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Our Focus Has Been Sharpened!

Gail's Journey

Easter was a wonderful day! It was great to worship our risen Savior with the family of believers at church, and the sermon by “Pastor Don” was excellent! Many, many times in my life, I have thought about how privileged I am to have a husband who is such a great preacher. I don’t believe every pastor has been gifted to be as great of a passionate speaker as Don has been. He has been a great mentor and encourager to me throughout our marriage. I continue to learn from him weekly. I often get to hear his sermons before he preaches them as he prepares and practices. If any of our daughters are home, they also like to listen and it brings up great discussions.

Easter day was also special because we hosted a family gathering for all of my family. My niece offered to host dinner in Lancaster, but I couldn't travel because it was a chemotherapy weekend, and I was still receiving chemotherapy until Sunday evening (at which time a nurse comes to the house and unhooks my portable pump and the needle from my port). So we decided to have the gathering at our house and everyone brought food to pitch in. We cooked the ham and Don made his famous cheesy scalloped potatoes. These cheese-loaded potatoes usually bubble up and cause the smoke detector to go off at some point during the preparation. It is now a tradition! We had 25 people for dinner and added 5 more for dessert that evening. It was glorious chaos as 10 of them were children! We had great food and great fun together. We are also fortunate to be able to sit around the table and truly celebrate together our strong faith and our salvation because of Jesus! I know this is not the case for many families.

A few days later, Don’s two sisters and brother-in-laws came for a week from Montana and Florida to see us. I have been very blessed with sister-in-laws who have accepted me as a true sister through the years, along with their husbands who are awesome, too. Both of Don’s sisters are fantastic chefs. I was more than glad to step out of the kitchen and let them work their magic! We talked a lot, reminisced, laughed and even played some games, where we proved that even adults can’t follow game directions! We really appreciated their sacrifice to come such long distances to see us during this very difficult time.

But I’ll have to admit, things were different with both family gatherings than ever before. The dark cloud of the unknown future with me and this cancer was ever present. Emotions were more raw. There were more thoughts about the future. We have always been a family that says “I love you”, and I am so grateful! The meaning seems deeper and more intentional now. Our prayers are more fervent when we pray together. Our focus has been sharpened.

Our focus has been sharpened because our need is greater, because we can’t take common things for granted anymore, and because we can’t settle for the common procrastination of time and planning. We are more appreciative of what we have; at the same time we are grieving what we have lost. Appreciating our time seems more urgent. Life is not “normal” anymore. But then God reminds me that many people in this world live lives that never seem normal or stable. We have been so blessed!

Another wonderful and emotional gathering I experienced this past week was at Gaudenzia, a residential adolescent drug rehab and outreach of Hershey Medical Center, where I was privileged to work for the past 11 years. There, I provided medical care for many teenage boys as they experienced the struggles and consequences of addiction. I have really enjoyed the opportunities to impact these young men who are so lost and hurting with lives that are far from “normal or stable”. Many have very tough family lives and little support. Their worldview is limited to what they have experienced on the streets in their search to belong and find meaning. Unfortunately, due to the lack of resources for funding, the residential program will be closing at the end of June. I had to end my time there, however, this week due to the end of the time I am allowed to work intermittently under FMLA. This brought more emotional upheaval!

The staff at Gaudenzia has been awesome! Most of us not only share a passion to help these young men, but also a common faith. They surprised me with a luncheon, and many of the staff I have worked with through the years who have moved to other Gaudenzia facilities also returned to say good-bye. Many words of encouragement were spoken, gifts were given, and many tears were shed. The boys also made me a beautiful picture to say thank you. Many seeds of hope have been shared with the many troubled young men who have come through those doors. We have to trust that God will make them grow. I am grateful to have had this opportunity and am very sad to see it end. But I will say, I do not feel that God is done with me yet!!

When family and other people visit, emotions are up and down and thoughts go back and forth between knowing that we could be saying good-bye for the last time on this earth, and still holding out hope that God will heal me or give me a lot more time as he did for Hezekiah in 2 Kings, chapter 20, when God healed Hezekiah and gave him another 15 years to live. I would be happy with that!!

Don and the girls continue to struggle also, as the medical reports offer temporary hope. The dosages of my chemotherapy drugs have had to be reduced the last two treatments because of the negative impact it is having on my bone marrow. The doctor has explained that pancreatic cancer mutates to deflect chemotherapy. If we make these reports our only focus, it is quite depressing.

But our focus has been sharpened. We do have a God who is still in control! We have to continue to trust that He is working in and through this situation. He does have the power to heal if He so desires. We have to remain focused on Him and His will. Everything else in this life is futile if He is not in it. His plan is bigger than all we can see or even imagine. Our hope is restored when we keep our eyes fixed and focused on Jesus!

The message and power of Easter did not end after the Easter celebrations! They are not just a remembrance of the past, but a reminder of the present and the future! Most days I read this Scripture: “And the Spirit of Him who raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you. He who raised up Christ Jesus from the dead will also restore to life your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11)

Hebrews 12 reminds us, “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

God continues to give me strength most days beyond what I think would be expected at this point with this cancer and the treatment. I feel His peace. I know He is moving. Thank you to all who are still praying for me and my family and for what God is doing and will do. Pray that we can keep our focus sharpened and fixed on Jesus!