the gospel with others. She is daily missed, but there is encouragement when we continue to hear how the effects of her life continue to ripple onward. It seems like a short 35 years, but they were well spent!

God continues to give grace. Thank you for continuing to walk with us in this journey.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Four months

Four months ago, at 4:00 pm, Kelsey left this dry and weary land and stepped into an eternity with her Creator, Savior, Redeemer, and Dearest Friend. Four months ago, at 4:00 pm, began the start of a new reality for Alexa, me, and all of Kelsey’s friends and family. A reality where praying for Kelsey’s earthly healing was no longer necessary. A reality where we would never again see Kelsey entering a room with her infectious smile. A reality where there are reminders of her 35 years on earth, but where those reminders are not connected to her physical presence any longer. A reality where her words of wisdom and keen perception hang suspended – complete. Kelsey is not around to add to them or offer additional insight in times of joy or struggle. It is the reality of a race well run, but also the reality of a life which goes on before those of us who remain behind.

Four months. Am I better? No. Am I bitter? No. Are there moments when I am angry, discouraged, overwhelmed, and/or frustrated? Yes. Grief still comes in waves, sometimes when least expected. My days are full, but there is a semblance of routine and order. Alexa is settled in to pre-K, loves her nanny, as well as her times with our dear friend and her daughter: going to BSF on Wednesday mornings and afternoons on Wednesday and Friday. We cherish times with family. I value the moments I get to spend with Alexa, watching her grow and seeing a feisty spirit and a joy for life which reminds me of Kelsey. But, there is someone missing and we are missing someone.

Sometimes, seemingly small inconveniences become big deals. Here is an example. On Friday, a sticker came home letting me know that Monday was picture day. Getting Alexa to wear clothes she is not excited about is never an easy task, and the outfit she wore on Monday was no exception to the rule. I am resigned to not being a professional hairdresser and getting her hair mostly presentable was a big deal. Got her ready, calmed the tears when she was quite distraught about what she was wearing with a reassurance picture days only came one time a year, then got her off to school. When I got home, I saw the note, “We apologize for the inconvenience, the sticker you received on Friday was sent in error, pictures are actually Wednesday.” I was furious. Some unkind thoughts ran through my head. I may have been somewhat composed on the outside, but inside, I was tallying the injustices. About pictures? Yep. That is the current reality at times.

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And look, I did get a picture that day, just not one from the school!

I share with you, not so you feel sorry, not so you write letters to Alexa’s pre-K (trust me, I wrote some priceless ones in my head), but so you see the reality of life. Decisions around every corner. A lack of time to do the things which seem like they MUST be done, but yet, when they do not get done, the world does not fall apart. Taking advantage of the precious moments with Alexa is far more important to me than a dust free home.

And in all of this, the reassurances of God’s Word rise up around me:

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.” – Isaiah 43:2

“Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

“Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” – 1 Peter 5:7

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
– John 16:33

God is faithful. He is good. He loves me. He loves Alexa. Sometimes, I have to repeat those reassurances to myself again and again. But there is growing hope. I see God’s faithfulness today, and trust a bit more each day in His faithfulness tomorrow.

PRAYER REQUESTS

-- Pray for energy to spend time in the Word. Some mornings it is all I can do to drag myself out of bed after a full day before. The days I spend time in God’s Word are much more grounded in truth than days I do not.
-- Pray for wisdom with Alexa. She continues to eat, which is a wonderful praise, but also continues to exert control in random ways. Prayerfully she is at the other side of a phase where she didn’t drink much, because she didn’t want anyone but me to take her to the restroom.
-- Pray for wisdom in making decisions at home and at work.
-- Pray for my interactions with others. I desire to encourage others who are maybe also walking through dark times and may be wondering why God seems to be silent.
-- Pray for Alexa’s heart. I continue to pray she will come to know Christ and come to understand He will ALWAYS be with her – nothing can take Him away.
-- Pray for sweet conversations with Alexa. Moments when she shares a memory she has with Kelsey are hard, but so special. Pray as Alexa learns more about the type of person Kelsey was, she will seek to emulate Kelsey’s godly qualities.

There is more to write – more stories to tell and more pictures to share. For now, I leave you with a few photos:


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Photo Oct 26, 8 32 11 PM

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Thank you!

I have been struggling with how to write this post for several weeks now. I start it in my head, then I get so overwhelmed with the enormity of it all, I give up. I start again (again in my head) and am worried I will leave someone out. Tonight, I am starting to write on the blog – we’ll see if I can do it! My parents taught me to be thankful from a young age. When someone did something unearned and undeserved, I learned the importance of saying thank you. I don’t think people did what they did to receive a thank you, but learning to say thank you helped me to see gratitude is probably as much for the recipient as it is for the giver. It reminds us we are undeserving.

Over the past eighteen months, you have all been God’s hands and feet. You have shown love and kindness to Kelsey, Alexa and me in literally countless ways. Bringing meals, watching and loving on Alexa, mowing our lawn, planting flowers, cleaning the house, sharing (and even writing) songs and poetry, photo and video sessions, calling to pray with us, sending notes, sharing your homes, helping financially, giving gifts, showing up at the house to spend time with us, sharing truth, sending books, passing along songs of hope, giving the gift of time, and on and on the list goes.

I had a pipe dream I would be able to write a hand-written note to each of you (and perhaps someday my dream can become a reality). Kelsey kept a list of all of the people who had invested in her life in some way until the days came when her hand was so sore it was tough for her to write. She would have me add to the list of people who had given some sort of tangible gift. The problem with the list we wrote down is there are many of you who are not included there. Many of you who prayed faithfully from the moment you heard of Kelsey’s condition until the day she breathed her last here on earth. The other problem is in the swirl of activity after Kelsey died, I was a bit less organized than she was and I know there are people who supported us in one way or another who are not written in the “giving book.”

So, forgive me friends! You may never receive a personal note to thank you for the gift you gave. So many of you gave gifts in memory of Kelsey. I think back now and it is incredible to think there was never a moment when I felt overwhelmed with any sort of financial burden. I honestly believe Alexa and I could live for three months on all of the gift cards we have received. You blessed us beyond measure and continue to do so. You have shared so many special memories of how Kelsey touched your lives, you ask me how Alexa and I are doing and are willing to listen and pray. My church family, both local and universal have been incredible in how you have poured out your love. My work family has been incredible in allowing me time to grieve. My family has been so incredibly supportive – what a blessing it is to have tremendous, godly parents and siblings on both Kelsey’s and my side of the family. I cannot imagine surviving the past 18 months without them. Multiple trips down to MD Anderson, multiple weeks they spent packed into our house – helping with Alexa and helping to care for Kelsey.

A thank you is really inadequate. My prayer is for God to bless each of you for the blessing you have been to me. My words cannot convey the overflowing gratitude I have in my heart as I see a significant part of my ongoing healing has to do with your prayers, love and support.

Are there hard days? Without a doubt. There are moments I look around and wonder how I will make it through the next minute. There are moments of utter exhaustion when I cry out for God’s mercy to get me through the hours before I can fall into bed. But, there are also nearly constant glimpses of God’s love and faithfulness – so many of those coming from you. So thank you! And, I thank God for you!

Please don’t stop now! I covet your prayers for Alexa and me. I am thankful for each time someone shares a song which encourages them, recounts a story of how Kelsey blessed their life, asks how I am doing, gives me a hug or shakes my hand and lets me know they are praying. Don’t stop! You won’t offend me when you bring up Kelsey in conversation. If I ever don’t have the ability to talk about her right then, I will let you know, but those times are very rare.

Many of you have asked how you can be praying for Alexa and me – here are a few specifics:

-- Pray for ongoing opportunities to share God’s love and grace with others. Like it or not, I have joined a community of people who lost spouses at young ages. I have been blessed with wonderful family and friends – others are not as fortunate. Pray I can glorify God in the way I live my life and point others to Him.
-- Pray for sweet times with Alexa. I want to be faithful to capture her memories of her mommy, so when aspects of her memory fade I can point to Kelsey’s tenacity of faith, love for others, and love for Alexa.
-- Pray for wisdom. There are more decisions to be made and time is very limited. Pray I can redeem the moments I have and make wise decisions with my time.
-- Pray for endurance. In a similar fashion, with everything to do, it can be a bit overwhelming at times. Ask God for strength for me to do the things which need to be done and trust Him for the non-crucial ones.
-- Pray for moments to grieve. In the chaos, it can be hard to find the time to take time to understand the loss.

Again, thank you! I have some insight into what Paul wrote in Philippians 1:3: “I thank my God every time I remember you.” I most certainly do thank God every time I remember you – while you may not receive a hand-written letter to that effect, it makes it no less accurate!

I’ll end with a less than perfect selfie of Alexa and me. Unfortunately you can’t see all of Alexa’s Elsa dress – she is very proud of it and was overjoyed when the package arrived in the mail from Mimi and Pop.

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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Hooray for eating!

After over a month of no solid food for Alexa, yesterday was a big day. In the afternoon, we went to visit with Alexa’s pediatrician, Dr. Kuhls. Alexa was very concerned about “the wood”, since she had a strep test at her last two visits, but I told her she wouldn’t need a strep test this time. We talked a bit more about it and I told her when I was growing up, I always hated the swab more than the wooden tongue depressor. We found out Alexa had lost another pound since her prior visit, bringing her up to losing about three and a half pounds since July 30 (the morning when she ate her last bit of food). It was a good appointment, Dr. Kuhls checked her out (after assuring her there would be no wood or giant Q-tip), looking at her throat and teeth, checking her breathing, listening to her heart and checking her tummy, then telling her there was nothing wrong with her which would keep her from eating. He told her that he wanted her to eat three times a day, as much as she wanted of whatever she wanted. He told her if she did not start eating there would be tests and procedures done which would make the wood and giant Q-tip seem easy. She grudgingly said “okay” when asked if she would do what he had asked her to do. I was very encouraged when she agreed to eat a sucker (again, no solid food of ANY kind in her mouth for over a month) and was almost finished with it by the time we were home. We talked about where she would like to eat and she told me she wanted to go to Fuzzy’s Taco Shop to have tortillas dipped in queso.

By the time I got home from work, she was more concerned about eating, but we went to wash the car and went to Fuzzy’s. She dipped her finger in the cheese several times and licked it off saying it was quite yummy. However, the drama began when I asked her to dip a (very small) piece of tortilla in the queso and eat that. I dipped a bite for her, and tried to coax her to eat it. At first, I reiterated what Dr. Kuhls had said, she needed to eat three times a day and there was nothing wrong which would keep her from eating. We ran the whole gamut of excuses, from being worried about whether she could still bite food, to being worried about how much she would have to eat, to being tired, to wanting me to give her a hug, to wanting her cousin Rylen there with her.

So (not proud, just truthful), being out of options on the reasoning side and wondering if people thought I was abusing my daughter right there in the restaurant (she was alternating between whimpering, whining and sobbing), I resorted to bribery. I told her that if she wanted to see her cousins, she would need to eat fairly quickly so that we go see them before it got late (since she had an early morning for Pre-K this morning). That fell flat, the 15 minute timeframe I had given expired and the whining continued (she had put the tortilla inside her mouth several times during that timeframe, but never actually let go of it or actually touched it to her tongue).

Once bribery failed (and my patience was beginning to fail), it was time to resort to threats. I picked up my phone and told her I was calling Dr. Kuhls like he had told me to if she wasn’t going to eat. That got a response, “No, Dad, no!” She proceeded to do the in and out trick until I picked my phone up again and then she actually put it in her mouth. She spit the first bite out after she had chewed a bit, but immediately proceeded to get another bite, dip it in cheese and eat it (lots of chewing for a tortilla, but it went down and stayed down). I then made 10 very small pieces for her and said she could eat those and see how she did. When she finished, I asked if she was done and she said, “Could you tear up four more bites for me.” I did, she ate those and then asked for four more. We repeated the process, then she picked up the tortilla and tore off her own bites. Over the next 30 minutes, she managed to eat two whole tortillas and finish about two thirds of the cup of queso. Then, she decided that she wanted some chocolate ice cream to celebrate, so it was off to Braum’s. Here is photo and video evidence:

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Saying “tortilla” after she had torn up some tortilla for herself and was continuing to eat.

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In action after about a tortilla and a half.

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Celebrating at Braum’s.

And, a video. Sadly, I stopped the first video I took inadvertently, she said some things which were even more priceless, so I tried not to have her repeat everything she had just said (worried she would question my sanity). However, she does give a big shout-out to all of her prayer warriors. I likewise am INCREDIBLY grateful.


Today, she ate a bran muffin, a sausage ball and a bite of banana (she was concerned because a piece I cut off of the banana had a little brown spot on it) for breakfast. I also think she was saving room for the snack at school (she had made strawberry and blueberry muffins yesterday to take for the snack with her nanny, Jenny, and Kelsey’s dear friend Shannon). She managed to eat four muffins for snack and then three more right after school. She is still a bit concerned about anything which she considers “hard” (no chips yesterday for instance), but we are definitely making steps in the right direction. Certainly an incredible relief for me that she has moved past that mental block!

Prayer requests:

-- Pray Alexa will continue to eat and it will become a part of her normal routine again.

-- Continue to pray for time for both of us to process. Our days seem to be filled with activity, finding time to slow down is a challenge.

-- Pray for God’s glory. I have had some wonderful conversations about what God has been teaching me (hopefully sometime in the not-so-distant future I can share some of those lessons here) and continue to pray that each day, God can use my grief and pain for His purposes in my life and the lives of others.

-- We will be starting a grief support group this coming Monday, September 8 (Alexa will be with other four year olds who have lost someone in their family). Please pray it will be beneficial for both of us and we can be used by God to minister to others there as well.

Thanks again for your prayers. Thank you for the encouraging comments, the thoughtful notes, the messages on Facebook, the text messages, meals, and multitude of offers to help in any way. I am simultaneously afflicted and blessed. I think I understand Job’s comment in the midst of his suffering a bit better. Nothing changed, but he was able to say,

“I know that you can do all things;
     no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
     Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
     things too wonderful for me to know.

You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
     I will question you,
     and you shall answer me.’

My ears had heard of you
     but now my eyes have seen you.”
-- Job 42:2-5

Thank you for being part of allowing me to see God in the midst of grief!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Grieving, Groping and God

Well, in case you were wondering, we have not completely fallen off the map. There have been many nights I have wanted to post, but a pile of tasks, a daughter who is reluctant to go to sleep, or exhaustion have kept me from posting. The other part of that is that there are so many thoughts swirling around in my head, that I haven’t even known what to write. I suppose I empathize with Kelsey a bit more as she would tell me about all of the posts which were halfway written in her head (side note, she has snippets of those posts saved in her notes on her phone – I’ll have to do my best to piece some of them together someday – I am sure you are not surprised, but she has some neat thoughts written down there).

There is no denying that on July 5, our lives were unalterably changed. There is a meaningful illustration in one of the books which has been very helpful to me through this time, A Grace Disguised, by Jerry Sittser. He speaks there of the fact that when we experience loss, the future which we had imagined is suddenly, irrevocably torn away. Our future then looks dark. Of course, we never know what the future holds, but we do a great job of pretending that we do. Loss is a potent reminder of the fact that we do not know what the future holds. I am sure in coming days I will share more from this book and from other books and sermons which have provided solace – it is so encouraging to hear from people who have walked through grief. Someone who can tell you that the crazy emotions and the crazy roller coaster ride which each day brings does not mean that you are losing your mind. Someone who can tell you that the grief never goes away, but if you are able to face it with God’s help, it becomes a part of your soul, not defining you, but becoming a part of who you are. Yet, while the grief never goes away, God can allow you to have wonderful moments of happiness and joy.

There have been a lot of firsts over the past almost two months. The first morning after Kelsey died, waking up and hoping that maybe it was all a dream. The first time coming back to our house, looking around at the touches everywhere which remind me of Kelsey (not to mention pictures of her in almost every room of the house). The first time back to work, first family trip without Kelsey, first day of Pre-K for Alexa and on and on the list goes. There are so many reminders of all of the ways that she kept everything running so smoothly around the house – from packing for Alexa when we went on our trips, to picking out cute outfits for Alexa, to fixing her hair. All of those things, when I am marginally successful at them remind me that she is not here.

And yet, in all of this, God is sovereign. None of this is outside of His plan and by His grace, we are sustained day by day. In that respect, I am no different than anyone else who may be reading these words. This is not meant to be a pity party, but more of a real reflection of some of the emotions and thoughts that run through my head on a moment by moment basis. You all have been so faithful to pray for our family and I want to provide you with some specifics as you are taking us before God’s throne, because those prayers have not and will not be wasted!

Many of you know that four weeks ago, Wednesday the 30th of July, was the day that Alexa took her last bites of solid food (in the form of two bites of a mini chocolate chip muffin). Since that day, she has not touched anything solid: her diet now consists of apple juice, apple berry juice, V8 Fusion (sneaking that vegetable juice in on her), and chocolate milk. The shenanigans we have tried to get her to eat are about endless – preparing some of her favorite foods with her, having other people try the same, offering donuts, ice cream, smoothies, trying to mix Pedialyte in with her chocolate milk, but she is resolved not to eat anything. She has had a weird off again, on again mild fever, but her throat certainly doesn’t look irritated like it did initially. She is still very concerned that if she eats something (even something soft like ice cream, pudding or applesauce) that it may still hurt. Like Kelsey, I have had to laugh at this: clearly walking through the journey of grief was not quite enough, I need a very strong-willed daughter thrown into the mix as well! We also had a fairly extended “poop-mageddon”, where Alexa decided she was on strike in that regard as well. Thankfully, we seem to be on the other side of that standoff!

She is trying to process her grief as well – I cannot even imagine what that is like for a four year-old who loved her mommy more than anyone else in this world. Seems like part of it is control, part of it is fear of pain, and who knows what else mixed in. We go to meet with a child psychologist tomorrow (I met with her today to share some of my observations) and are also hoping to be accepted into a grief support group in Oklahoma City. My prayer is that these will allow her avenues to express her grief (and even understand it) in ways that she is not able to now.
I do have a few photos to share. Alexa was not too thrilled to be going to Pre-K on Monday. I told her that she would have a great time and that I would be picking her up before she knew it. Here is one of the “first day of school” photos I took (they were all sad or grumpy):

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And then, here is once she made it to Pre-K. I dropped her off in the regular line, then told her I would come in to meet her other teachers and say goodbye. Here she is at that point in time:

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The skies were a bit brighter and she told me, “Dad, I am going to have a great time.” She did and day two (today) went even better. She was a bit hesitant as we were getting ready, but here she is on the ride to school (our dear friend Shannon Ho took her today):

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Alexa is totally thrilled to have a wonderful friend and playmate in her nanny, Jenny. She asked me this evening when she would get to see her again and I told her that she would be here when she got up in the morning tomorrow and she was quite excited. They have really hit it off.

So, each day brings new challenges and new glimpses of God’s mercy. At times it feels as though I will be overwhelmed by grief – I now realize heartache is not just an expression, it is a literal physical pain in your chest in the midst of moments of deep grief. At times, it feels as though I am groping in the dark, not knowing how to face the decisions which come along and missing my helpmate who was always a wonderful sounding board. But, God is faithful. He has sustained me and I trust He is not going to stop doing so.

Prayer requests:

-- My heart hurts for my sweet daughter, Alexa. How I wish I could take away the pain she is feeling and help her to process her grief. Please pray she will begin to eat soon – perhaps a combination of visiting with the child psychologist and going back to meet with her pediatrician will allow her to understand she is better and can slowly get back to eating solid foods again. Pray if there is some lingering bug of some sort that we would discover it quickly and be able to address the issue. Pray I can be a loving and supportive father to her during this time

-- Pray for time to process. Life continues, work presses, household tasks beckon, time with Alexa calls. Pray in the midst of the busyness for moments to seek to understand the depth of this loss, to understand this world is not my home and to learn to trust God more fully in these days of intense grief.

-- Pray for strength and endurance. Grief is tiring. There are so many other things going on as well. Late nights and early mornings taking care of tasks which used to be divided in two. All of the details to take care of after Kelsey’s death: insurance, finances, etc.

-- Pray for God’s glory. I don’t want to miss Him during this time and want to be used even now to encourage others and love them in their times of grief.

There is more, but I will share another time. This post has already become longer than I hoped for originally. Thank you (if you are reading this) for your strong resolve to read the whole thing!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Kelsey's life celebration service

My apologies for the issues with the streaming video. There was an issue with copyrighted material in the slideshow before the service. Here is a link to the celebration service from July 11, 2014 at 1:30 pm: http://goo.gl/OekDT1. Here is a link the to the pre-service slideshow - some fun photos of Kelsey: http://goo.gl/NxMS6e.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Celebration of Kelsey's Life

The Celebration Service for Kelsey will be at 1:30 pm CDT on Friday, July 11 at Edmond First Baptist Church in Edmond, OK. Thank you so much for your continued prayers and the many ways you continue to show love to our family.

If you haven't seen Kelsey's obituary, here is a link: http://goo.gl/2H1Fao.

Also, I know that many of you have asked about ways to give in memory of Kelsey. Memorials to help with ongoing integrative cancer research may be given online at www.reo-foundation.org. If you would like to give toward Alexa's 529 Plan, you can do so here: http://goo.gl/sfbCr4. The invitation code is OKKyhLdZt.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

No more cancer!

Photo Jul 04, 11 12 29 AM
At 4:00 pm on Saturday, July 5, Kelsey Louise Scoggins Kennedy won the battle with cancer. She is now dancing in glory, where cancer is no longer a concern. No more C > c (Christ > cancer) in heaven, just C – who she will be eternally praising! We celebrate her life. The eight plus years I have had the pleasure of being her husband passed quickly. It is a crazy mixture of emotions. Sadness for those of us left behind, exhilaration that she has no more pain. She can now dance, run, and ride a bike. She will never have a concern of recurrence or spread of disease. She will be able to hold our two children who went before us that we never had a chance to hold. I can imagine the sweet reunion she had with her friend Melinda who proceeded her to heaven.

I will share one of the hymns that we sang which was very poignant to me (they all were) after Kelsey had gone to be with Jesus – Because He Lives:

God sent His son, they called Him, Jesus;
He came to love, heal and forgive;
He lived and died to buy my pardon,
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives!
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives!

How sweet to hold a newborn baby,
And feel the pride and joy he gives;
But greater still the calm assurance:
This child can face uncertain days because He Lives!
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives!

And then one day, I'll cross the river,
I'll fight life's final war with pain;
And then, as death gives way to vict'ry,
I'll see the lights of glory and I'll know He lives!
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives!

All wonderful verses, but two and three are especially touching to me – Alexa does face uncertain days, but she can face tomorrow because Jesus lives. Kelsey fought life’s final war with pain – and death did give way to victory for her.

Final thing to share, as we close out the first chapter of Kelsey’s life – a neat illustration which was written in a pamphlet about the final days of life:
“I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says, ‘There, she is gone!’

‘Gone where?’

Gone from sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and she is just as able to bear the load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at the moment when someone at my side says: ‘There, she is gone!’ there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout: ‘Here she comes!’

And that is dying.”

-- Henry Van Dyke
The only correction is that we know exactly Who the voice was who welcomed her into glory, the same one who said, “It is finished” as he gave up His life on the cross, the same one who said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Please pray for our family. Pray for Alexa. Pray that we will continue to glorify God in a small percentage of the way that Kelsey did with her life. I love all of her warriors – some of you who I have never even met and may never meet this side of eternity. You sustained us, you encouraged us, you blessed us. Your stories of how Kelsey blessed each of you has been amazing over the past several days. Kelsey’s book is already written – we just have to put it all together!

Friday, July 4, 2014

The road home

Photo Jun 30, 3 09 51 PM
We are still at the hospital with Kelsey. She seems to be standing at the doorway of this life and the next. Seems strangely appropriate to be writing this post on Independence Day. I am not sure how soon it will be, but without a miracle, Kelsey will be declaring her independence, through the blood of Jesus Christ. Her independence of sin, sickness, sorrow and death. From the first biopsy results we learned this was a nasty cancer, now, Kelsey has the opportunity to be completely cancer free. No worries of recurrence, no lingering pain from nerve damage, no reduced functionality in her right arm, no pain in her hips from some crazy alignment issues (probably due to a combination of the stereotactic treatment as well as favoring her right leg when the tumor was growing there), no trouble breathing, no more fluid on her lungs, no more confusion about where she is or what day it is. And, oh, the rapture of being in the presence of Jesus and hearing “well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Photo Jul 03, 10 28 27 AM

Here is Kelsey with her armor on. Yesterday morning (July 3), she decided it was time to put her shirt on. As she was putting it on, she stated that anyone who wore the shirt would need to be ready to share about the love of Christ with others. Several nurses who have worked with us either have, or will soon have, their own shirt to wear. A lot has changed since that time. Yesterday she was still very coherent, continuing to encourage people who came to visit her and thanking her nurses. Yesterday evening, her speech began to slip a bit. I had the impossible task of talking with Alexa about the reality of the situation. Unless God does a miracle, the next time we go to our house, Mommy is not going to ever walk through the door again. No more cheerful Kelsey smile, no more new touches around the house, no more beautiful outfits picked out by mommy, no more fun adventures with mommy, the list continues. Telling your daughter who is four years old the one who is the dearest to her on earth is going to be with Jesus is heartbreaking. This world is not our home and I feel that more acutely than ever. I do not want pity, I do not want those knowing glances, I do not say this for any other reason than I continue to covet your prayers.

The battle is not over, but the end appears to be drawing nearer. After the most recent nurse shift change at 7:00 this morning (when she once again thanked her nurse for all her help), she has not really spoken or even attempted to speak. She has rarely opened her eyes and even when she does, I am not sure that she is seeing this world each time – in the times of clarity, it has been a privilege to read the encouraging testimonies of how Kelsey has touched so many lives on the Praying for Kelsey Facebook group. Whether God takes Kelsey home, or heals her, we will figure out a way to get all of the posts together. It will either be a start to the book, or perhaps the main content of her book should God choose to take her home. Another example of Kelsey still being Kelsey, last night she offered to pay our nurse to stay with her throughout the whole night. Kelsey loves Brenda – one of the many special nurses we have had during this stay at the hospital. We told her that Brenda’s other patients may not appreciate not having a nurse to help them out throughout the night. Now, we are listening to songs playing on Kelsey’s Pandora station – which she seeded with Chris Rice.

Prayer requests

-- Pray that Kelsey would have no fear, but would be filled with the knowledge of the deep love of her Savior, and that He will either heal her or call her home. Pray we will be able to manage her pain, so that she is not needlessly suffering.

-- Please pray for my sweet daughter, Alexa. Pray this will be a chapter in her book which will make her a strong follower of you. Please pray for protection against this being used by the evil one to keep Alexa from being everything she can be for the kingdom. Please pray that she will come to know Christ soon, perhaps even out of this painful time.

For those of you who may not be in the Praying for Kelsey Facebook group, but are following the blog, here is a slightly modified version of the prayer I posted there:

Now, Lord, if her work on earth is done, please take her quickly (but not before she has brought You the maximum amount of glory she can bring by being present here on earth). What a joy to know that she will be able to fully use her hand (I anticipate her enjoying shooting a perfected jump shot and throwing an even more perfect spiral than she threw before surgery), she will have no more pain or tears, she can dance with you in heaven, she can hold our two dear children who we never got to hold in this life, and will be able to speak with You and praise You clearly! If her work is not yet done, and You choose to let her tarry awhile longer in her hospital bed, fill her with a real sense of your presence and love and cast out any fears or doubts that may assail her. While the opportunity is there, I do continue to petition your throne for your total, complete earthly healing! Thank you for all of your saints who have come around us and thank you Jesus that you ARE so much greater and more powerful than cancer! Amen

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

God’s love for Kelsey

“Now a man was sick, Lazarus, from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, and it was her brother Lazarus who was sick. So the sisters sent a message to Him: ‘Lord, the one You love is sick.’” – John 11:1-3

I read a devotional a few days ago which brought me to tears – it was based on the previous passage of Scripture. The devotional went in depth into the nature of God’s love and how Mary and Martha did not appeal to Lazarus’ good deeds, the number of children he had (we don’t even know if he did have children), or the ways he would be able to bless others if he was healed, they appealed to Jesus’ love for Lazarus. The devotional is beautifully written (if you’d like to read it, here is the link: http://goo.gl/EAbclA), but I walked away realizing that I can make this same appeal to God about Kelsey, “Lord, the one You love is sick.” And oh, how great his love for Kelsey is. Because of God’s love, He sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross to pay for the wrong things that Kelsey has done in life and provide for her to come to salvation. Because of God’s love, He is preparing a place in heaven for her. Because of His love, He enabled her to choose to make Jesus the Lord of her life, acknowledging that she did not measure up to God’s standard and needed to rely on the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross. Because of God’s love, she, like Jesus, will be raised to life in heaven. It is an extravagant love, which means before time began, God had a plan about how He would draw Kelsey to Himself.

I love Kelsey, Alexa loves her mommy, Kelsey’s family loves her, all of her warriors love her, but all of our love for her combined does not add up to God’s love for her. Can I trust His love for her? As I continually plead with God for her healing, I know that every action God takes toward her is motivated out of His love. Thank you all for joining in petitioning God, because, “the one He loves is sick.” Can I trust His love for her?

If you’d like to get a warrior T-shirt, we are planning to place another order tomorrow morning. You can visit http://thekennedycrew.com/t-shirts/ if you’d like to get one.

Photo Jul 01, 5 12 51 PM

Photo Jul 01, 5 13 05 PM

Two very special girls, who are incredibly dear to my heart! Check out the colorful and special necklace that Rylen (Alexa’s cousin) and Alexa made for Kelsey.

By way of a brief update, the meeting with Dr. Keefer was a challenging one for Kelsey to hear on Monday. He shared with her that the nutrition IV would not be helpful for her. He said if he had even a glimmer of hope that it would be beneficial for her, that he would start it for her immediately. He has seen patients at a similar stage who have requested the IV nutrition and it really made no difference at all (other than it adds to the already constant monitoring). It is always hard to hear that in the world’s eyes there is no hope. Since then, Kelsey has managed to eat about half of a Krispy Kreme donut, 1/3 of a McDonald’s cheeseburger, and some cheese sticks from Stars & Stripes.

We continue to covet your prayers:

-- Pray for good rest for Kelsey, for minimal pain, for wonderful times of alertness, for strength, for the ability to enjoy some more tasty foods if they sound good.

-- Pray for continued special times with family and friends. Thanks to all who have come by.

-- Pray we can continue to bring God glory. We had a hymn singing session with several gals from our church in Norman this evening. The nurse came in and said that they had received several calls from other people on the floor who said it was so encouraging to hear the singing. Whether Kelsey’s days are many (as we pray), or few, that each moment she lives would bring Him glory.

-- Pray for Kelsey’s complete and total earthly healing.

“Lord, the one who you love is sick.” You do what is best for her out of your great love, but my heart pleads for You to bless her with a full healing of her body here on earth!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Warriors unite!

"Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my meditation. Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray. My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up." - Psalm 5:1-3 (KJV)

What a journey it has been since that April day in 2013 when the orthopedic surgeon Kelsey had visited due to a very small lump in her right forearm mentioned that she may have cancer. He thought it would be unusual for it to be in her arm. It certainly was (statistically speaking) unusual for cancer to be there. The following year and almost three months has continued in that "unusual" trend. Going from amputation of her right arm being a real possibility to learning that the cancer had spread which made amputation no longer the chosen path. Multiple MRIs, CT scans, x-Rays and PET scans. Biopsies, tumor removals and stereotactic radiation. Now, we sit in a hospital with Kelsey, who between her pain medicine has many moments of being herself, welcoming people, apologizing that she hasn't gotten up to shower, sharing funny stories, singing songs and loving on Alexa. But she also has a lot of pain. The cancer in her right lung has continued to grow. It appears there may be a spot on her liver. It may also have spread to her lymph nodes on her right side. From the world's standpoint, from the standpoint of the experts, there would appear to be "no hope". (Feel free to refer back to my blog entry a few days back - Breathing a little easier - to read the quote near the end of the post for some context.)

But, as we have seen throughout this journey, the world is not God and the experts are not God (and we are so thankful on both of those counts). And, we always have hope! So now, our dear warriors, it is time for us to bring Kelsey once more before the throne of God. Please join me in continuing to pray for her complete earthly healing. With the intensity of her pain, if God does not will to heal her, it is selfish for us to cling to her here on this earth.

I thank you for your prayers, for the texts and phone calls, for the abundance of food, for offers to help in whatever way possible. I cannot begin to express how grateful I am for your prayers. They are what sustain all of us in the darkest hours. They allow us to continue to trust God when our flesh screams out that He is not trustworthy. Here are some very specific ways to pray:

-- Complete and total healing of Kelsey's body. No more cancer.

-- Nutrition. Kelsey does get weaker and weaker each day due to an insufficient calorie intake. I am planning to speak with the doctor about this later this morning (along with Kelsey) to emphasize that we want to make sure she is getting nutrition (and are okay with possible risks of IV nutrition or a feeding tube). There are so many benefits to having nutrition, but if we continue the current course of just getting the liquids she needs, the outcome is pretty certain. Pray the conversation goes well and we can figure out how to get additional nutrition for her.

-- No more fluid in Kelsey’s lungs. Breathing easier.

-- Special times together. Whether God wills to heal Kelsey or not, pray we can look back on these days with a clear picture of God's hand in all of it.

-- For Alexa. My heart aches for my beautiful daughter. She knows not everything is right, that something is different about this time in the hospital. I have talked with her and let her know that mommy is very sick and that we need to be praying that God would heal her. But, she is four years old. She doesn't truly grasp the severity of the situation. Please pray she can have special moments with Kelsey

-- Wisdom. Oh how we all need this in so many ways. Treatment now, potential future treatment, speaking about hard subjects, dealing with doctors, and the list goes on. We need God's wisdom.

-- For God to be glorified. Pray we can be a light to those around us here. There is not much hope for many people here on this floor. Pray we can continue to be an oasis of hope and that even in the midst of this dark time that God would use it to bring others to Himself.

GOD IS IN CONTROL! What truth in these words, even in times of pain and sorrow! Thank you all for continuing to be a part of this wonderful team of prayer warriors. And, if you need your official "armor", the T-shirts have arrived! Here is Alexa providing some wonderful modeling.
IMG_2093
If you would like to get one of these t-shirts, you can find them at http://thekennedycrew.com/t-shirts/. The front has C > c, the back says:

Christ > cancer
I'm a warrior in the fight for Kelsey Kennedy.
"This is what the Lord says to you, ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.'" - 2 Chronicles 20:15

Friday, June 27, 2014

She made it!

Kelsey made it through another procedure! Praise The Lord! She seemed to be in good spirits and is currently resting. Here she is with Alexa.


Thank you for your continued prayers! Do pray for a great night of rest for Kelsey tonight.

Strength for the day

Kelsey is going to have another thoracentesis today (the procedure where they drain the fluid from under her lungs). It will be a decision made at the time they do the procedure as to which lung they will actually drain (can't do both at the same time due to the potential risks of collapsing lungs). I plan to post again (it may be very brief) after her procedure.

Some prayer requests for today:

--Wisdom and guidance for the interventional radiologist. To know which lung would provide greater benefit for her when drained. For a complication-free procedure.

-- Pray that Kelsey will not have the same coughing and nausea that she did last time, so that this procedure will be able to drain the maximum amount of liquid possible for her maximum benefit.

-- Pray for quick healing from the incision.

-- We continue to pray for small steps of progress. In regard to appetite, eating, pain, nausea and rest.

-- Pray for Alexa. Pray she continues to be excited to come see her mommy. Pray she sleeps well and does well in an environment which is familiar (she is staying with her Uncle Mark and Aunt Holly), but which is not home. Pray this time will be instrumental in her salvation story.

-- Pray for ongoing wisdom for the doctors and for us - wisdom for this day and wisdom for the next steps.

-- Pray for rest - especially for Eddy and Marilyn (Kelsey's folks). Pray that we can all be an encouragement to Kelsey. And please pray that we will have moment by moment strength which can only be attributed to God.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The road to recovery

It may not be fast. It may entail waiting and celebrating minor victories. It may be painful. But the road that God has Kelsey on is a part of her story. Here is another excerpt from Comfort for Troubled Christians, by J.C. Brumfield, which has spoken to us over the past two weeks (thank you, Rob Vestal, for sharing it with us). This is in reference to Romans 8:28 which says, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.”
“‘All things’ not some things, most things, the pleasant things, or the easy things, but ‘all things’. We usually have no difficulty in seeing this truth when all is going well for us, but it includes the hard, bitter, testing things of life as well – ‘all things,’ from the most minute to the most momentous, from the humblest event in daily providence to the crisis hours in grace ‘all things work together for good.’ 
The fact is that the hardest things to bear have in reality been the best for us. No sorrow leaves us where it found us; it either drives us from God or brings us near to Him. … 
‘All things work together,’ not separately or independently, not each thing in itself, but ‘together.’ This is the key to the test. God does not promise all things work for good, or each thing is good in itself, but ‘all things work together for good.’ Many people pick out one experience in life and wave it in the face of God and challenge, ‘I don’t see any good in that.’ No, and God doesn’t say there is, but it is a part of the ‘all things,’ a part of the divine pattern. The separate events of life may seem to be disastrous, but ‘together’ they ‘work for good.’ It takes a blending of the experiences in life to make the ‘together.’”
So, we thank God for using “all things” in this journey. Here are few of the good things which have happened over the past two days since my last post:

-- We have been visited by many friends. Some of them are friends purely due to our common connection in Jesus Christ. A great example of this was a brother and sister who stopped by last night to pray for Kelsey. We had a mini church service in our room, complete with prayer, singing and reading the Word.

-- Kelsey sat up more today than she has in a while. She was able to take a “bath” of sorts – using giant antibacterial wipes to help prevent infection while her port is accessed for the fluid and medicine she is getting through her port. They also used this really cool shower cap, which had shampoo inside the cap.

-- She has gradually been getting a few more calories into her diet each day. Every day is another step in the right direction toward getting her body stronger and healthier.

Many of you have asked about Alexa. She is having a great time with her cousins (Rylen, Layton, Connor and Kylie), with her Uncle Mark and Aunt Holly and with Pop. Today, she got to go swimming with Robyn (Kelsey’s cousin), Layton, Kylie and Connor – which was the highlight of her day. A close second (when I asked her about what she had fun doing today) was pooping. For those of you who may not know, that is always a major praise in Alexa’s life, because there have been some times of what I like to refer to as “poop strikes.” Her comment certainly made me laugh!

Photo Jun 25, 3 29 18 PM
We thank you so much for your ongoing prayers. Not a whole lot has changed as far as specific prayers since the previous post, so you can continue to pray for all of those:

-- Pain control. Today was a pretty active day, Kelsey was very ready for her pain medication after each two hour span. As she is able to rest, she can typically go longer between pain medication.

-- Breathing. She said her chest felt a bit heavy again today. When she has difficulty breathing, she begins to get anxious, which makes breathing even more difficult. Pray against the coughing and difficulty breathing which lead to anxiety. She had another x-Ray to determine if the fluid below her lungs is increasing. Pray for wisdom for Dr. Keefer as he reviews that x-Ray to make a determination as to whether further fluid draining would be beneficial.

-- Ongoing control of nausea. Today, since Kelsey ate a bit more solid food, she was actually complaining of some intestinal cramping. Pray her system gets used to having regular food in it and that the medications for nausea and gas are helpful to allow her system to get back into the swing of processing food.

-- Appetite. We pray it would not just be Kelsey knowing she should eat, but having a desire to eat. It would be great for food to start sounding good to her again.

-- Wisdom. For Dr. Keefer to know when Kelsey is ready to go home. For us to know how to proceed with holistic treatments.

-- God to receive glory. A daily increase in Kelsey’s fighting spirit, hope and trust in God. Complete and total earthly healing.

Thank you so much for your prayers for our dear friends Corey and Melinda. We received this news from Corey, “Melinda’s heart stopped beating at 9:25pm on June 24, 2014. My warrior princess, the strongest, most beautiful, most incredible, most faithful, most sweet, most adorable woman I have ever met is in heaven with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Thank you so much for the years of support, and the outpouring of love for Melinda and me. Please pray for our family and me.”

Please do lift up Corey and his family during this incredibly painful time. My heart aches for him and for all of those who have been touched by Melinda’s joyous spirit and perseverance over these past tumultuous years.

In closing, a song which has been very meaningful to me over the past days here in the hospital and which I pray is meaningful to you in your dark times as well. It is Carry Me, by Josh Wilson. Lyrics below the video.


I try to catch my breath
It hasn't happened yet
I'm wide awake in the middle of the night scared to death
So I prayed God, would You make this stop
Father please hold on to me, You're all I've got

Carry me, carry me, carry me now
From my sinking sand to Your solid ground
The only way I'm ever gonna make it out
Is if You carry me, carry me, carry me now

God carry me, carry me, carry me now
Jesus calm my heart
Come near me please
Lord don't let these worries get the best of me
Oh I believe, that You're still here with me
Cause You meant what You said when You said You'd never leave

Carry me, carry me, carry me now
From my sinking sand to Your solid ground
The only way I'm ever gonna make it out
Is if You carry me, carry me, carry me now

God carry me, carry me, carry me now
Carry me
God carry me
Carry me
God carry me

I'm at the end of myself
I know I've got nothing left
Feels like I'm stuck in the valley of the shadow of death
And I've been down here so long
I just can't find my way out
Oh God I don't stand a chance
Unless You carry me now
God carry me now

Carry me, carry me, carry me now
From my sinking sand to Your solid ground
The only way I'm ever gonna make it out
Is if You carry me, carry me, carry me now

God carry me, carry me, carry me now
Carry me now
Carry me now
Carry me now
Carry me now

Monday, June 23, 2014

One day at a time

Kelsey is still here at Mercy Hospital. Dr. Keefer came by to check on her again today. He had some additional ideas for pain control which might allow her to go a bit longer between her IV pain medication. He also added another medication which she can take as needed for cough suppression and a breathing tool to help with her lung capacity (she does not need to use it if it starts her coughing a whole lot). His goals for her to reach before she can head back home include pain control, greater ease of breathing, and control of her infections. Those seem to me to be some good prayer points!

No real idea on time frame - we'll be here a day at a time. Kelsey was glad that we are not yet going home - especially from the pain management standpoint. She has been able to eat a bit more today, but certainly nowhere close to the amount of food that she needs to be taking in. However, we are glad to celebrate the little victories. Our nurses continue to be blessings. Kelsey's warriors continue to reach out in so many tangible and special ways: text messages, dropping by, Facebook messages, food, artwork, and encouraging notes (not to mention some super-fun Christmas lights hanging in the room which make it feel a LOT less institutional).

I know that I say this each time I write a post, but it hasn't stopped being true. Your prayers are so important to us! For each of us there have been times and I am sure will continue to be times that we don't even have the words to pray. What an encouragement to know that literally thousands of our brothers and sisters around the world (some of whom we have never met) are lifting us up in prayer! It is a blessing to be a part of such a caring network. You are the ones who allow us to have hope each day and it is being noticed. Our nurse today commented that our room was different than others that she goes into here on the oncology floor because she can tell that the room is filled with hope. Praise God that we can continue to hope in Him!

Here are some specific prayer requests:

-- Pain control. This is probably the number one issue at this point in time. The pain medication makes her sleepy, which means no eating while she is asleep. There is a very narrow window when she is alert enough to eat and about then her pain starts getting bad again. She pretty consistently requests the pain medication every two hours.

-- Greater ease of breathing. She is definitely breathing better, but it is still a bit of a struggle and she is still using oxygen constantly.

-- End to infection. It seems that taking care of her urinary tract infection and thrush will allow her body to focus on healing from cancer instead of infections.

-- Continued control of nausea. She has been doing better in that front. We pray for ongoing success in the reduction (and eventual elimination) of nausea.

-- Appetite. The more she is able to eat, the stronger she will get. Moving is pretty strenuous at this point in time, with more nutrition, everything will get a bit easier.

-- Good rest.

-- Wisdom for Dr. Keefer and for us to know when Kelsey is ready to go home.

-- Wisdom about ongoing treatment.

-- A fighting spirit for Kelsey, God to receive glory, and Kelsey's full and complete earthly healing.

One more special request for you all to lift up. Our dear friend, Melinda Wells, who is going through a similar battle with cancer (she has had several brain surgeries and more recently a sarcoma which grew alongside her brain) was going to have an MRI this evening at MD Anderson. Before the MRI, she suffered a stroke and became unconscious. Her husband Corey rode with her in the ambulance to take her across the street for tests and possible surgery. Please pray for her, for the doctors, and for her husband. Oh that God would protect her and heal her completely!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Breathing a little easier

Kelsey made it courageously and successfully through another procedure. She had 1.2 liters of fluid drained from under her left lung. There was apparently still a bit more that they did not take out because she was in quite a bit of pain and started coughing since the procedure is done sitting up. However, the vast majority is out. Thank you all for your prayers. We actually did end up meeting with Dr. Keefer, Kelsey's oncologist here at Mercy this morning - he actually came in to help out with rounds this morning. He suggested just doing a standard thoracentesis (a procedure to remove fluids from her lungs). As he looked at the CT, he determined there really was not much fluid underneath her right lung, just under her left. The procedure was very quick - probably 15-20 minutes. You sit in somewhat of an awkward position for them to do the procedure and Kelsey ended up coughing and having some dry heaves, so they didn't get quite all of the fluid, but certainly a very significant portion.

She is still in quite a bit of pain and fairly nauseated, but she does seem to be breathing much easier with more of her lung function available to her. Please continue to pray - we are so thankful for your prayers to this point, God continues to do amazing things!

Here are some specifics:

-- Appetite. She is still fairly nauseated and eating doesn't sound too exciting. Food will certainly help her recover and get her strength back, but that is pretty much the last thing she wants to do.

-- A speedy recovery. The plan is for her to be here at least for one more night.

-- Continued good rest, increased comfort, reduction of nausea and pain.

-- A fighting spirit for Kelsey. With her pain, nausea and difficulty breathing, she has been pretty discouraged over the past few days. Our prayer is that after this recovery, she will be ready to get back in the fight.

-- God to receive glory in all of this.

-- Complete and total healing and belief in God. I love this excerpt from a small devotional, Comfort for Troubled Christians, by J.C. Brumfield - speaking about Paul in the midst of the storm on the ocean when it seemed that all hope was lost.
"When we get to the place of 'no hope' God just begins to work. ... Paul said, 'I believe God.' ... He did not believe the experts, he did not believe the soldiers, he did not believe the dictates of common sense - He believed God. Sometimes the 'experts' are wrong, sometimes soldiers make mistakes, and sometimes faith does not seem to act in accordance with common sense, but God never fails. ... Maybe you are in a similar place. A storm rages, clouds are dark, threatening thunder rolls, enemies oppose, and circumstances overwhelm you. Advisers cry, 'no hope,' but above the confusion God speaks, 'When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee ... they shall not overflow thee' (Isaiah 43:2). You have a choice to stand on the promise of His Word or to believe circumstances. God has a promise for every trial, test, need, temptation, and circumstance of life. Faith chooses to believe God."
 We thank God for His promises and continue to cling to His power and say, "I do believe, help my unbelief!"

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Resting and waiting

Our day today looked a bit different than planned. Got up this morning and the day started off with the normal routine - Kelsey was able to get some rest and we were able to do one of her treatments before the nurse from home healthcare arrived. We had heard in advance Susan is a very special gal, a fact which was certainly verified when we met her in person. Kelsey was apprehensive about getting fluid, because when the drip is too fast, it can make her lungs feel heavy and increase her nausea, so she was thinking she wanted to forgo getting fluid through IV today. After Susan spent some time talking with Kelsey, evaluating her health and hearing more about what was going on, she encouraged us to think about going to the hospital so that Kelsey could work to get her nausea under control and have an opportunity to get the fluid drained off her lungs.

So, we headed off to the ER at Mercy Hospital. We got checked in and Kelsey got several different medicines through her IV to help out with the nausea and pain. She had a CT scan to make sure she is not dealing with an abscess. From what we heard, it sounds like there is a good amount of fluid on both sides of her lungs, so we will be meeting with the oncologist on call at Mercy tomorrow morning to talk through the different options for draining the fluid. It also sounds like the cancer in her lungs has advanced since her last CT scan in March.

We continue to covet your prayers and we appreciate them more than you know. Here are some specifics:

-- Pray Kelsey can get some good rest tonight.

-- Pray our meeting with the oncologist on call will be beneficial tomorrow, and we will have wisdom to know the best route to pursue to get the fluid off her lungs.

-- Pray Kelsey will have a renewed appetite after the fluid is drained off her lungs. Pray her body will quickly be in a position to recover from infection and be receptive to treatment.

-- Pray for continued endurance for Kelsey.

-- Pray against constipation and against fear. Being in the hospital, we have dropped a lot of the treatments which Kelsey has been doing, which is concerning to her

-- Pray for complete and total healing.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Failing strength and God's mercy

He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials He multiplies peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.
--Annie Flint
As Kelsey has shared before, no news is most likely not good news. The last few weeks have been rough. Kelsey has been in constant pain - probably about the only relief is when she is asleep, but when she wakes up, the pain returns. She has had nausea, vomiting, her alignment is way out of whack, and doesn't have an appetite. There have been some dark moments.

And then, there is God's faithfulness and provision. The song above by Annie Flint has been running through my head over the past few days. Monday night was especially dark. Then, on Tuesday, an incredible ray of hope - I met with a very caring Ph.D. who has been seeing some amazing results in his research. I apologize for the vagueness, but starting Saturday, Kelsey will be a part of a "clinical trial" (which is not a traditional medicine clinical trial) which shows amazing promise. Exciting and hopeful, but at the same time a bit overwhelming to Kelsey. She is already taking in so many different supplements - orally and through IV and the thought of adding something to the regimen is a bit overwhelming especially with her continual nausea and vomiting. Then, we have seen an incredible outpouring of care and love as people have jumped onboard in helping to support the holistic treatment that Kelsey is doing. That does not even touch the outpouring of care and love from special friends to put together a website for T-shirt sales, helping send out T-shirts, offering days at the salon when proceeds are donated to Kelsey, and selling Kool-Aid, cookies and granola. We have only a small picture of the outpouring of prayer that is constantly going up to God's throne on our behalf. Chalk up yet another example of God's added mercy, multiplied peace and full giving of grace.

The fight continues. There will be dark times, but we pray for those moments when we experience His grace. How can you help? Number one, continue praying - specifics below. There are also opportunities to give and tell Kelsey's story through direct donations and purchasing T-shirts. Check out the links on the right navigation bar. On the T-shirt site, you will see other opportunities to participate if you choose to read more about additional ways to support Kelsey and her family.

As we have said multiple times before, healing rests in God's hands. We have seen an encouraging possibility and have come in contact over this week with some wonderful Christian people who offer a new perspective and research to add into the equation. Yet, there is ongoing pain, lack of appetite, weakness, nausea, vomiting, coughing, oh, and did I say pain? Here are some ways you can be praying:

-- Pray for our spiritual health and physical endurance. Pain is a quick way to derail your grasp of truth. Pray that we can all have special times in God's Word and special times in prayer.

-- Pray for rest. With pain, rest is often elusive for Kelsey. It is also the time her body detoxifies most, so she often awakes covered in sweat. Pray that her rest is uninterrupted and sweet even when she wakes three times every night to take supplements and pain pills.

-- Pray for wisdom in treatment. We are hoping that our doctor in Tulsa will be able to speak with this researcher in OKC to figure out which of Kelsey's supplements and IVs should be continued and which may no longer be necessary.

-- Pray that Kelsey would be filled with hope. Thinking of starting another treatment is not appealing to Kelsey, but there seems to be a tremendous upside possibility.

-- Pray for pain relief and for wisdom in how to treat some of the alignment issues that Kelsey is dealing with. Her hip is out of alignment, not only causing pain, but making walking extremely difficult and most positions very uncomfortable.

-- Pray for Kelsey's breathing. She is often short of breath and is not able to breathe deeply without coughing. She often has coughing spells and these coughing spells include coughing up bloody mucous, which is very frightening for her. She is sleeping in a recliner to try to stay more upright. We have purchased a new bed to arrive next Thursday which will hopefully help with the coughing spells when resting.

-- Pray for full and complete earthly healing of Kelsey's body.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

More cancer - more discouragement

Once again, not the news we were praying for today. This afternoon, the Tulsa doctor shared some hard news with Kelsey - it appeared from the chest x-ray the cancer in her lungs may be spreading. I was not there when the news was shared, but it sounds like it may be in the two lower lobes of her lungs (I'll talk with the doctor more tomorrow for clarification). One things seems to be certain, it is not disappearing. This explains why Kelsey has been coughing up some blood in her mucous.

He ordered another round of blood work to compare her stats now versus a month ago to see if there is progress being made on the treatment. He did share with Kelsey and Marilyn it is not time to give up, we have really only just begun more holistic treatment. He said it is time to fight.

In other news, the colonic went well for her today, so we are grateful that was not a painful procedure as it is a somewhat awkward position and not as cushy as a bed or recliner. The roundtrip to Tulsa was not as painful as the trip from Houston to Coppell last Friday, which is a big praise!

We continue to unashamedly ask for bold and persistent prayer. At the end of the day, God is the ultimate healer and we know He can heal Kelsey. Here are our requests:

-- Healing - complete and total healing. No more spread of cancer and wisdom on the part of doctors to know how to get this cancer under control.

-- Encouragement, hope and a sense of purpose for Kelsey. After a calf tumor resection and dealing with the pain and long process of getting the stereotactic radiation, this was definitely not the news she wanted to hear.

-- A good appetite for Kelsey - she is definitely not gaining weight, it would be healthy for her to do so.

-- Wisdom on our part to know the best way to continue to fight.

-- Kelsey will start at-home IV infusions again tomorrow. Pray for complication-free, highly effective therapy.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Post stereotactic update

We are back in Norman after another trip to Houston. You will clearly notice this is an update from Chris (short and scant on details).  I am sure Kelsey will fill you in on more in the future, but she is in a bit too much pain to sit and compose a post at the moment. Here is a brief rundown of the trip - I'll see if you can figure out the acrostic.

Had a meeting with a pain management doctor, which was informative and helpful.
Once again, another new prescription. We pray it helps Kelsey with her pain.
Unusual, but very appreciated, Kelsey got in to her radiation appointment a bit early.
Stereotactic radiation - Kelsey was finished with the procedure in an hour and a half.
Tons of prayers answered - the procedure was less painful than anticipated.
On the way home, Kelsey experienced the worst pain she has dealt with to this point.
Now, her pain has subsided some, but she is still dealing with very constant pain.

Okay, the non-acrostic version now to pass along a bit more information. It was a very quick trip - we made it down to Houston on Thursday night, had an appointment with a pain management doctor, had her radiation and then headed back to Coppell on Friday, then headed back to Norman on Sunday. Kelsey was concerned she would be very uncomfortable during her stereotactic radiation due to being kept in one position, but thankfully, she was not. The trip home was actually the most uncomfortable part of the trip for Kelsey - seemed like the radiation may have aggravated her nerve a bit more than normal.

Here is how you can be praying:

-- Kelsey is traveling to Tulsa tomorrow to meet with her doctor there and pick up another round of infusions. Be praying the trip up and back will be as painless as possible.

-- She is getting a chest x-Ray tomorrow because she has been coughing up a bit of blood along with mucous in the morning. We are praying the mucous is being caused by healing reactions in her lungs as her doctor in Tulsa suggested.

-- She is also getting a colonic tomorrow, be praying it will be helpful in cleansing her liver and easing some of the liver pain she has been experiencing.

-- Pray Kelsey will be able to deal with her pain as well as the side effects of the medication she is taking. And, for once the pain is not me, what a relief!

-- Continue to pray for wisdom and confidence in treatment.

-- Total healing. No more pain in Kelsey's back and hip. No more cancer.

We so appreciate all of your prayers. It is encouraging and sustaining to know you all are praying!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Warm-up the toaster!

Okay, I seriously doubt the folks at MD Anderson call their multi-million dollar Tru-Beam radiation machine a toaster, but that is exactly what I intend for it to do tomorrow to the tumor that has decided to take-up residence on my nerve root. It is high time for this tumor to get fried like no other. And, I hope that's exactly what my lovely warriors have been praying for as well.

I have to admit, this is a first for me. I am composing this blog with my left hand on my iPhone while laying down in the back of our minivan en route to Houston. So fair warning - this could be a total disaster.

I apologize I have not updated the blog sooner. It truly has been so difficult to be in the constant pain I have been in along with the constant rotation of narcotics to even think about composing anything that makes sense. I am so excited about the prospect of being able to sit-up without wincing pain.

Thanks to your many, many prayers and a faithful God, the stage hass been set tomorrow for the death of more evil in my body. Along with this answered prayer, my insurance has approved the procedure without a hitch! I finally got smart and started working with my BCBS caseworker. Sweet Jane Anne took care of every detail for me, and we didn't have one hicc-up. Praise the Lord!

MDA SCHEDULE 

10:55am - Appt with a pain management doc

2:30pm - Stereotactic radiation to the tumor near my T6

UPDATES & PRAYER REQUESTS

-- My post-op appointment concerning my calf resection went very well. My incision is healing beautifully, and I am very close to walking without crutches. Please continue to pray for total healing of my calf and the ability to fully weight bear on my foot when I take a stride.

-- Pray for an encouraging appointment with the MDA pain management doctor. We realize the pain I am experiencing will not be instantaneously relieved by radiation. It may take several weeks. Pray for wisdom for the doc to know what to prescribe for me that would allow me to function during the day and also alleviate the pain.  Throughout this journey, I have been very concerned about long-term damage to my organs. The hydrocodone I take every four hours has acetaminophen in it which is very hard on my liver. I would love to be able to ease up on that medication.

-- Please lift-up Dr. Brown and his entire staff as they perform the stereotactic radiation sequence. I never want to take for granted that this just works. I want to trust God completely with every high-powered beam that is blasted into my tumor. Pray for no short-term or long-term side effects. Pray for total death to this tumor and any other cancer cell that thinks it wants to take host on or near my spine.

-- Pray for my ability to lay very still for over an hour in a very uncomfortable position with my hands above my head.

-- We had our first full week of IV infusions at home. There were several hiccups along the way, but we have some brilliant friends who are helping us with great grace. The learning curve to my holistic therapy is quite overwhelming but with God's grace and lots of laughter, we are making it through.  Continue to lift us up, especially my mom, who helps me with the therapy. My infusions take about five hours a day, so we are also trying to adjust to a lot of time connected to a bag.

-- Since my diet is very restrictive, we are struggling, once again, to help me gain weight. At my doctor's appointment this week, I tipped the scales at 115 lbs. I never dreamed that my weight would be the reverse of my height, which is 5'11". Of course, since I am in constant pain, I have no appetite. Please pray I will stop looking like a member of a concentration camp very soon. I hate looking & feeling so weak & frail.

In closing, I wanted to share a very encouraging devotional from my mom about faith defined. The last couple of months, my faith has been under fire. With constant pain, I question God's hand in this. Doubts creep in as I examine all my body has been through - is healing really possible with this wicked disease? As we commit ourselves to a very aggressive & expensive holistic therapy, I question if we chose the right path. Faith is a constant struggle. 

As this devotional reminds me, faith is never to be placed in the circumstance but the One who controls the circumstance. Lord, help us all to trust you with whatever you are allowing us to face. Remind us you are our ever-faithful, always loving, never-changing God. And help us glorify Your name as we learn to trust You more.

FAITH DEFINED 

"In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 1:6-7 NASB)

How do we express our faith? We express our love for Christ through worship, missions, tithing, learning more about Him through Bible study and church attendance, but how do you express faith? Our greatest expressions of our faith come when we face uncertainty.

If asked, “Do you have faith?” I am sure you would respond “definitely!” How would your friends, coworkers and neighbors respond if asked how they had seen you express your faith? Uncertainty allows us the opportunity to live out our faith. Daily, sometimes even moment-by-moment trusting God fully and openly. Marriage troubles, unsolvable or long-term illnesses, problems with our children, caring for our aging parents, financial difficulties, and unforeseeable circumstances that bring us to our knees knowing there is not a thing that we can do to fix our circumstances. Not knowing what will happen or what we will face next, we look towards heaven and say, “Lord, I know you have this under control, so I rest in your love and wisdom.”

It has become my opinion that our struggles are our opportunities to glorify God most. Our heavenly director calling out “ACTION!” Sure, people see you each day, some even watch who you’re with, how you drive or spend your time or money, but when hardships come you have the opportunity to show friends and family, neighbors and strangers, coworkers and your community what a mighty God we love and trust. It is faith defined – walking the talk.

When uncertainty tries to take over my thoughts, I go back to what I know and what I want to show. God is my Creator and the author of my days. He is wisdom, and He has a perfect plan for my life to lead me to His glory. He loves me more than I can understand. That is all I need to know. I do not need to know what will happen tomorrow or how things will turn out. I do not need to know what, when, why or how – I just need to know God. My prayer for you today is that you would know God – know that He loves you more than you can understand and know that He has things all under control – just trust Him.

Kathy Branzell