Sunday, December 20, 2015

Christmas Hope

Christmas can be stressful. So much to do. Shopping, wrapping, cooking, decorating, lights, sights, parties, traditions, family, friends...

Last year, Christmas changed for our family. We were living in two places, Tillery and I were in Cincinnati at the Ronald McDonald House while Luke and Joe were at home in Chattanooga. It was hard to feel in the "Christmas spirit" as we were two halves, missing our whole. We weren't doing our normal Christmas things like putting up a tree, shopping for gifts, or planning family gatherings.

Instead, each half was doing it's own thing. Tillery and I attended the Ronald McDonald House Christmas party, we met 7 Santas, we decorated Christmas ornaments that would hang on a tree that was not our own, and we met many wonderful people who gave up their time to help make our holiday special. Joe and Luke attended church Christmas festivities, ate a lot of takeout, came home to an undecorated house, and saw Christmas hustle and bustle happening around them but weren't a part of it.

The week of Christmas, things got crazier as Tillery and I were both diagnosed with the flu and were put on isolation precautions in the hospital. We were finally discharged from the hospital on Christmas Eve and Luke and Joe drove up late that night, arriving in the wee hours of Christmas morning.

We did not shop or wrap or go or do.

We woke up in a small room together. We opened donated gifts from the Ronald McDonald House. We ate a meal prepared by volunteers. We enjoyed each other and were grateful for all of our blessings.

It was a very humbling and growing experience. It allowed us to put our focus on what Christmas is really about: The Hope that comes from Jesus Christ.

See, our faith doesn't lie in the baby in the manger. Our faith is in the Risen Savior He becomes.

The Bible tells us, "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him." John 3:16-17

And there it is! God sent His Son, that baby born humbly in a manger, to SAVE the world!

Christmas is the time we celebrate not just the birth of Jesus, not just the life of Jesus, but the purpose of Jesus. He came to save us all. He came to give us the greatest gift of all. Eternal life.

This Christmas, try to take a deep breath. Try to look around and actually see the blessings in front of you. Remember, we have already been given the greatest gift. The gift of HOPE for eternal life.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thankful for the Good

One year ago today, my daughter was discharged from the hospital. Leaving the hospital should be a happy time but instead it was a tough one. Tillery had had a fall that caused a brain bleed. In order to allow room for the swelling in her head, doctors had to remove the bone on the right side of her head. That bone was put in a freezer to be replaced months later. So, you see, when we left the hospital, we didn't take home a whole and healthy child. Instead, we left with 95% of her and a piece of her would remain with them.

When we left the hospital, we crossed the street to a place that had been our "home away from home" for a little over a month, 350 miles from a place that we called home. We were thankful to be out of the hospital for Thanksgiving but we knew that it would still be a hard day. On a day with so much hype for traditions and family and being "home for the holidays", it was hard to find joy in eating a meal that wasn't made by my family, in a place that was still unfamiliar, surrounded by people we didn't know well. We did have some amazing family members who came to celebrate the day with us and everyone did the best we could to make the day happy.

The ugly truth was, I was not at peace. I was not thankful. Instead, I was terrified.

Tillery's fall hit me hard. It was the first time I really thought about what it would be like to lose her. It was more than I could handle. I started having nightmares. I would stay up really late at night, just watching her and when I finally had to close my eyes, my head was filled with sadness and loss and horrifying images. I would wake in a sweat with the memories of my dreams haunting me.

Finally, one night, I had had enough! I was tired of living in fear and being controlled by these visions. I prayed that God would end the dreams for me, that He would push Satan out of my head, out of my room, and out of my life, and that I would find peace in the way things were. Then I found this verse:

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28

I realized that God was with me. Not only was He with me, He was working for good. I also realized that as much as I wanted her to come through this all and as much as that was going to be my prayer, if she did not survive this, God was still going to work for good. He would see me through. I prayed that I would remember this and that I would hold on to that faith that He was in control and that He would always work for good.

And then I had peace.

Then I slept.

On Thursday, we will be at my parent's house. We will eat a meal that my mom will prepare, filled with our family's cherished recipes. I will be surrounded by my family, including a whole and healthier Tillery. I am thankful for where we are a year later. I'm also thankful that even if we weren't in this same place, God would still be working for good.

*To my friends who lost children this year, you are always in my prayers. I'm thankful for your children and what they taught me. Remembering Levi, Easton, Parker, Eliza, Dominic, Rana, and Bennett. Thank you for sharing them.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Hope from a Teenager

Hope is often found at times when you don't expect it. Times when you're at your lowest. Times when things are the hardest. Those are the times when you are grasping for hope, and also the times that you tend to find it.

Last November, we almost lost our daughter. After a scary fall, 911 call, ride with the EMS, visit to the ER trauma bay, and an emergency surgery, she was saved. While she was healing, I was falling apart. I was realizing that she was very delicate. I was learning that small things could become big things. I was seeing that just because cancer might not kill her, so many other things could. I still very much believed that God was with us. I was very certain that we would get through whatever came at us. But I was losing hope that things would turn out positively. I was terrified that I was going to lose my daughter too soon.

After many days in the hospital, the telephone in the room rang. I answered and a woman I had never met was on the line. She quickly explained that she was a friend of a friend and had heard about my daughter and wanted to come for a visit while she was in town. I was not really in the mood for visitors, especially visitors I didn't even know. I was too busy being down on myself and down on the situation. I didn't know how to tell her no so I said it was fine for her to come up.

The woman and her teenaged daughter came in the room. They were beautiful! Hair and makeup done, cute clothes, everything opposite of what I looked like after living in the hospital. Don't get me wrong, they were very nice. They brought Tillery a gift and she seemed to like them. The visit was going fine and then the woman explained why she had come.

Years ago, when her daughter (the teenager with her) was 16 months old, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. They were told that her tumor, like my daughter's, would not be able to be surgically removed and would have to be treated with ongoing chemotherapy. She described the months that followed and they sounded exactly like where we were. She shared her fears and feelings and they mirrored mine at that exact moment. Her story was my story. And THAT is why she had come. She wanted to show me the future. Her beautiful daughter, who was given a devastating diagnosis and a long list of limitations was now an honor student, cheerleader, and pageant queen! They had smiles on their faces as they described using hairpieces during pageants at times when chemo thinned her hair. They talked about using treatment trips like vacations and coming to town early to lounge by the hotel pool. They were so positive about things!

They restored my hope!

I encourage you to do the same! We all have things that are hard for us. We all battle giants that not everyone else understands. When you find someone battling the same giant, share your story. If you have been there, tell someone about what it's like on the other side.

We aren't on the other side, yet. We have passed the critical start and now we are in the middle. Even in the middle, I try to share the hope that we have found.

Even in the darkest times, we can call on Jesus. He will carry us through whatever we face. And at the end of the day, it is His promise of Eternal Life that fills us with HOPE! We desparately want a cure. We also know that even without a cure, we still have hope!

Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Jude 1:21

Monday, August 31, 2015

Hope from a Diagnosis

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. For us, September is also diagnosis month. September 30th will make 1 year that we have been living with this diagnosis of a pediatric brain tumor.

Throughout this month, I'd love to give you some facts, statistics, warning signs, and general information about childhood cancer to help raise awareness. To start, though, I'd love to give a little hope from the past year.

Tillery loves to smile! She loves laughing with Luke and they play in a way that only brothers and sisters play. She loves to talk to Nana and Poppo on FaceTime and even likes to turn the camera around so they can see her toys and what she's playing. She babbles a lot and will copy anything you say. She even sings sometimes!

A year ago, Tillery had stopped being the happy child she was as a baby. She cried and fussed a lot and was almost impossible to console. She made a few sounds and could say "mama" and "dada" but wasn't consistent with them. She would not imitate sounds.

Tillery loves to crawl! She is a fast mover and will crawl all over the house. If you are holding her, she's always saying "I wanna down". She plays chase through the house with Luke and they even play their own version of hide-and-seek. At church, I have to get on to her for crawling all over the sanctuary and in-between pews! Sometimes I lose her!

A year ago, she had almost stopped crawling completely. She could barely sit up on her own and had to prop herself up with one arm because she lacked balance and coordination. At school, the teachers would pick her up and move her around the room to be where the other kids were because she didn't have the ability or energy to follow them from one center to the other.

Tillery works very hard to learn new things! Therapy is very hard on her physically and emotionally but she's making huge strides. She will tolerate some weight bearing on her legs, she is able to stand for 30 minutes at a time in her stander, and she will "walk" in her gait trainer to get to something she's interested in (Luke or our dog, Emma).

A year ago, we had stopped trying to get her to learn new skills. She showed no interest and we didn't know why she wasn't progressing. We didn't know if she had physical or mental limitations and we didn't want to push her to do things that would injure her. We were waiting for someone to tell us what she could do.

Tillery is not a typical 2 year old. She has limitations that many 2 year olds don't have, but that isn't want makes her atypical. Tillery is a miracle child! She is living with 90% of her original tumor still in her head! She has endured a surgery that lasted longer than she is normally awake in a day! She has made it through a surgery that started with serious conversations about the unlikely chance of her surviving! She has had to wear a helmet, be fed by a g-tube, take various medications including chemotherapy, use a stander, gait trainer and leg braces, and has faced every challenge with a smile on her face and a side pony tail!

Tillery is a face of childhood cancer but childhood cancer is not her identity.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Hope from a Hurricane

Ten years ago, my world was torn apart by Hurricane Katrina. Three months before, I had moved to New Orleans and started work at a fabulous advertising agency. I had just started feeling at home when a storm changed the entire course of my life.

To take you back to 2005 Alana, I was stuck in a life that was okay and I wasn't looking to break out of my comfort zone to find a life that was amazing. I was dating the wrong guy, living in a dumpy apartment complex, and living paycheck to paycheck. I wasn't a church goer and really had nothing and no one that I put faith or hope in. I had a handful of friends that I kept in touch with from college but no real post college friends. I dreamed of being a big advertising executive one day but wasn't confident enough in myself to get there.

The Hurricane Katrina came and saved me.

Let's fast forward to 2007. I relocated to Chattanooga, TN after the storm and had been working at an advertising agency in a job that I loved. I had made some wonderful friends, had an active social life, and even bought a house. The most important part of my transformation was joining a church, joining a Sunday school class, joining a women's small group, and then allowing Jesus into my heart.

I was so pleased with my new life and felt led to join a mission group from Chattanooga on a trip back to New Orleans. I felt like it would be good closure to go back and see everything one more time. I wanted to be a part of something positive since the last time I was in New Orleans it was a very horrible time.

On September 9, 2007, I met the group I would be working with for the week in New Orleans. Before we left Chattanooga, we had to make a stop at a church to pick up the pastor there who would also be joining us. We pulled up to Brooks Memorial UMC and on the front steps sat a man I had never seen or met before. Ten months later, he and I sat on those same steps and talked about our hopes and dreams for the future as our wedding rehearsal dinner was going on across the street. Our favorite wedding photo was taken on those steps.

See, Hurricane Katrina shook up my life. It tore apart all of the things that were happening in my life. It left me broken. And as I started to rebuild myself, I realized that I needed to be broken so that I could start fresh. Once I was broken, I was able to see a need for a Savior who I had never known. Once I started to understand God's love for me, I was able to love myself and realize that I was worth more than just settling. Once I could accept God's love as sufficient, I was open to see the man He had found for me, sitting on the front steps.

For 8 years together, Joe and I have had a relationship that has been rooted in our faith. During happy times we have praised God and during hard times we have prayed to Him. We have always believed that He is a part of our relationship and He is leading our family.

When Tillery was diagnosed with a brain tumor last September, it was hard to hear. It's been hard to adjust to this life of hospitals and sickness. I hate what my daughter has lost. I hate what I have lost.

BUT, God has already seen me through one storm and look at how awesome that turned out!

God is with Tillery. God is with our family. And I will praise Him in this storm!