Saturday, September 17, 2016

A season of hardship...

I won't candy coat it.  2016 has proven to be a rough year for our family. One that has tested my faith in more ways than one and brought me to my knees in prayer more than ever.

And with that….I feel I need to explain and apologize for my absence from my blog.  As many of you know, I used to be so active and involved with this little space of mine-- I loved it.  It was such a fun hobby of mine and I loved connecting with other bloggers.  I enjoyed updating it weekly with photos and snippets of our daily family life--and intertwining it with my spiritual thoughts and testimony.  It was also my very personal way to keep in touch with my children's birthmothers and their extended families.

Due to some personal trials and storms of life that we have had come our way in what feel like "multiple doses" these past several months-- I just haven't been able to muster the energy, positive vibes or enthusiasm I once had to give to this space for some time now.

But I thought I'd take some time now and write some things that have been weighing on my heart for some time now.  It all began the second week of January when we received devastating news that my sweet  Dad has cancer.  Our entire family was in complete shock and blindsided by his diagnosis.  We had just spent Christmas together with everyone at my parent's home and had a wonderful time like we always do laughing and having fun together.  And then just two short weeks later --Dad found a mass in his neck while he was shaving.  I will never forget the phone call with he and mom that Thursday night in January when they called to deliver the news to us.  They called each one of us--their four children (face timed all of us individually to deliver the news) As they were talking and I was looking into their faces….I remember the feeling---I literally couldn't catch my breath...I couldn't think straight...I just couldn't process what I was hearing.

 After a series of tests and biopsies---it was confirmed--we got the heartbreaking confirmation that none of us wanted or expected to hear….a much more serious form of cancer.  I literally couldn't wrap my brain around it at first.  How was this not caught sooner?? Dad had always had his annual blood work and follow up doctor appointments. He has always led a very healthy lifestyle..never drank alcohol, smoked, etc.  The tears those first few weeks would not stop flowing. If I wasn't crying, I just had this constant lump in my throat trying to fight back the tears. I was angry and I had a lot of bitterness in my heart over it--I'm embarrassed to admit that--but it's true.

He's always been the rock of our family, my anchor and hero.  He and my mom are life-long sweethearts. He has always been active in mine and my brother's lives, our church and in our hometown community. In fact, he had just recently sold his dental practice he had happily owned in our hometown for almost 40 years and was looking forward to semi- retirement --still practicing some dentistry, but having more time to travel with mom, playing more golf and spending as much time as he could with his grandkids.  But we know God's hand was in Dad's decision to move to a semi-retirement phase and him feeling like it was time to sell his practice --there was no doubt it was an inspired decision. Because only a few short months after he finally made the decision and finalized everything, we got his diagnosis.  The Lord knew what was coming and he was shielding and protecting my parents, we truly feel that.  And he couldn't have found a better and more caring, talented dentist to take over his practice.  Dr. Furniss is a wonderful dentist and kind man.  Dad so enjoys working with him and still enjoys treating some of his patients.

My Dad has a form of leukemia that cannot be treated with chemotherapy or other standard treatments to eradicate the cancer--he has these rare deletions in his DNA that inhibit and weaken his immune system.  So instead, his treatment is limited to the clinical trial study--targeted cancer drugs.  After the diagnosis…I felt like my world was crashing in.  I pushed friends away and even at times, pushed my husband away emotionally.  I put a wall up because the hurt was more than I could bear at times.  I was in survival mode everyday those first few months--trying my best to take care of the kids and keep everything on the home front going as smooth as possible.

As hard as I prayed for strength and guidance, I just couldn't come to grips with the fact that I might lose my Dad…that we would have to watch him suffer living with cancer.  I worried about Mom and how she would handle all of this emotionally and physically.  And it made me sick that I live so far away and couldn't be closer to help them out more.  All these terrible thoughts, worries, concerns for my parents just kept swirling around in my head and I had awful anxiety about it all.  I questioned God and why did this have to happen to him?  He's such an amazing and wonderful Christian man, husband and father.  He's worked SO HARD his entire life and deserves to be able to enjoy this stage of his life and retirement with his wife and family. Why is having to suffer this way?

 To make matters a bit more stressful during this time …I had started back to work full-time as a 2nd grade teacher at Noah's school in January (a teacher had left mid-year and I had taken her position) and so our little family was under a lot of stress from the change with mommy going back to work.  Gavin and Taylor were having to adjust to going to daycare full-time.  So we had that change to deal with in addition to my Dad's cancer diagnosis.  Also, during all of this, Jody was in the midst of changing to a new law firm and new law partner---all of which was extremely stressful for him.  His travel for work  increased dramatically. We began to feel an immense amount of stress on our family at the beginning of the year due to his new job situation and me being back at work full-time.

After trying to balance the stress of it all for 2 months--leaving on Fridays after I got off of work and driving 7 hours  most weekends with the kids to see my parents and then driving back on Sundays to make it back to work on Mondays (it was exhausting to say the least to make these round trips).  Jody and I realized it just wasn't going to work.  The news we were receiving at this time from the doctors about my Dad's cancer was not good and what limited treatment options he had were truly depressing.  I dropped about 15 lbs. in the process and started feeling the effects of all the stress.  So, we decided it best that I resign from my teaching position.  I felt so awful about having to do this--that I was letting my students and colleagues down, but thankfully, my principal and superintendent  were so understanding and supportive of my decision.  There was a teacher who was ready to step right in and take over my classroom --and she was fantastic.  The Lord's hand was in it, I quickly realized and I was so grateful that it all worked out in the end.

So by the end of February, I had resigned from my position and I knew in my heart I had made the right decision, but it was confirmed for me in March that it was most definitely the right call.  About this time, as we were trying to wait and see if my Dad would be accepted into a clinical trial study at MD Anderson --something he desperately needed since he was not a candidate for chemotherapy and was starting to see and feel the effects of the cancer spreading, Jody became very ill and had to have emergency surgery to remove his gall bladder.  A few days following this surgery, he became worse and developed pancreatitis.  He was in the ICU in San Antonio for 11 days.  We almost lost him.  I've never seen him so sick.   I remember praying in the hospital the first few days we were there, "Heavenly Father…I can't handle this---this is too much.  Not my Dad and Jody.  Please God… don't take them both!"

Thankfully, Jody recovered and we were able to bring him home.  It took him several weeks to start to feel better from the pancreatitis. It's not an easy thing to recover from.  And hindsight looking back---what a blessing that I decided to resign from my teaching position---it would have been a nightmare trying to teach and commute back and forth to San Antonio while Jody was in the hospital sick and take care of the kids by myself.

Soon after we made it through Jody's health scare, we got great news that my Dad was accepted into a clinical trial study at MDAnderson--what a gift from Heaven this was!  It has been a miracle for him and my mom for him to be accepted into this study. His oncologist is one of the leading doctors in the world for this type of leukemia/gene deletion that Dad has.  He and his staff are truly miracle workers!  The cancer medicine they have him on has shrunk all his lymph nodes and is doing what chemotherapy would have done basically.  While he has experienced some tough side effects to date and has had to be hospitalized for pneumonia --he's such a trooper and continues to maintain such a positive attitude about his cancer journey.  Rarely (if ever) complains about anything.  I'm so grateful for both he and my mother's amazing example of faith and hope in the midst of such a hard trial.  I continue to learn so much from them about how to endure hard times with greater faith and hope through this experience.  Instead of focusing on their trial, they are throwing themselves into service and always looking for ways to bless others lives around them.

In addition to my Dad and Jody's health issues, I've had some health struggles of my own to overcome the past few months  ... in July I had a hysterectomy and my doctor had to take my last ovary (a surgery we weren't really planning on having to do) and I'm now experiencing full menopause with all the lovely hot flashes--so NOT fun…ugh!!  I've started the HRT which has helped off-set some of the yucky hot flashes--but the recovery has been a lot harder than I expected (not easy with three small children) and the changes in my body without all the hormones has taken some getting used to.  I'm so grateful I have such a sweet and kind doctor to work with to help me get my body back to feeling better again.  He's been wonderful! Also, the HRT injections have given me so much more energy--which is a great blessing since as you can probably tell-- I need all of the energy I can muster to be a mom to my 3 little ones! :-)

I was reading and searching for some spiritual nourishment the other night and came across this wise counsel about why God sometimes allows us to experience multiplehardships and trials in this life:

 “Just when all seems to be going right, challenges often come in multiple doses applied simultaneously. When those trials are not consequences of your disobedience, they are evidence that the Lord feels you are prepared to grow more (see Proverbs 3:11–12). He therefore gives you experiences that stimulate growth, understanding, and compassion which polish you for your everlasting benefit. To get you from where you are to where He wants you to be requires a lot of stretching, and that generally entails discomfort and pain”  
 --Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:(in Conference Report, Sept.–Oct. 1995, 18; or Ensign, Nov. 1995, 16–17).

We all have seasons of hardships in our lives.  They aren't fun…we wouldn't choose to go through them if we had it our way, but it's just the reality of mortality.  All we can do is face them head on, serve more to get our minds off of our own problems and keep moving forward as best we can ---all the while trusting in the Lord and relying on Him to carry us through them.  And He will. He always does. I'm humbled by the Atonement and the knowledge that my Savior knows and has felt every ounce of my pain and suffering. All of your suffering, too--isn't that hard to fathom?  That alone brings me so much comfort in the harder times of life.  Knowing that He listens to my prayers and fully understands my heartache.

I've also seen and felt these past months how the Lord sends others on his behalf to help us in our time of need. My extended family has surrounded us and cared for us and our children through our health challenges and I will forever be grateful to them for their love and support.  We have had so many dear friends in our community and from church who have prayed with us and and been there for us--praying for healing for my Dad and that has been such a blessing.

I am continually learning in this journey of life that our personal hardships have the potential to bring greater blessings and tender mercies into our lives in their own little way. I try to remember this on the days I'm feeling overwhelmed with my concerns about Dad's cancer, my husband's health, the stress of we have felt on our marriage or just those days I may feel like a complete failure as a mom.

Yes, despite 2016 feeling like a roller coaster with all of the challenges that have come our way…I am trying my best to make a more concerted effort of putting it all in the Lord's hands.  To not give in to the worry, anxiety, fear, anger and other worrisome feelings that weigh my heart down because I know these are just distractions that the adversary would love to use to impede my spiritual growth and happiness.  Instead, I am opting to make a daily choice to trust in my Heavenly  Father's plan for me and my family --knowing in my heart that He ultimately knows what is best for us.  And having faith that He will never forsake us in our time of heartache and pain. I'm also choosing to live more in the moment with my loved ones (instead of worrying about the "what if's") and appreciate the time I have with them. I also hope to carve out and make more time to do the things that I personally enjoy when I have some spare time to myself during the course of the day/week  i.e. blogging, photography, working out. :-) 

So my friends, I look forward to ( hopefully …wink…wink.. and crossing my fingers) putting a little more time and energy into this little space of mine again and sharing  the "sweet and messy" moments of the Mask family. ;-)

Love and blessings!

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