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Choosing Joy

Have you ever been fully engrossed in a tv show where your favorite character has something serious and irreversible happen to them. The plot takes a sharp turn, and you are left feeling… what now? At just when you think all is lost, the character wakes up and realizes it was all a dream. Their life hasn’t changed dramatically, and they can go on just as they were; just like you can…after you recover from the shock! I have to admit I hate this storyline. I don’t like spending a whole episode thinking things have changed just to find out it was a false alarm.

But I’m not sure I would complain if that happened to the storyline of my life. Some days I think this is all so unreal. Maybe it’s all a dream. Perhaps I will wake up to find I am still pregnant with Robbyn and we are both completely healthy. But that is not the case.

This summer has been a blur having absolutely flown by. When I look back and see all that has transpired since April, it is unbelievable. Our life is unrecognizable. If you had told me all of the things that we would endure in such a short time, I would not have thought it possible. But by the grace of God, we have persevered. We have taken it one step at a time. Step one is complete: Robbyn is here and healthy. Step two was completed two weeks ago: chemotherapy is finished!

Sure, my life would be much simpler if all of this really had been a dream. I was content in April. Our life was good. Our kids were good (most days. If you have toddlers you understand our love/hate relationship). Our jobs were good. No ripples in the pool that was our life. But I think that may have been part of the problem. We were so content with our life that we weren’t striving to do more. We weren’t looking to see what areas in our life where God could be using us. We were wasting the gifts that God had blessed us with. We weren’t striving toward sanctification with the fervor we should have been. (sanctification: a fancy word for becoming more like Jesus).

In many ways, this cancer has not only been a blessing, but also wake-up call. I have been able to see God’s handiwork in even the smallest corners of my life. I have decided to choose to have joy in every situation.

I’m notorious for nagging the daylights out of my husband and being upset that he has not completed my entire honey-do-list on my rigorous timetable. (Jordan, try to hide your surprised face.) But lately, I have not seen the need to be upset over things I would have blown my lid over a few short months ago. I’ve realized what things are worth getting upset about. When you think you are about to die, life gets put into perspective pretty quickly. I have realized the insignificance of things we tend to get upset about; the unimportance of the things we rant and rave about on social media or with our group of friends.

When I thought my days were numbered with my husband, I didn’t want to spend all of my time being upset over things that really didn’t matter anyway. Does it matter that my Pinterest-inspired kitchen utensil holder was not completed by the deadline I had given him? No. He works hard all week and comes home and loves on our babies who are begging for his attention the instant he walks through the door. I want to show him love and compassion, and I have received the same things from him in return. Our house has been so full of love and joy since April, and it took a cancer diagnosis to move us from our complacency to a place filled with joy.

I can see what a blessing each day is, and I have felt genuinely joyful this summer.

No. I’m not happy all of the time, but that is the difference between joy and happiness. Joy is given by God and is not dependent on our circumstances. Happiness for me anyway, is controlled by my circumstances, emotions, hormones, or quality and quantity of food I have eaten. (If I have gone 24 hours without iced coffee you can bet I’m not a happy camper).

“Therefore you now have sorrow, but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” John‬ ‭16:22‬ ‭

“You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Psalms‬ ‭16:11‬

I can have joy because of the hope I have in Jesus Christ, and these circumstances have allowed me to experience the fullness of the hope and joy that only Jesus can give. I may never have gotten the opportunity to experience this otherwise.

Choosing joy. Not how I would ideally like to do yard work but trying to make the best of every situation.

If the world looks at Christians and sees how upset we get when life doesn’t go according to our plan, why would they want to trust our God? (Especially when it looks like we don’t even trust him!) If we can’t have joy in every circumstance and we know the ending of the story (we win! Christ has beaten death! And we will be with him in Heaven!), why would other people want to hand their lives over to Christ?

It is not hard to have joy when everything is going according to plan. It takes work to have joy when your world is upside down. I believe that we have a greater impact on nonbelievers if we have joy when our future looks uncertain to them. But we have a secret… we know the ending…our future cannot be too bleak when attain heaven at the end of this life.

Like it says in Philippians 1:21, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Meaning if I live, I get the opportunity and privilege to do Christ’s work here on Earth. How cool is that? The creator of the universe wants me to be a part of his plan for the salvation of the world (But God doesn’t promise we won’t suffer here on Earth). On the flip side, if I die, I gain Heaven and shouldn’t that be the ultimate goal of our life? I get to be in Heaven with Christ, where I FINALLY have COMPLETE sanctification (We are imperfect and we will not be completely Christ-like until we shed this sinful human flesh).

I’m a pretty practical person. I’m not huge on theory and I like to have concrete tools to work with. So here are some tools that I have found helpful in choosing joy in my life

Find the bright side in every situation.

I promise there is one. You might just have to look past your unhappiness to find it.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians‬ ‭1:3-4‬

If you think you can’t find the bright side in your situation, just know that you will one day be able to comfort and walk alongside someone going through a similar situation.

  • Meditate on the blessings in your life
  • God has blessed you with so many things: your health, your family, your friends, your job, your home and so much more. Take time to thank him for all that he has done for you. No blessing is too small to thank him for. He owes us nothing but chooses to give us so much. If you can’t think of any, then you are missing a BIG ONE! Christ already died on the cross for you.

    “Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world.” Isaiah‬ ‭12:4-5‬ ‬

    Don’t stoop to the negativity of others.

    Negativity can spread like wildfire in the workplace, with your group of friends, at home, and even in your church. It is so easy to jump on the bandwagon! Believe me, I know. But I promise you will have more joy in your life if you steer clear. If you aren’t brave enough to tell them to confront it head on then just remove yourself from the situation. It may mean unfollowing people on facebook.

    “Deceit is in the hearts of those who plot evil, but those who promote peace have joy.” Proverbs‬ ‭12:20‬

    Do something for someone else

    We are all selfish by nature. So if things aren’t going the way you had planned, or you feel like your life is lacking joy, then I would encourage you to stop throwing yourself a pity party and do something nice for someone. I think the quickest way to get out of a funk is to help someone in need. Do it secretly, or without expecting anything in return. I think the people who have the most joy in their lives are the ones who are focusing on others. It may be as easy as doing something kind or out of the ordinary for your spouse. Do a task around the house that is usually theirs just to lighten their load. It doesn’t have to be anything earth-shattering. Although, the most joyful times of my life have been serving on mission trips in Mexico; with no air conditioning, sleeping on the floor, sunburnt, trying to learn how to mix mortar by hand. And the people that we were serving were such a blessing to me.

  • Stop dwelling on the circumstances that are out of your control
  • Give those to God. I find in my life there is a direct correlation between dwelling on things out of my control and the level of my anxiety. It is tough for me to give it to God but it also makes me pray harder and more frequently. I try to move from thinking of those thing and shifting my focus to the things that I can do. I don’t think God wants us to use “let go and let God” as a way to sit on our rumps and do nothing. Maybe you lost your job and you may have had no control over that, but that doesn’t mean you don’t go looking for a job because you are “letting god.” God gave you two hands to write a resume with. So use the tools that God has given you to work on the aspects of your life that you have control over instead of dwelling on the things that you can’t.

    The more you choose joy, the easier it gets.

    I think the inverse is also true. The more you choose negativity, the easier it becomes to jump to that reaction in every situation. Make it a priority to choose joy. You will probably have to stop yourself when you start to head down a path of negative thoughts or feelings. Pray to God to help you see the blessings in your life, pray for the strength and the wisdom to overcome negativity, doubt, and worry. When you feel like you just can’t have joy… pull from your personal source of joy. The Holy Spirit. He will be your joy and sustain you when you have none.

    “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah‬ ‭8:10

    So, my life may not be a dream like so many tv episodes I have seen, but I can have joy because the creator of the universe has written my story.

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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.

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    A Time for Baby

    Two shots in my rump and now we were ready to meet our baby bird! I have been jokingly calling her the grand finale for months now. Well, this girl really knows how to make an entrance! This is quite a lot of commotion she has created in just under a week. However, we think she is pretty special despite not having met her yet.

    How many little girls can say they saved their mama’s life before they even left the womb?

    The doctors told me that my tumor is not hormone driven, but it grew to such a massive size so quickly right when my milk started to come in. This may be too much information for you but when I began to leak at 32 weeks (roughly the same time I did with my previous daughter) this tumor accumulated fluid (20 ml worth based on the first ultrasound) making it very noticeable.

    I have dense breasts anyway, and I would have never noticed a small lump, and pregnant bodies are so strange anyway, I probably would’ve assumed it was pregnancy related.

    So, being pregnant with Robbyn at this time allowed the tumor to grow to such a noticeable size so quickly for some reason.

    I believe this was another one of God’s magnificent blessings to our family. We were able to find this mass before it had spread anywhere else in my body.

    Saturday afternoon, we dropped the kids off for a fun weekend with Jordan’s parents, and I met up with my sister for our ceremonial pre-delivery pedicure. Heaven forbid anyone in our family pushes a baby out without having professionally polished toes at the ends of our very swollen legs. Holly’s method of comfort usually involves pedicures, retail therapy, and ice cream, so we had to make a few stops before meeting up with Jordan.

    I’m sure you have heard of love languages, and all of this is Holly’s love language and an afternoon of escape was just what I needed after this week. I’m not usually good at doing these sorts of things, I’m more task driven, but Holly has always had a way of forcing me to have fun.

    After being properly pampered, we met Jordan for an extremely greasy burger and fries since I didn’t want hospital food for dinner, and I would be cut off entirely at midnight.

    Jordan and I carried our bags into the hospital. It’s always a strange feeling walking in not knowing the next time you will be outdoors. Jordan held my hand, but honestly, I wasn’t even nervous about this impending delivery. I was just so excited to be doing something instead of sitting and waiting.

    I was genuinely surprised I hadn’t gone into stress-induced labor earlier that week. Robbyn definitely could tell something was not right I had been having pain and contractions all week.

    I had Cervadil that evening and had to be on a fetal monitor through the night. Miss Robbyn decided to roll around all night, and we kept losing her on the monitor.

    *That means the nurse was in every 30 minutes to try and find the runaway baby again. *

    Not the most conducive environment for sleep.

    Not that I was in the mood to sleep anyway.

    The next morning the nurse came in to start my Pitocin, and we were off to the races!

    I prayed to God early that morning

    I wanted that day to be a joyful occasion. I didn’t want to think about my cancer. As I said in my prayer, I wanted to enjoy the blessing that Robbyn was to us. Ecclesiastes 3 says “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”

    Today was a time to be born and celebrate.

    I did not have an epidural with my other two children. I am a cheapskate and didn’t want to have to pay for it, but we met our deductible 3 times over in just over a week; so what the heck!

    I also knew there was a possibility I could start chemo that week, and I didn’t want to be utterly worn-out from labor so I thought I would give the epidural a shot. It was a strange feeling or rather unfeeling. And the “laboring” continued.

    The nurse, being a good patient advocate tried to get my mom, dad, sister, and Jordan to stop talking so much so I could rest, but that is my family.

    We are loud.

    There are always four different conversations going on, and everyone just keeps talking louder. It was calming to me to hear the chatter.

    I much prefer the soothing sounds of my chaotic family to the numbing silence.

    While they chattered away, I laid with my eyes closed convinced I was not progressing because I wasn’t feeling anything.

    My sweet nurse kept asking if I was feeling any pressure.

    No pressure. No real pain. Nothing.

    Holly and I forced Jordan to go to the cafeteria and grab something to eat since we had no idea how much longer I might be laboring, and Robbyn was almost promised a stay in the NICU.

    Our nurse took that opportunity to go ahead and drain my bladder since it had been a few hours. I swear she emptied a 5-gallon bucket from my bladder. That’s when I started to feel a little uncomfortable.

    Nothing terrible just slightly uncomfortable.

    She said she wanted to check me, but I told her I KNEW it was not anywhere near show time. Well, she is the labor and delivery nurse and not me for a good reason.

    She proceeded to check me and said, “You’re a 10, we are going to have a baby.”

    She started rushing around, moving in tables, calling the doctor and the NICU. Holly called Jordan and told him he better hustle back because Robbyn was coming quickly.

    I just sat there in disbelief.

    The doctor was gowned and seated at the foot of the bed, and I was in the “ready” position when Jordan finally rushed into the room.

    The doctor said, “Ok Kari, on this next contraction you are going to push.”
    I looked up at the nurse and said, ” You are going to have to tell me when.”
    She said, “Now!”
    I said, “Now?!”
    I seriously couldn’t feel anything.

    Three or so pushes, and we could hear our angry little girl screaming!

    She was here, and she was mad about it.

    An excellent sign when we were worried that she would come out with difficulty breathing.

    The NICU checked her out and packed up and left, leaving Robbyn on my chest! She was doing so well we were able to hold her for about an hour before she had to make her journey up to the NICU.

    As she lay on my chest, I could hardly believe she was really here. I literally had not even broken a sweat during labor. I was not expecting her for at least six more weeks. And here she was; all whopping 4 pounds 15 ounces of her!

    We had our ecclesiastical time to dance!

    Now that she had made her arrival and was safe, our gears had to shift.

    It was now time for war.

    I was raised in a very military-minded family. Our vacations always revolved around which battleship or military museum we could visit. My dad is a retired chaplain, my brother is an army ranger, and my sister is a former Army ICU nurse. (I am clearly the slacker in the family.) So it was no surprise when Adam texted me this:

    “I was going to tell you today; I think these next 16 weeks are going to be your “deployment.” You might not get to see your kids as much and do the things you want to do with them, but you are fighting for something far more important, and only for a season. This is “a time for war” (Ecclesiastes). Phase one complete. Robbyn is out and safe. On to phase two: destroy the enemy. So stand in the face of fear and let God win the day. He is able. 2 Chronicles 20, “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s. You will not need to fight this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the LORD who is with you.

    This battle is not mine, but God’s and our battle is just beginning.