Sunday, November 20, 2016

Nothing is Wasted

A few summers ago, when I was working in Solon, I started attend a college-age group called Standpoint, based out of Parkside Church.  It was close to work, so I'd grab a light dinner, and head over to Dan and Olivia's house after work.  They always welcomed me with open arms, and eventually their kindness and love drew my entire family to Parkside.  

Late one night, after our Bible study, Olivia, a friend, and I were talking in the basement.  My friend and I were both busy with life, and struggling with various things- I don't remember the details.  But Olivia shared a promise of God with me- that he will restore everything that the locust has eaten/taken away.  And he won't just match it, he'll restore it overflowing, shaken-down, so much bigger and better than ever I could imagine.  She also shared that sometimes the restoration isn't immediate, but God always keeps his word.  

So many times through the last few years I've remembered that.  It's really hard to constantly deal with the new normal.  I want to compare myself to who I was, or try to do what I used to do, or enjoy what I could once do.  And it gets discouraging.  Really fast.  But I've just tried to remember those pesky little locusts- they may take everything you once held dear, but God is so much bigger and better then the locusts, and he always keeps his word! 

Through this semester, I've begun to see some of the restoration.  The biggest blessing has been catching up to my class.  I didn't think that dream would ever become reality, especially as it meant extra classes, extra semester, and a ton of extra work! But God has been faithful, and I'm all caught up! 

That being said...I've been battling a cold the last few weeks.  Whenever I get a cold, my body has a lot of difficulty just functioning.  Plus I get a really bad cough with the cold weather.  Between feeling horrible, and being super crazy busy with school right now, I've been feeling really discouraged.  On the way home from church this afternoon, I heard the song "Nothing is Wasted". I've included the words below.  I'm at school working on a huge presentation for tomorrow right now, with the song on repeat.  It's such a calming reminder that God won't waste the seemingly wasted time with cancer.  

Whatever the locusts are eating in your life right now, nothing is wasted. 

You know my every need
You see my poverty
You are enough for me, Jesus
You gave the blind man sight
You raised the dead to life
You've done the same for me, Jesus

You are loving, You are wise
There is nothing in my life You cannot revive
You are loving, You are wise
There is nothing too hard for our God

Your word inside of me
My strength, my everything
My hope will always be Jesus
Your breath inside my lungs
You're worthy of my trust
You will forever be Jesus

You are loving, You are wise
There is nothing in my life You cannot revive
You are loving, You are wise
There is nothing too hard for our God

Nothing is wasted
You work all things for good
Nothing is wasted
Your promise remains
Forever You reign

Your promise remains
Forever You reign
Your promise remains
Forever You reign

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Life More Abundantly

Today is a warm and beautiful day in Akron. It's also the end of a few restful weeks.  On Monday I'll start a co-op with FM Global. I'm excited, and a little bit nervous to be in a new company.
School ended.  I'd like to say it ended well, but that's not quite true.  This semester is known as the hardest for mechanical engineering, and it certainly was.  I took five mechanical engineering classes, and one electrical class.  Funny thing is that most of the mechanical classes were 2 or 3 credits, but you still had the work of a 4 credit class.  I still did pretty well in them, considering.  Also, there's a reason you follow the syllabus schedule-some classes are not meant to be taken together! Basic EE was not fun.  It ended with a not-fun grade, which dragged my GPA way down. But oh well, I passed! This fall will begin my last year of college.  I'm so grateful that God has brought me this far.

The last few weeks between school and co-op have been fun.  I've had a break. I haven't had a break since sophomore year of high school I think! I've always been working when I'm not in school.  And on every spring break or winter break or any other break, I've always been sick.  Finally I've had a few weeks of not-sick, and nothing I have to do! I've been able to Netflix binge (for the first time ever), and sleep in almost every day! I've had a few doctor appointments as well. I've joined a small group from my college group.  It's been awesome to meet a few new faces, and to really get to know these girls better.

The biggest joy these past few weeks have been my friends.  It kinda started with graduation.  All my biology friends graduate this year, as well as a number of engineering friends who were either a year ahead of me, or completed the program in four years.  A friend had an extra ticket, that she was gracious enough to share with me, so I was able to attend the engineering graduation, and see a lot of friends afterward.  It seems unreal that that will be me in less than a year! It was such a nice time taking pictures and celebrating with them.  The freedom of no schedule has allowed me to join impromptu gatherings, like Applebee's with Noelle and Dom, or crashing with Heather after her birthday party, or making pepperoni rolls with Noelle, or West Side Market with Heather and Noelle, accompanied by an Ohio City tour, and glass blowing demo, or just hanging out with friends at the U after service, or Asian market shopping with AJ, or Mary Kay with Brittany, packing and dinner with Sara, Ronald McDonald dinners with Joan and Hanneh, or so many other things! Even just texting friends and snapchatting them has been fun.

Yesterday Noelle and I were talking about when we first met the different people in our mutual friend group.  I realized just how many people God has brought into my life. And there's a whole different group just in my major!  I'm so grateful for the boys who've taken me in, and have supported and helped me, especially through this rough semester.  Having these guys to do homework with, compare homework with, share notes, work on projects, unexpectedly see in the lab on Saturdays, get Penn Station on said Saturday, sprint to Panda Express with, steal stuff out of a friend's backpack, go to the hospital with said friend, reveal test scores together, share Pizza Fire in the basement of ASEC while studying Basic EE, crowd into an over-filled tutoring room to learn said Basic EE, so. many. memories.

The past few years I haven't had this group.  I've been on my own. I struggle through homework on my own, praying that Google would help me. I ate by myself. I didn't even go into the lab, because I didn't have a buddy to "watch my stuff". I felt so alone in my major, as I watched everyone around me chat and laugh with their little groups.  Now I have a group.  Not just one group, either.  Everyone is split into their little groups, but they've all reached out an arm to me.  It's funny, every class I sat with a different group! How many past classes I've sat all alone, listening to everyone else, just absorbing and never participating.  Now I'm included in conversations; I'm included in lunch invitations; I'm included in project groups.

I'm so grateful for this break, and for this last semester.  It was a really difficult semester, but it's over now.   I'll be entering my final year of college this fall.  It seems unreal; I never thought I would make it this far. One verse I've always quoted to my friend and myself is "Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass." from 1 Thessalonians 5:24. God has been so faithful to me this semester, and through college.  My other main verse is Jeremiah 22:11- For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. I've always believed the promises in that verse, but sometimes it seems like I'm not prospering.  Ending this semester has really given me the feeling of hope, and of a future.  I know I should believe in faith, but sometimes it is really nice to have a tangible proof that God is keeping his word! 

And to close, one of my latest favorite songs that's gotten me through a lot of tough days recently-
Diamonds-by Hawk Nelson
Here and now I'm in the fire,
In above my head
Oh, oh, oh oh, oh, oh
Being held under the pressure,
Don't know what'll be left
Oh, oh, oh oh, oh, oh
But it's here in the ashes
I'm finding treasure

He's making diamonds, diamonds
Making diamonds out of dust
He is refining in his timing
He's making diamonds out of us

I'll surrender to the power
Of being crushed by love
Oh, oh, oh oh, oh, oh
Till the beauty that was hidden
Isn't covered up
Oh, oh, oh oh, oh, oh
Oh it's not what I hoped for
It's something much better

Oh the joy of the lord
It will be my strength
When the pressure is on
He's making diamonds

He's making diamonds, diamonds
Making us rise up from the dust
He is refining in his timing
He's making diamonds out of dust
Making diamonds out of us

I won't be afraid to shine
I won't be afraid to shine
I won't be afraid to shine
Cause he's making diamonds out of dust
Making diamonds out of us

Waterproof Mascara ( so crying is ok)

*I wrote this in Denver, when I was at CancerCon at the end of April, and am finally posting it!*

I wanted to type this last night, but was a bit too tired, so here it goes.
Yesterday was the first day of sessions of Cancer Con.  I attended two sessions.
I've had a great time in Colorado.  Just being in the gorgeous outdoors, and reconnecting with so many people from last year has been awesome.

I was invited to the Stupid Side Effects session.  This past year, the side effects have really slammed me.  I've been cancer free, and am three years out from transplant (yay!) but the side effects seem to be increasing, both in number and intensity.  It's been one of the hardest things to deal with this year.  It was a small group in that session.  Probably a dozen of us, huddled around two tables.  There were AMGEN reps there, to listen in on what we said, and see how they can better serve the AYA community.  We each went around, and gave a brief synopsis of where we were before diagnosis, the diagnosis, and what we are dealing with now.  It was a very overwhelming time.  Every person shared at least one thing I was going through.  Every single person understood the fears I struggle with daily.  Most of them had had high aspirations, or were living out their dreams.  More than one said "life was perfect" before diagnosis.  And now we were here.  A tattered and bruised bunch, but still standing.  Still ready to get busy living.
I was also invited to a session called the Path to Remission, and was conducted by Hope Lab.  Everyone there was between the ages of 17-25 so it was a much closer and younger age range than some other sessions.  There were those still in treatment as well.  I met four other girls with Hodgkin's! We were tasked with writing a story, in small groups.  The other two HL girls and I formed a group, because of our diagnosis and stage (post-treatment).  We all face the same challenges-trouble breathing, joint pain, and hand neuropathy to name a few! After we created our story, we made a storyboard, and every group went around and  explained their story board.  One spoke on the hardships of roommates; another was on being disappointed when you can't do stuff with your friends, or other normal things for your age.  The third board was on being mad, and not talking to anyone.  Our board was our story-how hard it is to deal with the side effects.  The other boards had an ending.  Ours didn't because there is no end to our side effects.

I'm a very stoic person. I'm not usually very emotional.  But this entire conference, I've felt like crying.  When I see how many other people are dealing with the very same thing as me.  When I hear other stories, about not receiving the answers you want, or just getting tired of facing the daily challenges.  It's a lot to take in.  When you meet so many people who've also relapsed, or have been told there are no more options.
I realized I squish my feelings down.  I've had so many thoughts and worries this semester, but I don't ever let myself think about them.  Sometimes I wonder why I do so many things, and am crazy involved with stuff.  Last night, talking to my nurse navigator, I think I started to realize why.  I found out I relapsed with my 3month scans.  112 days after I finished treatements, that were supposed to have an 80% cure rate, I had cancer again.  I don't live in fear of the future, but I do live with a very uncertain future.  I don't know when the cancer will come back.  I am at a very high risk for multiple secondary cancers.  I have so many side effects.  Being diagnosed with the hemolytic anemia last year jolted me to the reality that there is so much that can happen to me that I don't know about.  And I think that's why I do all that I do.  I'm too busy to think about my life.  My free thinking moments I spend making lists of things I could do for events or organizations I'm involved in.  I want to have a reason I'm tired, a justification so that I don't have to wonder if perhaps there is something deeper about when I'm tired.  When I relapsed, I had been really tired.  I'd sleep all day Saturdays, just so I could function.  My talisman is that if I don't sleep on Saturdays, I won't get sick again.  I just feel like if I'm too busy, cancer can't catch me again.  And I feel like I can't stop, because if I do, everything I have will be taken away again.
Amelia and I spoke last night.  Blessings on the dear lady, who was super exhausted, but still spent more than an hour listening to me.  We had spoken earlier about how Cancer Con is at such a bad time in the semester.  I said I came because I gave it my all in the first two rounds of tests.  Once I saw I wasn't getting A's, I figured it didn't matter what I got, as long as I passed.  I hate that mentality.  I want to care more.  But I can't.  Because all my efforts, and trying to really understand the materials, and studying, and tutoring, and so much else isn't paying of.  I just came from a session on chemobrain.  The speaker said it'd only last maybe 2-3 years out of treatment, if that.  I'm over three years now.  A guy spoke up, and said it's been 8 years since he finished treatment, and yet he still had it.  It's hard.  I feel like it's gotten worse for me this semester.  Maybe it's the stress of school, or the amount of information I'm trying to remember, but I will just freeze mid-sentence.  My mind absolutely blank.  I feel like an idiot.  I used to be so quick on the draw.  I had a retort for everything.  Now I can't even remember the simplest thoughts.  I don't get good grades, and it hurts.  I was the girl who was going to make the Dean's List every semester.  Now, I'm lucky if I pass all my classes.  The speaker said chemobrain doesn't mean you loose intelligence, just means that you have concentration and memory problems.  Well I feel like I've lost my intelligence, because I cannot access it. It sucks.
Amelia said that what I'm doing is incredible.  I don't want to sound prideful, but I guess it kinda is.  Of the hundreds of survivors I've met, I've only ever met one in engineering.  He was diagnosed half way through college though.  Most cancer survivors are not in college, because it is so hard for them.  Those that are, are usually in social work, nursing, or business.  People drop out of engineering, and they don't have good excuses. I'm finishing my 4th year, and I've made it, chemobrain and all.  I guess I should be proud of myself.  But for some reason I'm not.

In our side effects group, it was a super talented group of people.  Successful business people, actors, singers, directors...everyone had their dreams plucked from them.  Last weekend, my sister and I stumbled upon a strings studio.  We went in, and I played a violin there.  I played one of the most basic concertos I ever learned- Vivaldi's A Minor.  Rachel put a 10-second video on snapchat.  Monday, my friend said "Jen you shredded on the violin!" He was shocked that I could play, and thought it sounded really good.  I realized my college friends don't know who I was pre-cancer.  They know I play keyboard at church, but they don't know that i was a choir pianist, and few know I even play violin, much less the level I was at.  It was hard. I feel like I keep making excuses for who I am now, because I feel like one day the girl I used to be will come back, with all her studiousness and musicality.  I have to realize that I am who I am now.  I'm a different person.  Sometimes I hate this new person, because of all the limitations or pain I go through.  But this is me.  It's not easy to deal with this new me, but I don't have an option.  I need to learn to accept myself, and my new normal.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Happy Easter-He Is Risen!

Most of you who have known me these last four years have read my blog posts on what a special holiday Easter is too me. This year, I had some unique experiences that showed me a different perspective on this celebration-the aspect of peace.  The second event chronologically, but first since it is easier to explain, was watching the recent movie Risen.  It's the story of a Roman military tribune, and his experiences in Jerusalem around the death of Christ, his involvement in sealing the tomb, and his search for Jesus' body and what he discovers in the end. Seeing this movie really made me realize what knowing Christ can do for a person.  rabbit trail*And it made me realize (once again) that Jesus raising from the dead was true.  I'm in engineering. I know and love science and facts.  But no matter what opposing view is presented, the clearest, most understandable explanation is that Jesus did rise from the dead. *end trail
The first event chronologically but second in my telling happened with a friend.  There was a significant crisis, and I had an active role in helping through it, so was very close to the entire situation.  But shortly after it began, I realized that there was tremendous fear in my friend's heart.  And it kinda shocked me.  I've faced the thought/chance of dying more than once, but never have I been as terrified as he was.  And I realized, that I have a peace in my heart, that the world [in general] doesn't have! I have a peace that no matter what comes my way.  That doesn't mean I don't get anxious, or worried, or even scared at times, but underneath those emotions is a trusting comfort that my God is in control of every situation.
So this Easter Sunday, do you have peace in your heart? No matter what may happen with elections, or shootings, or weather, or sickness, or anything-do you know that you have an overwhelming peace in your heart that will let you face any situation? If you have this peace, do others around you sense and see that in your daily life?
Jesus faced a really hard time in choosing to die, but he had the peace that he was in the midst of his Father's will.  One of the favorite classic hymns is "It Is Well".  My favorite memory of singing it was with my cancer support group at Parkside Church.  Every person there sang it with such conviction and happiness, yet each one there had been directly touched by cancer.  I don't know if you know the back story to that song, but the condensed version is that the author had lost a lot of investments and properties to the Great Chicago Fire.  While trying to salvage his financial affairs, he sent his wife and daughters on ahead to take their planned trip to Europe.  However, while crossing the Atlantic, the ship sank and his wife alone survived.  Later, while visiting near the sight of where his four daughters drowned, he wrote these words:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, (it is well),
With my soul, (with my soul)
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
A song in the night, oh my soul! 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Hello, It's Me...for the first time this year

I write this from a warm home;  cheery lights brighten the kitchen that I'm sitting in.  My family is in the next room, with their small group Bible study- I just finished one homework, and needed to write my thoughts before I begin more homework.
Today has been a long day.  It's not quite over yet.  This week has been long, and it's only Wednesday! This month has been long...I'm really tired.
I haven't posted in a while.  Life has been very busy.  I'm all caught up in college-so excited about that!! But it is not easy.  I'm taking a whopping seventeen credit hours-my most to date.  Classes are very hard, and quite time consuming.  I don't seem to have a free moment to myself, and by Thursday my energy for the week is spent.  But I couldn't be happier.  I'm back with my year-and my wonderful friends (Sara, Jeff, Josh, Kyle and Ean).  I've made a new set of friends, that I think I'm going to keep :) (this means you - Joan, AJ, Ben, Matt, Ryan and Paul) among others.  The amount of homework is incredible, but when I'm sitting in the Mechanical Engineering lab, flanked by the guys I'm proud to call my friends, I couldn't wish for anything more.  So many times in the last few weeks I've stopped, mid-seemingly-impossible-problem, and thanked God for allowing me another chance at life, and for giving me the strength and ability to catch up to them, and to plod through  this semester together.
But sometimes life seems too good to be true.  I strongly believe the saying "If it's too good to be true, it probably isn't true."  Sometimes I worry that all this will be taken away.  That I won't be able to complete senior year with these guys.  I remember my first semester of college, and the amazing time I had.  This semester seems even more incredible than that.  And I remember the heart-wrenching pain of having to drop out second semester.  I'm really scared that it might happen again.  Sometimes I just want to freeze time as is-freeze the happy memories as we snapchat across the classroom, or try to take each other's things, or go to a range, or get Insomnia cookies, or learn about the difference between an '85 and '86 Toyota, or really just do life together.
Last Thursday was rough.  I came of three back-to-back tests.  I do. in back-to-back tests.  Ever.  This time was no exception.  My body ached with the changing weather (#bonemarrowprobs), my shoulder hurt (#heavybackpack), my brain seemed to be on fire (#engineering).  And then I was scrolling on Facebook before class.  And saw a tribute to a woman I met at Cancer Con.  She had a table right next to Rainbow's, and sewed "Survival Organs." Adorable little stuffed things shaped in different tumor and cell shapes.  She had her first baby at Christmas time.  She was the very picture of vitality and happiness, and youth- and suddenly she was gone.  It stung.  The wonderful thing about Cancer Con was meeting so many incredible people.  The horrible thing is that I hurt whenever one of them is gone.
To add to it, a friend I made at the Gathering Place young adult retreat, called saying her cancer had reoccurred for a third time, taking her out of a clinical trial. I know life isn't fair, but sometimes it's really hard to accept how things can go so well for some people, and not for others.  
The minute I was finished with my first round of tests, I had today to deal with.  My first day at Survivor Clinic.  As awesome as it sounds, I was terrified.  I was supposed to be in survivor clinic last year, but instead they found the hemolytic anemia, which triggered an awful steroid regiment.  I dreaded today, and what they may find.  It's really hard for me to differentiate when I'm tired from all the schoolwork, and when there may be something else going on.
Monday night at my campus Bible study, my verse for the night was from John 13:7 "Jesus [said], "What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand." It was the best reminder, because right now there is SO much I don't understand.  I have so many questions about all the stuff that has happened/continues to happen to me.  This verse reminded me that Jesus said I won't understand right now.  I don't know when I will understand, but I can be strong in the promise that I will understand.  One of my favorite songs right now is "You Remain" by Saints.  The chorus goes "You are Undeniable.  You are God, and God you are able.  The storm will rise-So let it rise!- because we believe, that you'll remain faithful." This song has been running through my head, and in church, and on Ean's phone, for the last few days.  It has been such a comforting reminder to let the storm rise, because it gives God an opportunity to show himself faithful to me, and the others in my life.
This morning was so hard.  I had two classes, which was a good distraction, but after that I had about 30 minutes to kill before I had to go to Cleveland; blessings on the friend who allowed me to hang on their sleeve the whole time. I didn't want to go.  It took everything I had just to walk down the long hall in ASEC to leave my friends and go to my car.  I literally dragged my feet, as I didn't want to face the unknown.  And God reminded me to let the storm, if any, rise, because He is faithful.  And with that confidence, I was able to go to Cleveland.
Well, I wrote this eleven days ago.  I wanted to find out test results before I posted it, and haven't had a chance yet to do so.  I found out all my tests came back almost normal and I'm thanking God for that.