Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Wish you were here...

I smirked a little typing that... Wish you were here ... Makes me think of old timey, beachy postcards... Which made me think of the time you and I were poking around in one of our favorite little shops and we found this quirky stationary and started lamenting that no one writes letters anymore. It's such a shame, we said. Like when you die, I won't have any correspondence (Who says that in everyday conversation? Apparently me?) between the two of us. People don't save their emails or text messages. And even if you did, it would just be written in this informal type that gives no window into the human soul like authentic handwriting can.

Huh... I said that. I said, "When you die, I won't have any written words between the two of us.... We ought to start writing one another letters, like they did in the good ol' days..." "Yeh, we should," you said, "but who has time for that? Maybe one day...." Gosh. That was probably a little over a year before you were diagnosed, maybe two before you did die. If only we'd known....would we have taken the time to write one another? Who knows...

What I know is we didn't. What I know is I have very few things that actually have your handwriting on them, one of which is a short grocery list written on a tiny hot pink sticky note, stuck to my red beans and rice recipe. Every time I reach for that recipe, there your note is, almost mocking me because while I know you wrote it when you were sick, I can't remember the circumstances or the specifics of that particular day.. Like did we go to the store together that day, what was the weather like, what did we watch on tv that night, what did we talk about, how long was I there for, and on and on...such minor things but, oh, how I wish I could remember.

Another is a list of memories you had written down to share at our wedding rehearsal dinner. You didn't finish it so you read it that evening in its incompleteness and said you would finish it up over the summer and give it to me then. Except you didn't. You didn't get to finish it. And truth be told, I happened upon it, tucked behind some little tchotkes on a shelf in your bedroom, when I was cleaning one day. And something inside me said - take it. Take it home. Take care of it and when she gets better give it back to her to finish. Except I didn't. Because you didn't get better and now you can't finish it.....

I wish I could write you, Jen. I wish you could write me back. If I could write you a letter tonight, this is what I would say...

Dear Jennifer,

I love you. I love you in the only way your sister could. I love you different than Lindsey loves you, though, because she and I are different and the relationship, the friendship, I had with you was different.

I miss you. I miss you every single day. Every single one. Can you believe it? There is not one single day that goes by that I don't think of you and miss you terribly. Does that sound trite? Cliche? You know, I don't really care if it does. Because its positively true. The ache is different day to day. Sometimes it's a dull, almost numb, ache. Sometimes it's a sharp and painful ache. But I go along... day by day... week by week... month by month... *And now it's years that separate me from you.

I wish you could come and visit. I'd introduce you to Fowler. You would think he's the best. And then of course you met Mac but you could get to know him, and you would see that he's the best too...and so very much like you. I'd tell you all about Lindsey and Eli and Dottie and the new baby Jenny Clay, named after you! And I know Matthew would love to see you. He loved you. He told me the other day how much he wishes he had gone to Nashville to stay with you when you were sick, to help you, to be there for you. I told him how much you would have loved that, how much it would've meant to you.

I'd show you around the house, our grandparents' 1940s home. We could talk about when Grandaddy would  play hide and seek with us and about the time we ate so many King Leo peppermint sticks we got horribly sick and also about the time Granny practiced baptizing (by submersion!) our little Presbyterian fannies in the front den while Grandaddy watched the Sunday afternoon race. We could talk about Fowler's upcoming birthday party, what I should get him, what I should get the boys for their Easter baskets, what they should wear for Easter ... You would be full of ideas and have the best ones, I know. Nobody cares to talk about that kind of stuff with me, ad nauseam, the way you did. You always indulged my selfish me, me, me talk.

I have a confession to make - I have prayed for The Lord to deal with my selfishness. I'm so miserably self-absorbed and no one felt the effects of my wretched, me-oriented world more than you (and perhaps Matthew ;). I'm sorry for my selfishness. I'm sorry I was concerned more for me than for you. I'm sorry I did not love you sacrificially. I'm sorry for the hurt I caused you, and I know I did. I wish I could wipe it all away. I am thankful for The One we love who has wiped it all away.

On that note, enough about me.... Tell me about you... How are you? What is it like? Who have you gotten to see? Where do you live? In a house? In a mansion? Just off a street paved with gold? How is the food? What do you do everyday? How do you feel? Are you laughing because my questions are so short-sighted and silly? ...Most importantly, what is He like? Do you even have the words? Can you find a way to describe him in a way that my finite mind and rotten heart can understand, can grasp? Oh please! Tell me all that you can and don't leave out one single part! The greatest and the sweetest and the deepest longing of all my life is to be there with Him... My life is like the morning fog - it's here a little while and then it's gone. It will not be long until I am there. How I pray The Lord will prepare me for it while I am here and prepare the ones I love most dearly. How I pray He will use me as His vessel to bring more into His heaven.

I love you, Jen. See you soon.

Your sister,
Lauren

*Romans 8:35-39
35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”[a]) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[b] neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Maybe, just maybe

Pain still lurks in the hallways of my heart.

Pain for you. Pain for me. Pain for Mom. Pain for Billie. The old adage says time heals. Time heals... the heartache? Time heals...  the loneliness? Time heals... the desperation? Time heals... the crazy? Time heals the....pain?

So if something gets healed, it's like something goes away, right? Well maybe, just maybe, this pain I feel is not supposed to go away. Maybe, just maybe, this pain was meant to stay around. I kinda hate this pain because it hurts so bad. But I kinda love this pain because it keeps me connected to you.

And that's what I want so desperately. To still be connected to you. I don't know how not to be but, at the same time, every day that passes is another day separating me from earthly you. It's another day that a memory I once had of you slips away.

And fear hits.... If time keeps passing by and memories keep slipping away, what if I run out? What if I stop remembering you?

I woke up in a panic the other night trying to remember you.... The way you laughed, the way you motioned your hands when you talked and you were trying to explain something.... and even small things like the way you readjusted in a chemo lounge chair while we watched Breakfast at Tiffany's on the little tv monitor in your "stall". What in the world were a 31-year old and a 29-year old doing in a chemo lounge? Am I the only one who thinks those ages sound too young? .... But then again, I guess if I'd typed 72 and 70 that'd sure sound young to an 86-year old.... But then again, I didn't see anybody else our age in the chemo lounge... ever. (Not that folks that age don't deal with cancer and chemo and all the rest... You just didn't encounter many in your cancer world.)

It dawned on me a couple months ago that I will soon outlive you... I will, in two weeks Lord willing, outlive my big sister. My goodness, how did I get here - to 32 years and some months - and you didn't? That's another post and another glass of wine ....

So as I ponder what to do with my life that gets lived longer than you got to live yours (if I make it that far - I'm still about 14 days shy)..... I'll sit here with my pain, with the ache in my soul and the thick lump in my throat, and I'll long for heaven and my precious Jesus. What else is there?

And maybe, just maybe, the pain is all part of His perfect plan to make much of His perfect self. The One who will one day take all the pain away.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

How will I tell them...

How will I tell my boys about you...
what words will I use to describe you....
what words will I not use - those are just as important...
what memories will I choose to share ....
what memories will I not share because I don't remember them...
yet, maybe you would have ...
if only you were here to jog my memory....
and if only you were here so they could know you....
how will I capture you? Where will I start?
Will it be specific details or will it be the essence of you?
Will it be how you would like to be remembered?
or will it be the you I share as I remember?
And will that do you justice?
Or will I simply say,
"She was wonderful, boys,
and she would have loved you more than you'll ever know.
You will know her too, one day, in our heavenly home."

....A couple, maybe a few, times I've thought to shut down this blog. It's over. She's over. Her story's been told, and she's gone. And she is all this was ever about. But that's not the truth. This blog was more. It was more than about her. It has been and will be about HIM. God, please let her life be more than just a great sister that I had a hard time getting along with sometimes. Let her life be more than, "She was so smart," and, "Look at her degrees and academic accolades". Let her be a signpost pointing to You.

She's there. She's with You. Oh, for a glimpse, for a taste.... Do you give us glimpses and tastes on this side? I believe so.... The contentment of a nursing baby - oh, but that's the contentment of heaven isn't it? The hope of a groom and his bride - oh, but that's the hope of heaven. The joy when Daddy comes home from work - but isn't that the joy of Christ coming for me? The love of a dog for its kind master.... Is it any wonder that dog is God spelled backwards? Are you using these simple, loyal, loving creatures to tell us something about almighty, infinite, unconditionally loving YOU?

I love You, Lord, and I pray You will help me love You better with each passing day. And I pray my boys will never, ever, know a day where they don't love You and long to know, enjoy, and serve You. Oh, Lord, that they know You. Oh, that they are known by You. Let them be content with nothing but You. Fill their hearts with a longing for You and a satisfaction in You. And let them bravely, courageously, tell the world there is nothing better than You.

I miss you, Jen. Gee, I can almost hear you say back, "I miss you, too, Lauren." Oh, Jen. How my heart aches for you. How I wish I could pick up the phone and call you. How I envy sisters that get to do that. I want to scream and kick and punch the air and say to everybody that ever looks my way... WHY?????!!!!!!! Why MY sister????!!!!! Why her????!!!! Don't you even know????? Why do you take all this for granted? Why do you consider each day with the ones you love anything less than a gift? Treasure it! Can we get a do-over? Can we get a rewind button? Can we start back at the beginning and do it all (except for the sick part) again? ....Nope. That's not the way it works. All I get is this moment. I can't even get a fast forward button or a peek into the future. I get this day. I get this breath. I get this choice. I may never get another one in this earthly life.

Oh, Lord...let my days count. Not for me but for you. I sit here tonight thinking of You, thinking of all those that I love that are there with You, and thinking of when I get to meet you face-to-face... and Oh Lord, my God, I'm scared. How I want to prove myself faithful. How I want to  prove myself worthy. How I want to make you proud. And I hang my head in shame and hopelessness. I will never be faithful or worthy or esteemed enough. And, with a heavy sigh, I at last draw a breath of all I ever needed or will need. JESUS. Thank you, God, for Jesus. He is enough. Lord, HOW WILL I TELL THEM OF YOU? GIVE ME THE WORDS.

Monday, December 31, 2012

God with Us

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

~Author unknown

O Come, O Come Emmanuel was sung at Matt and Jennifer's wedding on December 6th, 2008 and at her funeral service on December 24th, 2012. 

December 26, 2012

It's gray and cold outside today. One of those days when all you want to do is hole up inside. I'm taking down my Christmas decorations and thinking of you. It feels like everywhere I turn something's there reminding me of you...

There are the ornaments you and I bought when we were at Lowe's picking out a Christmas tree that first December all three of us sisters were living together. Since we were just starting out, we didn't have many. You and I were both anxious to decorate the tree that night so the Lowes ornaments had to do the job. They were our ornaments. We bought them together but instead of dividing them up when I moved out, you let me keep them...

While boxing them up, I ran across a paper mache wise man you made for me the year you decided we should home-make our Christmas gifts. He's so ugly he's beautiful - beautiful because you made him for me, and you made him out of love...

Then there's the nativity ornament I bought when you and I were shopping one day in Franklin. You and I loved to shop together, and Franklin was one of our beloved spots. I think of our favorite shop, Avec Moi (French for "with me"), and the snowman china we bought there one winter. We both fell in love with the pattern, and you bought me more dishes to add to my collection the following year for my birthday. I ordered some coordinating plates on-line last week and they arrived today via Fed Ex. How I longed to snap a picture of them and send it to you so we could talk about how perfect they looked with the snowman dishes. I would have told you the website I ordered them from and what a great deal I got on them so you could buy some for yourself. We just liked doing things like that with one another...

Something else arrived in the mail today - your Christmas card. There you are, with Matt at Seaside, you're beaming and beautiful and again, I want to pick up the phone and call you and tell you what a great card it is, how happy you both look. I sit on my couch staring at it, missing you so much it hurts and trying to remember the way it was when you were 'that' Jennifer, the Jennifer pre-cancer...

I think of when you and I were sitting on my couch together this past Thanksgiving. I had just had my baby about five days prior. I was exhausted but so glad you were there. You commented on the painting above my mantel, how much you liked it. We made small talk, nothing shared of any great significance. But now every time I shift my gaze to that painting, a lump chokes my throat. Why didn't I talk to you about anything more important than that stupid painting? Why didn't I tell you, right then and there, how much I loved you, how much I adored you, how wonderful I thought you were, how courageous, how compassionate, how caring? Why didn't I stop everything to tell you you were the best sister anybody could ever ask for?

There's a missed call and a voice mail on my phone. I check it and notice the last voice mail you left me. You were checking on the baby. In your voice mail, I can hear you struggle to breathe and it breaks my heart all over again...

I look around and see the plants and flowers that we took home from your funeral. Oh, Jenny, you would have thought the flowers were so pretty. They were so beautiful. Pink roses. They looked just like you...

I think back over the past 5 or 6 months. How hard you fought all 15 months, but especially those last months. You always held out hope. You never, ever, ever gave up. You wanted to live so badly. We all wanted you to live so badly. I think of all the things you encountered, all the things you endured - how hard it all must have been...

How hard it must have been... to be at work on a Tuesday afternoon in September... You had just gotten home from a lovely vacation and it was, by all accounts, a normal day until you got the phone call from Matt telling you to go to the ER, that he would meet you there.

How hard it must have been... to hear the news: leukemia. 30-years old, seemingly the prime of your life, and facing a disease threatening to snatch it from you.

How hard it must have been... to endure that initial, and lengthy, hospital stay with all of the tests and biopsies and chemo treatments.... to celebrate turning 31 in the cancer ward of the hospital. Wearing a knitted cap and a mask to your birthday party to cover up your thinning hair and to prevent risk of infection...to watch us all come and go while you sat, a captive in your room, Room 11010.

How hard it must have been...

....to find out your sisters, the two people in the world with the closest genetic make-up (or so one would think), were no where near a match to be your bone marrow donor.

....to hear the news: REMISSION, yet still wonder if you would ever live to hear the word: CURED.

....to face the bone marrow transplant... aware of the risks involved, wondering if the donor's marrow would 'take,' and understanding that it could be years before knowing if the procedure worked. It was anything but a quick-fix, and you knew full well the complications that could arise.

....to endure life post-transplant... constantly monitoring for fevers and signs of infection. Being told you could never enjoy being out in the sun again without wearing total body clothing with SPF in it. Knowing you couldn't risk things like gardening or eating certain foods. The exposure was too dangerous. Going in for PUVA treatments and having to wear big, funny looking glasses to protect your eyes from sun damage. Sitting through photophoresis treatments for hours on end. All the while waiting and wondering: am I going to be ok? The transplant's aftermath was physically and emotionally grueling, yet you faced it head on and made getting well your 24/7 job.

How hard it must have been...

...to find ways to occupy your time. You had poured so much of yourself into your work but in the spring after your transplant you were told that you were being replaced. You no longer had the option of going back to the job you loved and excelled at. You decided to throw your energy into sprucing up your home and finding activities and events that you were able to attend.

....to stand tall in public when children stared at you and the mask on your face. To hold your tongue and keep from shouting out to their mothers: I'm not wearing this mask because I could get them sick. I'm wearing it because they, and you, could make me sick! Please teach your children not to stare at people who look different! I remember standing in a check-out line during one such scenario. A little boy was staring at you. We both knew he didn't know any better. You ignored him and engaged me in conversation to quell the pain. You were a much better person than me. I couldn't ignore him. I stared right back at him as if he were from a different planet. If my eyes could have bored holes through him...

...to pick yourself up off the floor after falling time after time. You were weak and your balance was off. Sometimes while we were out running errands or shopping you would fall down. I remember one time Lindsey had taken you to one of your appointments while I stayed behind at the house to cook and clean. When yall got home she told me you had fallen outside the clinic that morning. I went upstairs to find you fumbling for bandages and antibiotic ointment. You sat on the edge of the bed, and I rolled up your pants legs to uncover your bruised and bloodied knees. I tried to clean them as gently as I could. Oh, those precious knees and those pitiful wounds. You never said anything about it. You never acted angry. You never blamed it on anything. You never cursed the stupid disease that was causing all this heartbreak and humiliation. Not at all. You simply picked yourself up and went on about what you were doing. My, how brave you were.

....to humble yourself and call others to come and care for you, to come and help you manage in your day to day when it was too difficult or you became unable to do it on your own. Our aunt happily gave so much of herself to you throughout the last year. We love her like a second mother. She's so full of life and energy. And, among other things, she has always been our favorite shopping buddy. As you rode in to your countless doctors' appointments with her, holding her hand and singing to the radio, I know you must have wanted to tell her: Let's skip the appointment! Let's just be carefree today, like we used to be, and shop all day and eat at fabulous restaurants and then go to the movies afterwards! But instead, you were forced to spend entire mornings or afternoons confined to treatment rooms and logging vital signs.

How hard it must have been...

....to find out your lungs were functioning at only 25% capacity. To know that you had contracted bronchial obliterans syndrome and that the medicines being used to treat you were simply a clinical trial. No medical evidence you could bank on. You could only hope.

....to have to repeat yourself to waiters over and over again trying to explain to them why you had certain food restrictions. Your voice was so soft and sometimes, because of your mask, they couldn't hear you forcing you to repeat your condition. As if it wasn't hard enough to say once. It was almost like a cruel joke. Watching you have to state your lot in life to these perfect strangers who didn't seem to care, all to avoid being served something that could threaten your life.

...to have to be helped when bathing or dressing. Being able to do very little all on your own. To have your hands shake so badly that you could hardly write and even tapping on your iPhone was a chore.

....to be told: The cancer is back. Not only are your lungs failing you, but the cancer is back. Oh, Jen. How scared you must have been, yet you never let on, you never let the fear of the unknown consume you.

...to arrange your final beach trip with your family. Did you know it would be your last? I never knew if you thought it was so. You were so very hopeful, so very optimistic. You spent each day with us on the beach. How hard it must have been to watch your sisters, nearly eight- and nine-months pregnant, playing in the sun and the water while your sickness forced you to sit under the umbrella shielding you from the sun, forced you to face the harsh reality that you would never know the joy of carrying a little one in your womb, of holding and nurturing and caring for a child of your own.

How hard it must have been to have to wear a helmet and ride a bike that was different from all of ours, one with three wheels instead of two, to prevent you from a fall caused by your imbalance....

On that last day, I'll never forget it for as long as I live, we were packing our beach bags to head back to the house. You stood up from your beach chair. You said, "I've come all this way to the beach and haven't even gotten to get in the water." (You couldn't because the bacteria in the water could have made you terribly ill.) You walked down to the water and put your toes in. It was October, and the water was cold. You stood there for a moment looking down at your swollen feet. Oh goodness, the steroids had made them so very swollen. You took Matt's arm and turned to walk through the sand and up the flight of stairs to the boardwalk. At the top, you sat down to catch your breath and to take in the beach one final time. Matt put his arm around you and you leaned into his shoulder. You paused with your eyes closed, your lips pursed to help you exhale, and your chest heaving with each breath. That image will be forever burned in my memory.

Oh Jenny, if I could turn back the clock and be back on that boardwalk, I'd tell you: Don't worry. Please don't be sad. Try not to be afraid. Where you are going is much more beautiful than this beach. You have all of heaven to hope for. We are the ones who should be sad because this beach is the closest we'll get to heaven for a while. The glory and grandeur of heaven will soon be your reality, and we will be left with nothing but this crummy old beach of South Walton, Florida. Of course I didn't tell you that. I didn't want to believe it. I was hoping, too, that you would pull through, that you would take many more trips to this 'crummy' beach with us. Your determination and perseverance wouldn't let me believe anything else.

You bought me a birthday present on that trip. Did you know it would be the last birthday present you would give to me? It was a small painted canvas of a cross. It sits on a table near my kitchen and every time I pass it now I think of you and your new life in the presence of the One who was slain on the cross for us.

....to visit Kosciusko, Mom and Dad's house, for the last time. To spend Thanksgiving writing down the rigid medicine schedule that enslaved you. I'll never forget the last time I saw you. My precious sister trapped in a body that was failing you miserably. We were at Mom and Dad's. It was the day of the Egg Bowl. Our Egg Bowls spent together cheering on the Rebs felt light years away. You wanted to hold and hug my baby one last time. When I handed Mac to you, he had his fingers caught in my necklace so he pulled me in close to you. That was the closest I had been to you in a long time, since we had given up hugs in fear of getting you sick. I tried to pull away quickly, scared to get too close to your face. I didn't want to be the one to make you sick. You said your good-byes but I can't, for the life of me, remember if I told you I love you...How I hope I did.

...in those last days, fighting for every breath. We talked on the phone exactly a week before you died. I called you and we spent a couple minutes chatting before you said you had to go upstairs, you'd call me back. It took awhile so when you called back you explained why it had taken you so long, that you had to catch your breath from climbing the steps. You shared with me how your feet were getting a little better but you were still frustrated that you couldn't wear most of your shoes. We talked about our dogs. We talked about the christening gown you wanted to buy for Mac. You told me to pick it out, you would pay for it. You made me promise not to let anyone else buy that for him. You never got to. You told me that Matt mentioned, starting 'next week,' you doing some light chores around the house. I know he was doing that to help you have a routine and to help you stay strong and focused but I told you, "Jenny, you don't do one thing you don't want to do. I'll tell Matt if you don't want to do those things." You know me, I wanted to defend you, even if it was unnecessary.

At your funeral service Rev. Plata said you were not afraid of dying, you were only afraid of leaving Matt here alone. I don't doubt that you were brokenhearted to leave the man you loved and had given your life to, but Rev. Plata was wrong. You were scared of more than leaving Matt. You told me you were in that last conversation. You said, "Lauren, I can't breathe. It's a scary thing to not be able to breathe, you know?" No, Jen. I don't know. I'm so very, very sorry that you had to know what that felt like. All I said back to you was, "I'm sure it's scary Jen. I know you must be scared."

You were such a fighter, Jenny, and you fought so hard. I honestly don't know how you did it for as long as you did. You never once had a 'woe is me' attitude. You never once let on like you might give up. You took your medicines diligently, up until your very last day. You were even putting on make-up and perfume that last week to go to your appointments, though not out of vanity. I don't know that you ever had a vain thought in your life. You just wanted to be normal, to be yourself, and you were constantly making an effort to be. You were focused. You were strong, though not physically. Your body was giving out long before your will did. It was this will to survive that kept you hanging on.

The night before you died, you were looking at pictures of Lindsey's baby she had delivered that afternoon. Daddy said you smiled at the pictures and that you loved her name - Dottie. You wanted to send cookies to Lindsey at the hospital. If we know anything about our baby sister, it's how much she loves cookies. You couldn't find the number to the cookie store so you told Matt and Dad to call me, that I'd take care of it. They told you to rest, to not worry about the cookies. Oh Jen, less than 24 hours before you would breathe your last, and you had someone else on your mind - your baby sister. You were always looking out for her and for me. You were always thinking of others.

You got up the next morning, just like you did every morning, to face a day that would be full of medicines, labored breathing, and doctors' appointments (appointments that seemed like torture because now the doctors' language had changed to 'keeping you comfortable' and concentrating on your 'quality of life'). A day that would have most people rolling back over in bed, no desire to go on. In fact, so many mornings I would wake up thinking, "What is Jen waking up to? How does she will her feet to hit the floor each day?" Just as I would lie down at night wondering, "How was she today? How much longer does she have?" then praying, "Oh Lord, rush to her and wrap her in your arms. Perform a miracle, Lord. Heal my sister."

That last morning Matt walked you downstairs, and you asked Dad to make you some cinnamon rolls. Something he always liked doing for us. He said he fed them to you, and you choked a bit. He encouraged you to spit it up and when you did it was blood. How scared he must have been. How scared you must have been. Daddy called me that morning to tell me you didn't have long. He was sobbing, Jenny. He loved you, his first little girl, so much. He helped you get to the couch and, laying you down, he watched you, wondering which breath would be your last. He and Matt were holding your hands when you slipped peacefully into Eternity.

Dad called Mom to tell her. She was walking into our aunt's house. She and Billie Jean had just left Lindsey at the hospital and were on their way to you in Nashville. Her phone rang and Dad gave her the news. She sat down on the couch in front of me and cried. She said, over and over, "No, no, no. My baby, my baby." She loved you too, Jenny, so very, very much. And would have done anything in the world for you. To help you. If she could've taken the cancer from you and put it in her own blood, I truly believe she would have. She hated leaving you in Nashville to go 'see about Lindsey' but told you that she was coming back. It would be no time and she would be back to take care of you. She didn't get the chance.

Praise heaven, you don't have to be taken care of any more, Jennifer. You are in a perfect body now, in a perfect home, with our perfect Father. I asked Him the other night, "Why allow her to go through all of that and not reward her with life at the end of it? Would it not have been better, been easier, been more loving to let her die on that fall afternoon she was diagnosed rather than let her live 15 months of suffering before taking her?" In my heart, I felt like His response might be, "Consider this: Would it not have been punishment to allow her to endure those 15 months of suffering only to let her go on living in a fallen, decaying, sin-ridden world constantly wondering in the back of her mind, 'will the cancer return'? Lauren, your sister has her very great and high reward. She has run her race and been granted her prize. And, I assure you, it is heavenly."

I don't believe for one second that you are reading this but still I write as if you can. Just because it helps a little and because I have to get used to knowing that this is the one blog post that you'll never read. I have to get used to knowing you're in a place where you are not bound by time and space. A place where no alarms ring for you to take your 8 o'clock meds. A place where chemo lounges and bone marrow transplants do not exist. You are in a place where there is no tears, no sorrow, no mourning. So I don't think you see my tears or bear witness to my sorrow and my mourning.

But I do believe you are with the One who does see my tears. You are with the only One who can comfort and bring peace to my sorrow and to my mourning. You are with the One, the only One that matters more than anything in life and in death, the Source of everlasting hope and joy and love and life. And I will be with you and with Him someday soon. My life on this earth, whether I live to 32 like you or to 89 like our grandmother, is but a vapor. It is a mist. And when it's over, I will rejoice for all eternity with you. I will rejoice with the angels, with the saints, with the prophets, the priests, the kings and all the rest who believe in Christ Jesus for their salvation. And we will all praise our great high Prophet, Priest, and King, our Emmanuel, forever and ever and ever. And it will be GLORIOUS.
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Dr. Jennifer F. Sample

Jennifer Fowler Sample, 32, died from complications of biphenotypic leukemia December 21st at her home in Nashville, Tenn.

Mrs. Sample was born in Flowood, and raised in Kosciusko. She received a bachelor’s of science degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences in 2002 and her doctorate of pharmacy in 2006, both from the University of Mississippi. She completed a residency in pharmacy practice in 2007 at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

During her four and half years at UMMC, Mrs. Sample was a clinical pharmacist for the inpatient nutritional service, and she created and headed the pharmacy position in the outpatient gastroenterology clinic. She held a faculty appointment as assistant professor in the school of pharmacy and held an administrative appointment as the third in command of the UMMC pharmacy. Also while at UMMC, Mrs. Sample was acknowledged as a clinical pharmacy specialist and a drug information specialist and was a distinguished member of numerous committees.

After moving to Nashville, Tenn., Mrs. Sample joined the pharmacy team at Vanderbilt University Medical Center where she was the outpatient chemo pharmacy manager.

Aside from Mrs. Sample’s professional life, she was a member of Cathedral of the Incarnation Catholic Church, Nashville, Tenn. Above all else, she considered her vocation as homemaker and wife most important. She served this vocation proudly until her last breath. 

Mrs. Sample is survived in death by her husband Matthew A. Sample of Ebenezer; her parents, Mickey and Lee Lea Fowler; her sisters, Lauren McCool and Lindsey Dew; and her grandmother, Lucy Fowler, all of Kosciusko. She will be forever remembered as a compassionate and courageous woman who loved her family, her friends, and her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
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As mentioned in her obituary, Jennifer had converted to Catholicism after their wedding. I respected her decision, and we had many conversations discussing our Christian faith. I, along with our family, do not uphold the beliefs of the Catholic church. We do believe that all Christians, no matter their religious preference or background, can and should be brought together by their shared love for Christ and that those who believe in Jesus and his redemptive work on the cross for their salvation will enjoy eternity with Him.

Thank you, Lord, for Christ. Thank you for leaving your throne in heaven to be among your people. Love come down from above to be with us, our Emmanuel. And thank you for living in the hearts of those who ask. Thank you that you are with us, even now, guiding us and directing us, loving us and comforting us. Oh Lord, help us to love and to serve you better with each passing day. Let our lives be lived wholly for you. The Lamb is worthy.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16

Monday, November 5, 2012

Words Cannot Express...

Sometimes things in life render you speechless...

 a marriage proposal...

 the untimely death of a close family friend...

crystal clear ocean water and sugary white beaches...

 news that the cancer has returned...

 These are moments where, as humans with limited means, we simply cannot find the words to express what we're feeling.

At the beach last week, Matthew and I were riding our bikes through town and we noticed a crowd gathering on the boardwalk. We parked our bikes and headed down to see what the fuss was about, assuming it was a wedding. Lindsey and Eli were already there so we sidled up to them to get the scoop. There was no need for them to say anything and even if they had, there was no way their words could have captured the moment. All Matthew and I had to do was follow their (and the crowd's) gaze westward.

Stunning. Beautiful. Awesome. Remarkable. Breathtaking. All would have been good words to describe the sunset we saw that afternoon but none would have come close to doing that sunset justice. Truly, sunsets are one of God's greatest masterpieces and He had painted this one on this particular day, for this particular group of folks, as a gift and a reminder that I AM is still in charge. No one can top Him. No one is in His realm. Or even close.

As I struggled that evening to describe the afternoon sunset to my mom and dad, I realized - there are no words in all the world's vocabulary to capture what we had witnessed. We were given a momentary glimpse of something straight out of Heaven, and I was reminded of Isaiah's words in Isaiah chapter 6, verse 5 when he found himself standing before the throne room of God,

"Then said I, 'Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the middle of a people of unclean lips: for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts." 

In that grand moment, where so many chalk it up to happenstance or a big bang or "Mother Nature," our eyes saw the King. If I have this much trouble summing up a momentary glimpse of the King, how will I dare speak when I open my eyes in eternity and find myself standing face to face with him, with Yahweh?

That name alone - Yahweh - evokes a sense of, "there are no words." It was used by the Jewish people to reference God. It was the holiest of names that he was called. So holy, in fact, that they wouldn't even utter it out of reverential fear for their God who bore the name. If they were to write it, the pen used was immediately destroyed. That's how seriously they took the mention of our Lord's name. I could easily go into a rant here of how flippantly His name is thrown around now, how lightly we consider it when it comes off our lips (and I am certainly in the guilty party); but I'll save that rant for another day...

The point is, in all sorts of ways and wonders, God renders us speechless at different points in our lives.

And so it was upon hearing of Jen's news a couple Mondays ago... The speechless feeling struck, and I wrestled to find the words to covey the hurt, grief and heartache I felt, and still feel, for her. God has brought her so far. She has endured so very, very much. She longs for a life of normalcy. A life with no doctors, no hospitals, no chemo and no cancer. I long for that for her. But I have a greater and deeper longing than that one...

Oh God, be magnified, be glorified. Make this all about You. For when it's not, it all becomes absolutely pointless. We are an unclean people, fallen and living in a broken world. You are our only Hope. We do not hope in treatments, medicines, doctors, or cures - We hope in You. Our Shelter, our Rock, our Mighty Fortress, our Firm Foundation, our Savior. You are our Perfect Provider and in this perfect provision, you made a way for us to speak to you when our finite minds can't find the words. The Holy Spirit listens to the praises, the longings, the desires of our hearts and translates them to you. Thank goodness for the Spirit, for we would forever come up short in our worship of you and in our pleading with you. Lord, I do not know how to pray for Jennifer now. I do not have the words. Give me a prayer from your Spirit that I know you will hear. Until I am given the words, listen to the aching and groaning of my spirit and give us all that we need to make much of You in this difficult and trying time.

Like the beautiful sunset, we can know that this too is momentary. There will come a day when we live in an eternal home where the sun never sets. There will be no more darkness, no more pain, no more sorrow, no more grief, no more tears. The SON will reign forever, and we will rejoice in ways and with words that we were never capable of while on earth. Praise God for that day. A day where we stand before his throne and cry out, "I am undone. My eyes have seen the King."

 Prayerful Ponderings: 

 Jen began her first round of chemo last Monday, October 29th. All seemed to go well and by the end of last week her blast (cancerous cells) count had leveled off with no increase or decrease. The prayer is this: That the chemo, though it is not as aggressive as before, will be effective against the blasts rendering a decrease in blast percentage. Also, that the GVHD will be kept at bay. Right now, all seems to be going well in the GVHD department, and we pray that it continues as such. Pray most of all that Jennifer's spirit will be bolstered and ministered to by God. That she will count this suffering all joy for His sake. Pray, rejoicing confidently, that God is sovereign and whether or not He chooses to heal her, we know He will do what is best for her and what brings Him utmost glory. Our hope is not in what He can do for us now or in the future but in what He has already done. Praise Him for Christ and his work on the cross, without which all would be lost.

The Vandy Verses:

 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. Romans 8:26

Tell us what we should say to him; we cannot draw up our case because of our darkness. Job 37:19

Monday, October 22, 2012

Update

271 days ago, Jennifer received a fully ablative bone marrow transplant.  In English, she had an extremely toxic chemotherapy and radiation regimen to totally eradicate her own bone marrow and had another person's bone marrow put in its place.  This was a risky maneuver and fraught with fairly high treatment related mortality, but the trade off for us was that if afforded Jennifer the best chance at disease free survival. Today, we are sad to report that Jennifer's leukemia has returned despite our aggressive approach in treatment.  This was what we all lived in fear of.  We met with Dr. Savani today, Jennifer's transplant doctor, who went over the results of the bone marrow biopsy and the treatment options we have.  Due to Jennifer's recent bone marrow transplant (less than 1 year ago being recent) and her extensive graft versus host disease, an aggressive regimen of chemo to quickly put her back into remission is ill advised.  It is associated with around 30% treatment related death (i.e. death as a direct result of chemo).  We are offered a less intense regimen with the goal of slowly achieving remission.   Our chances of remission are slim, and our chances of sustained remission meaningful for long term survival is even more slim.  However, we are not without hope.  Patients have survived this in the past and Jennifer's attitude is superb.  We will give this our best shot.  We will need your unceasing prayers for remission and safety in treatment.  We will also need your prayers for our steadfastness in this endeavor and that our focus will not be removed from glorifying God through this illness. Jennifer and I along with our families will be taking an impromptu trip to Florida for some much needed R&R and bonding prior to this next round of treatment.  Be prayerful that we will be safe, avoiding infection, and enjoy our time with one another. My best to you always, Matt

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Prayers Please

Jen received news today that the marker that gauges bone marrow engraftment revealed 97% engraftment. This is down from 100% several months ago and 99% a few months ago. While a 2 or 3 percent drop does not sound like much, it is obviously not as desirable as maintaining 100% engraftment. The drop could be caused by the steroid dosage she is on or, worst case, her body is rejecting the donor marrow. Please pray that her body is continuing to accept the marrow and that the drop is in fact being caused by the steroid dosage which will be a more easily remedied scenario. Please pray for the doctors, that they will continue to be blessed with wisdom and graciousness as they tend to Jennifer. Please pray that she will have THE peace that surpasses all human understanding.