What’s next

Occasionally, in life’s journey of trusting and serving, you find yourself on an unavoidable and unexpected detour. It seems like someone pressed the pause button and now you’re faced with a myriad of questions. Did we take a wrong turn somewhere? Maybe this new route is going to put us back on the same road we were traveling, just around the bend? Has that road been closed temporarily or permanently? Are we at the end of one journey and the beginning of another? Most importantly, “Lord, where do You want us to go next?”

Perhaps, when faced with an unexpected detour, it’s a good idea to pull off to the side of the road to pray about the route before us… To politely steer out of the traffic of fellow travelers and noise of well-meaning by-standers pointing you in various directions which may or may not be in line with God’s plan. More than anything, the planner in me wants to quickly plot the best route out of this potholed obstacle course, and get back on track. Yet, I know that’s impossible because we can’t map our own future. No one can. That’s just a silly presumption of an inexperienced traveler who has never been around the block. This fact is learned through twists, turns and bumps in the road and it’s far more obvious to anyone in the middle of one of life’s weird detours. I also happen to believe this detour is an important leg of our intended course, mapped out by our loving Father and life navigator. Still, there are so many unknowns and so many ideas bouncing around in my head about what may be next and where to go from here.

Here’s what we do know… Some things in our life ARE forever changed. My husband will need to be monitored and tested routinely for the rest of his life on this planet. He is responding really well to the chemo treatments, with only a few of the possible side effects. The chemo appears to be taking out “the bad boys” as one member of his medical team told us. When we returned from Italy Mike’s cancer cell “marker” number (whatever that is) was at 77, then it went down to 28, and today we found out that it is down to 17! The “normal range is 0-34! That doesn’t mean the cancer is gone, but there are much fewer “bad boys” (i.e. cancer cells) rummaging around in there! He has regained some of the weight he had lost, has a healthy appetite, and looks great once again.

God is answering our prayers and we know that He’s planning a complete healing! As Mike tells everyone, “He’ll either heal me here or heal me there. Either way, I’ll be healed!” (Of course, a complete healing here on earth is our prayer!)

So, while we’re in the midst of what appears to be a detour to only-God-knows-where, we have a lot of decisions to make. Since God hasn’t let us in on all his plans, we’re doing our best to stick close to Him and stay flexible. Wherever this detour may lead, in the here and now, we need to make a living, so after a lot of prayer, I’ve decided to start a business that I can pick up and take with us (wherever God leads). I’m starting a Portable Painting Party Business where I can bring everything needed to walk a gathering of friends, through an acrylic painting step-by-step. I’m working on getting a website up and running (hopefully this week). I’m also considering other painting or ministry related jobs, including painting murals, decorative interior wall treatments, tile mosaics, regular interior painting and color consulting.

We all tend to dread detours even though we know they are put there for our well being, sometimes because the road has been closed either permanently or temporarily, sometimes due to dangerous obstacles in the path, and other times because the road is being straightened, repaired or refurbished. Whatever the reason, detours are always there to benefit the travelers! They are a part of the big plan, even though they may not be part of our plan. (Uh, Yes, I am preaching to myself, now.)

We so appreciate your prayers as we seek the Lord with this big question, “What’s next?”

We are also praying for an opportunity to return to Italy this fall for at least a short-term trip (God willing).

Please continue to pray for Mike’s healing… For God’s loud and clear leading in the writing of children’s ministry curriculum… For opportunities to share the reason for the hope we have… For our family, friends, co-laborers, and body of Christ in Italy!

Be Our Strength Every Morning

IMG_0234It’s been a long month of waiting, but Mike finally has a chemo treatment schedule! A surgeon will put a port in his chest next week and then he’ll start chemo the following week. All the waiting has allowed him some time to recover from his surgery, get some of his strength back and even regain 8 of the 35 lbs. he lost. In fact, Mike’s overall health has improved so much over the past month that his doctor now believes he’s strong enough to handle a much more aggressive chemo treatment than he initially recommended. The downside of this chemo combination is that it will increase the likelihood of more adverse side effects like fatigue, weakness, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, hair loss, peripheral neuropathy, and low white and red blood counts, which could also increase his risk of infection. The benefit of this treatment is the hope that it will fight the cancer more aggressively. In some cases it has even shrunk the cancer back enough to allow a resection surgery to remove the cancer. Whatever the course of action, we know that ultimately, Mike is in God’s hands. So we ask for continued prayer for healing with minimal side effects, as well as wisdom, strength, and grace for the journey.

Thank you so much for the constant stream of encouraging words and prayers! This has been a very full month enjoying the company of our family and friends in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Thank you for your helping hands and for all the visits from near and far. Our hearts are full and our eyes are fixed on the Lord as we face the coming challenges.

LORD, be gracious to us! We wait for You.

Be our strength every morning and our salvation in time of trouble.” Isaiah 33:2

Real Life

“A man’s steps are established by the Lord, and He takes pleasure in his way. Though he falls, he will not be overwhelmed, because the Lord holds his hand.” ~ Psalm 37:23-24
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I remember sitting with Mike in a psychologist’s office fifteen years ago as part of the Fred Hutch assessment process for bone marrow transplant patients. She made a comment that struck me as rather odd. She said, “Let’s get you through this so you can get back to your life.” I couldn’t help but wonder, “What is ‘this’ if it isn’t our life?” Our life had certainly taken a turn we didn’t expect, but like it or not, “this” was our life.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination.”

More often than not, life does not unfold as we planned. An unexpected reality jolts us awake and we realize that this body we inhabit will only house us for a very short time. I used to think “the valley of the shadow of death” in the twenty-third Psalm referred to a season of sickness or fear that someone might pass through briefly, but the reality is that this Valley of the shadow of death is where we all live out our “real” lives. Being aware of this reality should help us to live and love with intentionality, while wisely preparing for eternity. David wrote in Psalm 39:5-7, “LORD, reveal to me the end of my life and the number of my days. Let me know how short-lived I am. You, indeed, have made my days short in length, and my life span as nothing in Your sight. Yes, every mortal man is only a vapor. Certainly, man walks about like a mere shadow. Indeed, they frantically rush around in vain, gathering possessions without knowing who will get them. Now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in You.”

Our hope is most definitely in the Lord as we adjust to our “real life” with Mike’s stage three adenocarcinoma pancreatic cancer! We may be facing many challenges and uncertainties, but one thing we know for certain, our God is for us and He’s given us so much to be thankful for! We have a wonderful family and many awesome friends and prayer warriors all over the world! Our flights back to the states were relatively smooth with minimal turbulence. We were even able to stretch out in business class as we flew over the big pond. Then we were blessed to spend several days with our daughter’s family and four of our grandchildren before returning home. As we settle back into our house in Washington, we find ourselves very thankful that the Lord didn’t supply the renters that we had been praying for! (Which seemed puzzling to us at the time, but now it makes perfect sense.) Just another reminder that trusting the Lord to write our life story is the best decision we’ve ever made! Only He can see the big picture and know how best to answer our prayers!

“Commit your way to the Lord; trust Him, and He will act.” – Psalm 37: 5

“Be silent before the Lord and wait expectantly for Him.”  – Psalm 37: 7

 

Let Your Unfailing Love Surround Us

Today we received the results from the biopsies that were taken from Mike’s pancreas during his surgery two weeks ago. They indicate that he has pancreatic adenocarcinoma (the most common type of pancreatic cancer that accounts for about 85% of all cases). This isn’t the news that we were hoping for. It means we have a very tough road ahead of us, unless God provides a miraculous healing. Fifteen years ago He did just that, so we have no doubt He can do that again, if that’s His plan.

We so appreciate your continued prayers, now more than ever!

“Let your unfailing love surround us, LORD,
for our hope is in you alone.” ~ Psalm 33:22

Joy Comes in the Morning

Laying awake, listening to the comforting assurance of my husband’s restful breathing beside me, like a rhythmic symphony written by the One surrounding us with His peace. So much to pray for as song birds begin to wake up Rome… no words, just stillness, warmth,  and a deep gratitude for every moment we have together.

I had hoped to update everyone when we had news from Mike’s latest biopsy results, but we are still waiting. We were able to leave the hospital late Monday afternoon, so I’m packing things up at our apartment. Mike will have another blood test and see his doctor on Monday, then God willing (when his doctor gives Mike a thumbs up to travel) we will head back to Washington in the next couple weeks.

Mike is still in a lot of discomfort as he recovers from his surgery. His incision is healing nicely and his post-surgical edema is going away slowly, but he still struggles with digestion and nausea. His last blood test showed that his bilirubin level is back to normal. (His high bilirubin level was the first indication that something was wrong.) His lipase level (which was very high after his surgery) is also coming down, indicating there may not be an obstruction that would require a pancreatic stint to allow flow from his pancreas.

We’re in a place where taking one day at a time is the only option open to us. Living in the moment is a good lesson for this chronic planner.

Our prayer requests are pretty much the same, but include a huge answered prayer: It looks like our international insurance through Aetna will be a lot better coverage in the States than we originally thought. Initially (when we bought the plan through Shepherd’s Staff) we were told that it would be great coverage internationally, but would likely only cover about 50% in the states.  It now looks like we may only be responsible for 20% and that may even have an annual cap. That’s really good news! Please pray for continued grace to cover all those details.

  • Please continue to pray for opportunities to encourage others and point people to a saving faith in Jesus Christ
  • Pray for our family as they eagerly await our arrival back in the states
  • Please pray the tests reveal a treatable variety of cancer and for Mike’s complete healing!
  • Please pray that all Mike’s medical records will travel safely through the mail, as we were told this is our only option. Mike’s doctor assured us he will give us copies of everything his doctors in the states will need
  • Pray we can easily pack up and wrap up all our accounts here (rent, gas, electricity, garbage, phones and internet)
  • Please pray for travel mercies and turbulence free flights
  • Please also pray for our dear friend and co-laborer, Jen Birkey, as she searches for a roommate to share the rent in our apartment. She moved in with us in December because her roommate got married and she didn’t have the resources to cover the rent of their apartment on her own. She went back to the states for the holidays and her sister’s wedding, then returned a couple weeks ago while we were in the hospital. She has truly been a gift from the Lord, even bringing me some real home cooked meals while I was staying in the hospital with Mike (living mostly on peanut butter, crackers and apples).

Thank you Lord, for our amazing friends and family!

Where Two or Three are Gathered in My name

Mike is recovering so nicely from Monday’s surgery that he may be able to check out of the hospital this weekend. His doctor didn’t preform the resection surgery that he had planned because he found diffused cancer cells throughout Mike’s pancreas and in several lymph nodes, indicating the cancer is advanced and therefore the resection wouldn’t benefit Mike. He did take out his gall bladder and put in a permanent stint to keep his bile duct open. He also took tissue samples from several areas and sent them for analysis. Mike’s doctor and radiologist are not sure why the cancer didn’t appear on the PET scan and other scans. There is a possibility that it may be an endocrine pancreatic cancer that might respond better to chemo than the more common exocrine type of pancreatic cancer. We are now in waiting mode again as these test results won’t be in until next week.

When we have the results and Mike is well enough ,we’ve decided to travel back to Washington so we can be near our family while he goes through the next steps of his treatment.

  • As we walk through this journey, meeting medical professionals and other patients who need to know the reason for the hope we have, please pray that God will continue to use us to encourage and point people to a saving faith in Jesus Christ
  • Please pray the tests reveal a treatable variety of cancer (or better yet, a miraculously disappearing cancer)
  • Please pray we won’t have any difficulty obtaining all Mike’s medical records before we leave
  • Pray we can easily pack and tidy up everything here
  • Please pray for travel mercies and turbulence free flights
  • Please pray for our dear friend and co-laborer, Jen Birkey, as she searches for a room-mate to share the rent in our apartment
  • Please pray we don’t run into issues with our global insurance coverage during Mike’s medical care in the States
  • Pray for our family as they walk through this with us
  • And most of all, please pray for Mike’s complete healing!

A prayer gathering for Mike is scheduled for this Saturday,  February 20th at The Gathering House, meeting room #2 (733 w Garland) in Spokane. Feel free to drop in anytime between noon and 3:00pm.

“For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them.” – Matthew 18:20

God of Hope, fill us with Your Joy and Peace

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” ~ Romans 15:13

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The results from Mike’s biopsy indicate that he has Cholangiocarcinoma, cancer of the bile duct. They are confident that it’s in the early stage and that it hasn’t spread, so they are preparing him for surgery on Monday at noon. From a medical perspective, a surgical resection offers the only potential chance of cure in cholangiocarcinoma, but we know that “nothing is impossible with God!” (Luke 1:37) We are thankful that Mike is a candidate for this surgery, because few patients have this surgery as an option since this cancer is so difficult to discover in its early stages. It is a major operation that will take around 6 hours. We are so glad to have so many of you, dear friends and family, holding Mike up in prayer!

  • Please pray for wisdom and divine guidance for the surgeon and medical team
  • Pray for God’s complete healing for Mike as well as a speedy recovery
  • Pray that the God of hope will continue to fill us and our family with all joy and peace as we believe in Him, so that we may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit!

A Promise that Transcends All Understanding

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

This promise is getting a lot of personal application lately! After almost a month of various tests and scans, we are still waiting for a specific classification, stage and prognosis of Mike’s cancer. The most likely areas for its origin include his biliary system or his pancreas.

The good news is that Mike’s blood work and bilirubin level improved enough that he was able to leave the hospital this week. Today he went back for a blood test, on Monday morning he’ll have a PET scan, and on Thursday he’ll have a laparoscopy procedure to get a biopsy of a nodule found in his pancreas. Depending on the results, he’s likely to be scheduled for surgery on Monday, February 15th. We’ll post an update when we find out more.

I can’t help but wonder how we would manage this cancer thing without the peace of God that transcends understanding. This certainly isn’t a battle we would have chose, but knowing the One who provides every breath we take, gives us the confidence that we are in His very capable hands! We know He can bring complete healing to Mike. We know that He’ll provide the strength we need for the days to come. We know that He loves us!

Thank you all for continuing to pray with us through this! Your prayers are certainly making a difference.

Here are just a few of our prayer requests that have already been answered:

  • We were able to get all of Mike’s scans and test results from San Giovanni (no small miracle)
  • God has opened doors to share the love of Christ with patients and medical staff
  • We’ve been able to get some much-needed rest in our own bed
  • The peace of God IS transcending all understanding and guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus!

Pray. Wait. Pray.

Pray. Wait. Pray. Wait. Pray. Pray. Pray. This is our life. All around us, everyday, people are in the same place. A couple is sitting in their doctor’s office waiting for answers. A military wife is opening her door to men in uniform. Someone is snapping out of their daydream to the sound of screeching brakes. Countless waiters in countless waiting rooms, watching time unravel before their eyes. In this place, more than any other, I’m so thankful to know we are held by the One who created time and space! The One who said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33)

My grace is sufficient

For almost two weeks, Mike has been hospitalized while doctors run test after test. A biopsy of his liver revealed that he does have cancer. A cat scan revealed the cancer has not spread to Mike’s other organs. Now they are studying his pancreas, bile duct, and gallbladder to determine the exact type of cancer in order to give us a diagnosis and prognosis.

After eleven days at San Giovanni Hospital (a government facility) we moved to the Rome American Hospital and Mike has a new Doctor who comes very highly recommended. He told us the cancer appears to be small and localized and that he wants to know everything he can before proceeding with surgery. Praise the Lord for this answered prayer of a second opinion!

Here are just a few of our amazing praises:

  • A friend at church (just happened) to notice that Mike was jaundice and insisted he get a blood test right away.
  • Our insurance was finally able to work out an arrangement with this private hospital even though they don’t have a contract with them.
  • We have an awesome church family here! Many of them have been running all over the place trying to get us moved here, trying to get Mike’s records moved here, and checking in on us. We are forever indebted to Evano, Vincenzo, Antoinella, Justin and Tessa (just to name a few)!
  • We have amazing family and friends all over the place, lifting Mike up in prayer and supporting us through this!

PRAYER is definitely our biggest need right now! Thank you so much for taking the time to lift Mike up in prayer!

Here are a few specific Prayer Requests:

  • Please pray that San Giovanni hospital will expedite the release of Mike’s test results. Pray they put aside their political bureaucracy to give us all his slides, contrasts, and pathology results so Mike’s new doctor can study them and Mike doesn’t have to go through the same tests again! He has already had to re-do an MRI yesterday, so his new doctor could examine it in a timely fashion.
  • Comfort and peace for our wonderful family back in the States
  • and please, ESPECIALLY PRAY FOR A COMPLETE HEALING FOR MIKE!