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Handle with care

I have never given much thought to the power that words and actions can have on one’s mental state. But as of recently, things that people have done for me or said to me have changed my outlook on my whole day (either good or bad). I know I need to depend on the hope that Christ gives and not let the words of others have such an effect on me, but I am human and they do. These are things that I would never have considered before, so I thought I would shed some light based on my recent experiences. Please don’t be offended! I am pretty skilled at putting my foot in my mouth myself, so I can relate!

1. If you have a story about someone you know with cancer… and they died… Don’t tell it to me!

Even if you find the story inspirational, (which it very well may be) I probably won’t see it that way at this point in my life. All I hear is that they had cancer and now they are gone. Maybe when I am further out from this disease, I can appreciate the story, but right now I am not in a place to hear it.

My radiation oncologist gave me some constructive advice. He said, “Your story is not their story.” My experience is not the same as anyone else’s and should not be compared to others.

He also told me that this is the one time in my life where it is acceptable to stop someone when they are telling me a story about their great aunt “what’s-her-name” who had a long journey with cancer that didn’t end well. He told me to tell them, “I’m sorry. I don’t need to listen to this at this time of my life.” I don’t know what it is about being bald, but everyone has a story about someone with cancer they want to share with me.

“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” Proverbs 12:18

I have found that cancer treatment has a huge mental component. I am fine 96% of the time, feeling calm and enjoying my life, but the other 4% of the time anxiety threatens to overtake me. Most of the time it is directly correlated to a well-meaning comment from someone. I would just encourage you to think twice before you share a story about someone else’s cancer journey.

2. Don’t tell them you know EXACTLY what they are going through because you once had a suspicious looking mole…

I’m not discounting that it was a scary experience, but I’m not sure you know the level of fear that comes from awaiting PET scan results to see if your cancer has overtaken your body.

I don’t even claim to know what another person with cancer is going through. Every journey is different and has its own struggles. Also, every person is unique before they are diagnosed with cancer, so of course they are not going to handle their journey the exact same way as anyone else.

3. Don’t ask what their prognosis is.

Nothing makes me want to vomit quicker than thinking about the different direction my diagnosis could have taken. I have been given a pretty great prognosis and I hate being asked about it, so I can’t imagine how unsettling it must be for the people who don’t have the best news to give. If they bring it up, great! If not, I would strongly encourage you to leave it alone.

4. SHARE your success stories!

I want to hear stories of survivors! I want to know there is life after chemo. I think of death and illness so frequently. I crave to know that life will begin again. So often we hear of the lives that cancer has taken and I think that sometimes it overshadows the MANY who have battled and won. It boosts my spirit to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I have had one lady who has been through a somewhat similar experience tell me that this is a season of my life and I will get through it. I know she doesn’t have a crystal ball but hearing these words empowers me to fight harder.

5. Send cards, encouraging texts, little gifts, ask how they are doing, and support them

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians‬ ‭5:11‬ ‭

There are 4 different women who send me a card every week, and I love getting them. Most of them say “still praying” which gives me such a mental boost.

I also have a few friends that text me every so often telling me they are praying for me or send me scripture verses they find encouraging. They remember what days my treatments and appointments are and text me to let me know they are praying or telling me good luck!

I have also received so many small pick-me-up gifts. Nothing extravagant. But it makes me feel loved and lifts my spirits knowing that I am being thought of. So, shower your friends or loved ones going through trials with these sorts of things.

Adam and Alli have been so supportive every step of the way. They have offered their pool multiple times; saying I can come relax and enjoy it anytime I would like. Alli even set up their loft as “sanctuary” of sorts for me to escape should I need it. She bought comfy blankets and put encouraging quotes on the walls and stocked the room with things just for me.

6. Don’t forget them

Cancer is a long journey. Mine is not nearly as long as other people that I know. Some people have years of treatment. I am almost finished with chemotherapy which has lasted 16 weeks. I have surgery in August, next 2-5 weeks of radiation, then two more operations to follow that. The road is long. I have been blessed with a wonderful support system who has been with me every step of the way and will continue to be with me, but I can see how it would be easy to forget that people are struggling. Once the shock has worn off from finding out that someone has cancer peoples’ lives go back to normal, as they should.

I would encourage you to check in on the people that you know with cancer and other chronic illnesses to make sure they feel loved and supported. This is an area that I have failed at in the past, but now I am more aware of it. My sister is very good at this. She calls me every day on her way home from clinicals to tell me about her day but I know her secret… she is checking up on me; making sure I’m ok. And I love her for that.

7. Be very careful about the phrase “I have some bad news.”

Do you really have bad news? Is it life-changing news? I have heard that phrase before, and it ended with a cancer diagnosis. So yeah, I get a little panicky when someone says they have bad news and it turns out Walmart was out of the brand of yogurt that they like. DO NOT start a conversation that way unless it is really bad news. I’m not sure when this little quirk will fade, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets this way after the experiences that I have had.

I also had about a month where the sound of my phone ringing sent me into a panic because it seemed every time I answered it someone was giving me bad news.

8. Have a conversation with them that has nothing to do with cancer

Talk of cancer, doctor’s appointments, treatment, and tests have overtaken my life. It is so nice to have a conversation with someone where they never mention cancer. I can have a conversation and escape my new normal. A few minutes when I can forget that I have no hair under my scarf or a port in my chest.

9. Make sure they have something to look forward to or a project to work on

This is more for a very close friend or relative. It helps knowing I have something fun to look forward to at the end of the week. Even if it is going out to eat, a concert, or getting a pedicure. I feel like it breaks up the monotony of dealing with the nausea, the bone pain, or the many of their side effects that accompany chemo.

One of my most enjoyable times since this ordeal started was towards the beginning when Robbyn was still in the NICU. We had a spur of the moment evening at my sister’s house where my kids and hers watched Beat Bugs episodes in a pile of blankets. Holly and I just sat there not really talking but enjoying their company. It was absolutely nothing life-changing, but I felt that for a few hours, that my life had some semblance of normalcy.

I have also found that working on projects helps to keep my mind off of stressors in my life of which I have no control. I have “remodeled” our mailbox and revived our front porch. Neither of these projects have cost very much or taken too much time, but they have served their purpose in keeping me sane! I like doing these projects and planning for the future. It helps me to see there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

10. Pray for them

It’s the most important thing you can do.

  • Pray often.
  • Tell them you are praying for them.
  • Have others pray for them.
  • Ask specifically what you can pray for.

I have friends who text or ask me in person what specifically they can be praying about for me. They pray for peace when I need peace or healing when I’m in pain. Knowing that they are continuing to pray to Jehovah-Rapha, “the God who heals,” on my behalf makes me feel so comforted.

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Ephesians‬ ‭6:18‬ ‭NIV‬‬

This list is not the gospel. Not everyone feels the same way I do, I’m sure. These are just some helpful hints from my experience, and if they can help someone else support a loved one with cancer or chronic illness, then it is all worth it.

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In Sickness and in Health

Do you take Kari to be your wife, to have and to hold, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish as long as you both shall live?

On your wedding day, the happiest day of your life, you say your vows to the love of your life. And during those vows, you are probably only thinking of the better, the richer, and the health. No one is thinking of the worse, the poorer, or the sickness. I mean I assumed those times would eventually occur, but I certainly didn’t think we would be staring down the barrel of sickness five years and eleven months into our marriage.

My favorite picture of the two of us and it was candid.


Our wedding was perfect. I know most people think that theirs was but ours really was! I had it all planned. The bridesmaids’ dresses cost only $12 a piece, and I found my dress on clearance. (I refuse to buy things at full price) I had the ceremony configured that from the time I walked down the aisle to the time we were pronounced husband and wife was only 14 minutes (Jordan and I neither one are big fans of standing in front of people). For the Grande Finale, we had a s’mores bar; so yeah, it was pretty awesome.

But as perfect as our wedding day was, our marriage has been that amazing and more. I swear Jordan treats me like the queen of England. If I ask for anything, he moves heaven and earth to make it possible. I can probably count on my hand the number of times Jordan has told me no. Granted, there are probably plenty of times he should have told me no and didn’t!

I get all of these brilliant ideas from Pinterest or Joanna Gaines, and I usually get about 1/ 8th of the way through my project before Jordan has to come to bail me out. I have this extraordinary skill; I strip every screw I have ever put in. It’s one of Jordan’s favorite features of mine. He is the one who has to come in and figure out how to finish the project with only stripped screws to work with! Jordan especially likes it when I get the fever to paint, and more paint ends up on the floor and me than on the walls. He just shakes his head at me. But how else am I going to get the farmhouse look?!

He wears matching Halloween costumes with me every year even though he hates it. He makes me laugh: all the time. He once drove 2.5 hours round trip to make sure there wasn’t a burglar outside the house I was housesitting. He always lets me control the remote. He goes to Walmart to buy me a chocolate cake from the deli section when I just can’t fight the craving. He will sit through a hallmark movie and only complain a quarter of the time. He let me pick our first dog (Jordan looked ridiculous taking a teacup chihuahua for a walk)

Jordan and I have been on this cancer journey together, every single step of the way. We have had to make so many major decisions that I never dreamed we would be making at this point in our life. Is our life insurance up to date? Will we have to sell our house to pay medical bills? How should we handle our finances? Which hospital system do we trust with to care for our premature baby? Should I have reconstructive surgery? How much should we tell our children?

Our wedding vows have definitely been put to the test but I think we are passing with flying colors. Our marriage is stronger and more Christ-centered than it has ever been. We have been together since we were 17 and we have grown and matured together spiritually and physically. We have grown through failures and successes. We have tried new things and created traditions. We even took on our own fixer-upper house before the Chip and Joanna were a household name, and I am convinced if you can get through a remodel with your spouse you can get through anything life throws at you.

We have gone to church camp, Christian conferences, retreats, and bible studies together. He is a perfect example of a Spiritual leader for our family. I think it is so important to pray about decisions in your marriage, to worship together, and to study God’s word together. I pray for Jordan daily and I know he prays for me.

He has been the rock of this family; especially recently. I don’t have too many complaints about chemotherapy, but I definitely feel more drained as the day goes on. Jordan is here every day in and day out, after working hard all day, doing everything that needs to be done with our house and kids. He gives baths, plays with them outside, changes so many diapers, fixes our air conditioner, does dishes and anything else that needs to be done without uttering a single complaint about the extra load. If Jordan thought chopping of his arm would help me, I know he would do it in a heartbeat. He is the prime example of loving me like Christ loves the church. The love Jordan has for me is a sacrificial love. I do not doubt that if he could bare this disease for me, he would.

“Two are better than one, Because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; But how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

I can’t imagine having to go through all of this without the love and support of my husband. I count it a blessing because I know many people navigating their cancer journeys don’t have the support I have. He has lifted me up mentally, spiritually, and physically over the last few months. But I also know that we would have already crumbled under the weight of this disease if it weren’t for Christ’s love for us and His position in our marriage. Jordan and I are both in agreement that the order of importance for our life is as follows:

1. God

2. Spouse

3. Children

If these get out of order, I believe our life will quickly be in disorder. The Bible is pretty clear about how our life should be prioritized.

Matthew 10:37 says, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.”

If I put Jordan before my love of God, then I will rely solely on Jordan. He is only human and will fail eventually, just as I will. We both need to depend on God more than each other because God is perfect and will never fail us. God wants us to have him at the center of our lives because when we put him first, everything else will fall into place.

Everything in our life needs to be looked at from an eternal perspective: including our marriage. How is what we are doing as a couple affecting the kingdom of God? Are we being a good example of a Christian marriage? Are we raising our kids in a way that leads them to have a strong love of Christ?

Our marriage should not just be about the two of us. I want our marriage to be a tool that God can use to bring people to him. If we have a good marriage but keep it to ourselves are we really honoring God with what he has given us? We should be doing the work of Christ together. God brought us together for a reason and I don’t want to get to the end of my life and see missed opportunities.

“For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.” Luke 12:48

Jordan and I have been given so much which means we have so much we need to give back by praying for others, offering support, serving together in and out of the church, raising godly children, being examples for a Christ-centered marriage.

Sure, Joanna Gaines has Chip, but I have Jordan Justice.

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Identity Crisis

Up at 5:15. Get ready. Get the kids ready. Drop them off at the sitter. Go to work. Pick up the kids. Clean up the house. Fix dinner. Give baths. Put the kids to bed. Repeat.

I was so busy. Running around with the kids, running errands, doing housework, and working 40 plus hours a week. Things have been so chaotic since we had kids and I honestly enjoy the chaos. And now…nothing. Since chemotherapy has such a significant impact on my immune system and working in the field of nursing is not the most sanitary of careers, I currently find myself jobless. No, I wasn’t fired, but I am on a personal leave of absence for the time being. My new job, it seems, is to attend an endless stream of doctor’s appointments and treatments. Jordan and I talked it over, and our number one priority is not our finances but instead, my health. We are not taking any chances. I have three sweet babies that need a mother, and I am concentrating solely on beating this cancer.

I have had a job since the ripe old age thirteen, and my first job was working the concession stands at the Babe Ruth Park. It was definitely not a high tech operation. There was no square app like every single trailer at the county fair has today. We were sans cash register. I definitely built on my math skills that first summer. “Oh, you had 3 hot dogs, 2 drinks, a snow cone, 3 candy bars, and a pretzel and cheese? Hmm… yes, let’s just call it 20 dollars.” Needless to say, I acquired not only better math skills but also people skills. I learned how to deal with angry customers who have been sitting in 105-degree weather, and now some dyslexic girl at the concession stand overcharged them due to her deficiencies with mental math.

Despite my rocky beginnings at the diamonds, I learned so much from my first job; like the value of hard work. My parents really instilled Colossians 3:17 into our hearts, ” and whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord, Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” They taught us that no matter what task we are asked to do at our job, do it to the best of our ability. We should do such a good job that others can see Christ through us…even if the job isn’t glamorous. Or should I say especially if the job isn’t glamorous? And I have always had a job since my not so glamorous snow cone crafting Babe Ruth days. I tried my hand at waitressing (Not a pretty sight for someone as clumsy as me!), ticket taking at the pool (Vampires like me can’t sit in the sun all day saving lives), babysitting, movie theater attendant, and student nurse. During college, I managed to work two jobs and still not fail out of nursing school.

I have always loved working. For me, it is fulfilling. My job makes up such a huge part of my identity. I mean, I spend most of my waking hours there. I enjoy every aspect; from feeling like I have made a difference in someone’s life to the comradery with my coworkers to the gigantic warm cookies in the cafeteria. (Can I get an amen from my surgery people?)

And now my life has taken a complete 180. When I look in the mirror in the morning, it doesn’t even recognize myself. My hair is gone, no unruly frizz and curls springing out of my head. In fact, no hair at all on my head. My eyebrows are much thinner and lighter than they ever have been. My skin is dry and cracked. Even though I feel great most days, I still look paler (as if that is even possible) with dark circles under my eyes. Is that from the chemo or the 3 children 3 years old and under? You decide. I see this very different person than I am used to greeting me in the Mirror.

I used to take ZERO medications and now this person I don’t even recognize needs a pillbox!!

I don’t have to rush the kids to the babysitter like I am used to; which is nice… but I feel like I am lacking the purpose and drive that I am so used to having. Every day is just a countdown. To my next chemo, then to my surgery, then to radiation. I feel as though I am just treading water until the next event in my life. I am so used to always being in a hurry with a to-do list a mile long. Now, I find myself wandering around Walmart to kill time.

Don’t get me wrong! I have loved spending so much time with my kids, and I have chosen to make the most out of this time I have with them. I mean, who else gets a maternity leave this long? I left my first two babies at 8 weeks to head back to work. I have been blessed with an entire summer to watch all three of my children grow and play. I am trying my best not to let this cancer take complete control over my life either. We go to the park, library, splash pad, and play outside quite frequently. We look like we have escaped from the circus anywhere we go, between the yelling and the general chaos that tends to accompany my family. However, I am not going to sit and sulk about my lot in life when I have babies that need my attention. My summer has been fantastic, and I feel the draw to being a stay at home mom that most mothers probably feel. It is just trying to adjust to this “new normal” in my life.

My recent identity crisis has caused me to evaluate my life, and I have realized two things…

Number one

I have always made excuses in the past for my lack of personal prayer and bible study time. “I’m too busy. I have to be at work too early. I was at work too late. The kids need my attention. The dishes need to be washed.” Sure, these are all real issues that come up, but somehow I still find time to troll Facebook or watch my DVR’d shows. And there are so many avenues to complete a Bible study in this era of technology; between the Bible app, Right Now media, and the Audible app just to name a few. I have the greatest teachers of our generation at my fingertips, and I don’t take advantage of that. The Bible app sends me a reminder every day which is a good wake up call for me. I can literally YouTube an entire sermon from Matt Chandler or Louie Giglio at any time, and yet I don’t. It feels like now God has heard all of my lame excuses and really freed up my time. There is no reason now why I shouldn’t be in my bible more than ever. It just a matter of making it a priority.

Number two

I have recently realized how much time we really waste worrying about our calling and spiritual gifts. 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 says, “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all:”

….For those who don’t know spiritual gifts are often talked about in the church. Most Christians try to determine how God has enabled them to serve him and others. It can be the gift of preaching, teaching, generosity, hospitality, prayer, encouragement, listening, baking, manual labor…the list goes on and on. Basically what things you can do to further the kingdom of God….

Don’t hear me say that our spiritual gifts are not valuable. I just think we spend too much time “meditating on” and contemplating what they are when God just wants us to put our feet to the pavement and do his work. How did you find out what career you wanted to have? Probably like me… by figuring out what you hate or aren’t any good at. I knew I would never be called to the food service industry after holding the world record for breaking the most lanterns during my stint as a Cracker Barrel waitress. But I never would have known that had I not tried.

I think it is the same for our spiritual gifts. We are not going to know what area we are gifted in until we try it. How do you know you aren’t called to teach the toddler class at church until you have wiped the snot off of their tiny faces as they sing Jesus Loves Me with more passion than we sing in the service?

How do you know you aren’t called to lead a bible study until you dive into the word for deeper understanding not just to say that you finished your daily reading?

How do you know you aren’t called to service until you have seen the appreciation of an elderly church member after you clean out their gutters?

How do you know you aren’t called to cook until you lighten someone’s load by bringing a meal to a family whose mom is recovering from surgery?

Your gift does not need to be glamorous to make a difference in someone’s life. “No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty” (I Corinthians‬ ‭12:22-23‬) Even if no one notices what you have done: God does. And one day you will receive an eternal reward.

So stop stalling by saying you don’t know what God is calling you to do and volunteer to do whatever needs to be done. Think of all of the opportunities you are missing while you are trying to “figure out” God’s will. One of my dad’s favorite saying is “God can’t steer a parked car.” There is no reason why you can’t be praying for God to show you his will for your life while you are already serving others.