There is a warning sign taped outside the door, a universal symbol to stop, to take caution. The sign shouts BEWARE and directs your eyes toward the plastic bins drilled into the concrete wall. These bins offer you a new set of clothes if you still choose to come in. You find a filmy yellow gown with ties too short, a protective mask and a pair of bright blue plastic gloves. These clothes will provide a barrier between you and me, an effective shield between my germs and yours. You stop and stare and say a prayer. Pushing hard on the heavy door that separates us, you enter. Your eyes see the bare walls crudely decorated with crooked hooks holding tangled tubes and masks and dials, neatly labeled. The black straight back chair invites you to sit and stay, but not for long.

The room is cold as the fan runs fast, working double duty through the day to circulate the cool air while it muffles the sounds from without and the sounds from within. The cold air threatens to freeze my small frame and I shiver before I insulate myself with a thin flannel blanket, warmed by a heating station down the hall. The cold air is no match for the thoughts twisting through my mind like frost etchings on the windows of my heart. The frost taunts: you are alone.

This is a lonely room.

But don’t be afraid. In a different time and a different place, I’ve been here before. This is my room.

Open your eyes and see what I see. This room is a refuge, a place of rest. It is here that my heart sings for joy in the shadow of His wings. The walls are covered with feathers, the soft protection of His shelter. I am safe.

Open your ears to hear what I hear. God is near. God is here. Listen with me to the echoes of Spirit-whispered secrets. I know you. I delight in you. I love you.

So come inside my room where honest fears mingle with holy prayers and truth, double edged like a sword, triumphs. We will laugh and cry and tell stories while we sit and wait for the unknown. Come in and see with Spirit eyes, I am alone, but not alone.

Holy Father, Gentle Jesus, Whispering Spirit,
As I cross over the threshold from the stillness of the sacred into the chaos of the ordinary, give me eyes that see visions of Your goodness and ears that hear the voice of Your mercy following me all the days of my life. Amen.

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Happy New Year Everyone!

I’m just playing a little catch up with some of my writings and adventures over the last little while.  Today I will copy a YouTube video of my performance in a Slam Poetry contest with the Durham Writers.  This event took place two summers ago and while I have posted to Facebook, I never posted it here.  Enjoy!

God’s Handiwork

(This post goes hand in hand with the last post Borrowed Time. If you haven’t read it yet, take some time to do that first.)

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10 NIV). This word handiwork has also been translated masterpiece or workmanship. Say this out loud with me: I am God’s handiwork. I am God’s masterpiece. I am God’s workmanship.

Do you know what this means? God planned you! He designed you! He carefully and deliberately designed you on purpose and with intention. There is nothing about who you are that went unplanned or unnoticed by God. In creating you, in creating me, God was creating a masterpiece. You and I, we are not forgotten drawings or unfinished sketches that God hastily scratched on the back of a napkin over dinner. We were not carelessly doodled while God thought about something else or solved someone else’s problem.

I shared part of Psalm 139 in my last post, Borrowed Time. Here’s another taste…

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. (Psalm 139:13 NIV)

Now, these words might not mean anything to you, but this is a powerful image to me. You see I’m a knitter. One of the things that I love about knitting is that it all starts out the same: with a ball of yarn and a set of needles. From here, anything is possible. Mittens. Scarves. Hats. Toys. Sweaters. Socks. Blankets. The possibilities are endless. To begin, I choose my pattern, select my wool and needles and start to cast on stitches. And then, one by one, stitch by stitch, row on row a piece of knitted fabric starts to form. Something from nothing. Created by my own hands. Slowly, thoughtfully, with purpose.

Just think about it for a minute. God knit me together, knit you together. And just as I carefully choose each pattern and wool, God carefully put thought into who you are, who I am and who we would become. He chose the colour of my eyes, the freckles on my face, the number of hairs on my head. No one is just like me. No one is just like you. We are each one of a kind. A carefully-crafted-hand-knit human being. Created in the image of God himself, God’s own handiwork. Isn’t that CRAZY?

You are a masterpiece, God’s masterpiece! His handiwork! His workmanship! Soak that in for a moment. (I’ll wait…). Isn’t that awesome? AWESOME!

Question: If we all believed that is true about ourselves and others, that we really are God’s Masterpiece, then how would we see ourselves and others differently?

With joy,
Heather

Borrowed Time

When I am downtown at PMH waiting for an appointment, it will come as not surprise to you that I will often engage the other bmt patients around me in conversation.  I am always curious to find out how much time has passed since their transplant and whether their donor was a family member or if they were anonymous.

Time and time again I will meet patients and their loved ones who have only been released from hospital days before and it is a powerful reminder to me as to how far I have come in the last four years.  I truly have forgotten just how far I have come.  At the same time, being four years down the road I am often (not always) able to offer some wisdom that I have learned along the way.  I also meet patients who are years ahead of me and these patients give me so much hope as I look to the future.

The stories that I enjoy the most though are about the bone marrow donors.  I have been moved to tears as a patient, sitting next to his brother will say, “my brother’s bone marrow saved my life.”  Equally, I have talked with siblings where there is deep guilt and pain because they were not a match for their sibling and it was necessary to look for an anonymous donor.  Each patient has a story, each caregiver has a story and as I sit and listen with open ears I can often hear my own story echoed in theirs.

The waiting room at the hospital, has for me become a sacred place, holy ground, if you will.  There are many days when I head home and realize that my scheduled appointment was with the doctors but my God Appointment had been pre-arranged to sit and listen and share my God story in the waiting room.  I am humbled to no end.

One of the recurring themes in my conversations with bmt patients and their families is this: Since November 18, 2009 (my transplant date) I have been living on Borrowed Time.  If it hadn’t been for my sister, for my cousin, for a stranger I may never meet I would not be alive today.  Each day after the day of my transplant is a gift to me and I am living on Borrowed Time.  I hear this all the time and while the idea of Borrowed Time points to the overwhelming thankfulness that a patient has towards the one who donated their life-giving bone marrow, I think perhaps, that this thought is a lie trying to masquerade as the truth.

Lets read Psalm 139:14-16 together.

For you (God) created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

Did you catch that?  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.  This is such a comforting thought for me personally.  As I look back over the last 15 years of my cancer/bmt story, I realize that this has been a foundation for me.  In fact, more than that, it rocks me at the very core of who I am.

You all know that I am so thankful for Jessie and the generous, selfless gift of her bone marrow.  In 2009, Jeff and I realized that I was running out of treatment options and that a bmt had the potential to drastically change my health future.  However, we equally knew that God is the One who keeps track of all my days, and that we could do nothing to change that.  I couldn’t outlive the days chosen for me and I wouldn’t be short changed of any of the days that God already planned for me since before the beginning of time.  Doesn’t that just make your heart leap with joy?

I have come to realize though that this truth is not just for me and for the other bmt patients I meet at the hospital.  This truth is for YOU!  There are some of you who believe that you are living on Borrowed Time and you might not even know it.  Maybe it has to do with a health crisis where your life was literally hanging in the balance.  Perhaps it was a traffic accident. Maybe a quick change of destination decisions and realization that “that could have been me”.  I don’t know your story or the circumstance, but you do.  And if you believe that you are living on Borrowed Time, you are believing a lie.  If you are alive today it is because God has ordained it since before time began.  Believe it and live each day fully.

You are not living on Borrowed Time, In fact, you are living on God’s carefully-chosen-just-for-you Ordained Time.  Doesn’t that sound way better?  I’ve said this before and I’ll say this again: You were created ON PURPOSE and FOR A PURPOSE and it is my prayer that as you live out each day given to you that would continue to understand all that God has prepared for you since the beginning of time.

With Joy that TRIUMPHS,

Heather

 

What Was That?

One of my ongoing health struggles thoughout the last year has been graft vs host disease (gvhd) in my lungs.  You may remember that simply put, gvhd is my new bone marrow system attacking my old cell system.  Since my transplant in 2009 I have had gvhd of the lungs, the skin and well, you name it.  For me, this year, gvhd has meant difficulty in breathing, shortness of breath and a terrible, persistent from-the-very-bottom-of-my-toes cough.  It was physically painful, embarrassing and it made people around me uncomfortable.  And there was nothing anyone could do to help me.  Water: didn’t help. Cough candies: didn’t help.  Rubbing my back: didn’t help.  Leaving the room: didn’t help (although probably eased the discomfort in the room).  I didn’t feel sick and aside from the medicine I took everyday, nothing helped.  There was no rhyme or reason as to when I would cough, how long I would cough or when I would stop.

On the night of July 19, 2013 I went to bed and as would most often happen I began to cough uncontrollably.  The few weeks earlier had been so muggy that I had been having a hard time breathing throughout the day.  In fact, I’m pretty sure healthy people were having a hard time breathing those weeks too.  Throughout this time, I was never in danger but I was so tired of not being able to take a deep breath of air.  I was even concerned about being outside for long periods of time and planned my days accordingly.

As the coughing that night began to subside I shared my frustration with Jeff, knowing that there was nothing that he could do.  When my breathing was finally under control so that I could concentrate on falling asleep I was keenly aware of just how shallow and laboured my breathing was that night.  In frustration I cried out to God and fell asleep.

That night I was woken up by a bad dream filled with mis-truth and the air around me felt heavy and dark.  In order to fall back asleep I began to pray.  Remember though, that it was the wee hours of the morning and I couldn’t really think of any sentences to pray.  Over and over I just quietly whispered “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!”  As my body began relax I began to pray “Holy! Holy! Holy! is the Lord God Almighty!  Who was and is and is to come.”  I repeated this over and over and felt that my small, desperate prayer was joining with the angels to become a large chorus of victory over this dream.

As I was praying, I remember, all of a sudden thinking (hearing? I don’t know…)  “What Was That?”  I took mental inventory of the house and everyone was asleep.  The street outside was quiet.  I continued to pray because I didn’t know what else to do.

And then in an instant, I yawned.  Not a big deal, right? Except that for the last really long time, the type of deep breath necessary for a yawn would usher in a fit of coughing.  As I began to feel a little more awake, I began to notice that my breathing was different, deeper, not laboured.  There was none of the usual heaviness or fear of taking too big a breath that would lead to an uncontrolled cough.

What had happened?  I don’t know but as I began to think back over the night I remember falling asleep in deep frustration, waking in fear from a dream, being very aware that my breathing was heavy and shallow and praying to Jesus.  As I took mental note of the last few minutes I remembered that “What Was That?” moment and realized that whatever that was (a sound, a feeling, a… I don’t know but I remember taking note…) it was then that my breathing changed.  That change continued throughout the night, throughout the next day and into the next number of weeks.

I was AMAZED and I continue to be AMAZED!

With each breath I would take there was this pattern that emerged:

Deep Breath. “Thank You Jesus!”

Deep Breath. “Thank You Jesus!”

Deep Breath. “Thank You Jesus!”

With each breath it was immediate and automatic:

Deep Breath. “Thank You Jesus!”

Deep Breath. “Thank You Jesus!”

Deep Breath. “Thank You Jesus!”

And for weeks, as I told this story to just about anyone who would listen:

Deep Breath. “Thank You Jesus!”

Deep Breath. “Thank You Jesus!”

Deep Breath. “Thank You Jesus!”

I believe in that “What Was That?” moment that God healed my lungs of the terrible cough that had been so persistent throughout the year.

Fast Forward to Fall 2013:

Many of you know that over the last few weeks I have had pneumonia.  And with the pneumonia came a wheeze and a crackle with each breath it was the same: in, out, wheeze, crackle, in, out, wheeze, crackle…

I was telling the “What Was That?” story again to Dad and Maggie a little while ago, coughing my whole way though.  At the end of my story I said, even though I am coughing now, I believe in faith that once all this pneumonia goes away (we didn’t yet know it was pneumonia…) that my breathing will be restored to what it was this summer.  I didn’t know for sure and I certainly had all my fingers crossed, but in faith, I believed.  For with God, all things are possible.

It’s been a few weeks since I was officially told I had pneumonia.  I’ve been home from a 5 day stay in the hospital for about 3.5 weeks.  I have finished all my antibiotics and they have done their job. I continue to be closely followed by the bmt team at PMH.  I am healing slowly but surely.

The other day I began to reflect on this story, to take a good look at my breathing.  And I promise you, I continue to be AMAZED at how God continues to work out the details of my life.  I lay still on my bed, listening to each breath, watching the rise and fall of my lungs.  Each breath was deep.  Each breath was full.  There was no heaviness.  There was no wheeze. There was no crackle.

The only sound to be heard in the room was:

Deep Breath. “Thank You Jesus!”

Deep Breath. “Thank You Jesus!”

Deep Breath. “Thank You Jesus!”

With joy,  Heather

Dear Family and Friends,

Shout with joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious! Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!  So great is your power…”  Psalm 66:1-2

This verse is from Psalm 66 (you can read the whole Psalm here… http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalms%2066&version=NLT

In the same manner that the Psalm writer shouts out for everyone to gather in close to hear the awesome things that God has done, we too are shouting out to you “Come and see what God has done” and “Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me”.

Some of you know that when our son Nathan was just 2 years old he had been diagnosed with an allergy to peanuts and tree nuts.  One night last summer,  Nathan came to Jeff crying in a way that was so out of character.  As Jeff asked questions to determine what had made him so upset, Nathan explained, “I don’t want my peanut allergy anymore.  I want God to take my peanut allergy away.”  That night, Jeff helped Nathan pray to God.  With simple faith and a sincerity of heart, Nathan cried out, “God, please heal me of my peanut allergy.  I don’t want my allergy anymore.”  Over the next number of months, Jeff and I along with some of you, echoed Nathan’s prayer, crying out to God, the One who said “I am the God who heals you” (Exodus 15:26)

Last December Nathan when went to the allergy doctor and his “scratch test” came back negative, Dr. Hummel suggested that perhaps Nathan’s allergy was gone.  Our hearts were thrilled.  In fact, when Dr. Hummel came into the room he said to Jeff and I, “I don’t know what you are doing, but keep it up.”  And we did!  Nathan was sent that day for a blood test which also came back negative for the peanut allergy.

In order to be cleared from this allergy completely, the Gold Standard is a Peanut Challenge Test at Sick Kids Hospital.  It is here, in a controlled environment, that Nathan would eat peanut butter and then a Reese Peanut Butter Cup.  This test took place on Tuesday, June 18, 2013 and Nathan has been cleared to eat all peanuts and tree nuts.  We believe that God heard Nathan’s prayer last summer and that He has healed Nathan of this allergy.  

“Shout with joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious! Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!” Psalm 66:1-3

Our hearts are bursting with thanksgiving to God and we shout out with joy.  We call out to you, “Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for Nathan.” (Psalm 66:16)  

With triumphant joy,

Heather

ps: Now it’s your turn.  What story would you share of God’s awesome deeds, of what God has done for you?

 

 

 

(PLEASE NOTE: this is posted out of order and is the celebration note I sent to friends and family in November 2012)

Dear Family and Friends,

It’s true! Yesterday (November 18, 2012) marked the three year anniversary of my bone marrow transplant. Thank you to everyone who has already celebrated with “likes” and comments on Facebook.

The three year mark is quite a significant milestone as far as bmt’s go. And like any significant milestone, I have had time to reflect on what has happened in the last few years in order to put me where I am today. I must admit to you that my own expectations for reaching this milestone are very different from where I am. I had thought that once I hit the three year mark that it would be clear sailing with just a few doctors visits scattered throughout the year. As you know, this has not been the case. I am still battling with graft-vs-host disease and am regularly down at the hospital 4 days/month for appointments, tests and photopheresis treatments.

That said, I do CELBRATE! I AM celebrating! My heart is FULL and OVERFLOWING with thanksgiving to God. This life saving procedure has been life changing for me. And you, my family and friends have all been an important part of this transformation.

I could go on and on (I really could…) but I want to share just one story with you that has radically changed the way I understand my own cancer/bmt story and the roles that you have all played. This year, in a way like never before, I have had opportunity to pray for some of you who are in the very middle of your own stories. I have “yippee-yahoo” celebrated when good news has been communicated and at other times I have had the breath knocked right out of me at what was happening, completely heart-wrecked. My prayer this summer and fall has been “grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console.” -St. Francis Assisi. And God has been answering that prayer in a variety of ways. Praying and dialoguing along side others in this way has given me a keen awareness of the roles that you have played in my own story. Some of you have been walking along with us since my transplant, for some, since my diagnosis and some of you, my entire life. I am humbled that you would journey alongside me, Jeff and Nathan for so long.

I was encouraged yesterday by the following reading so I will leave a portion of it with you. It comes from Streams in the Desert, November 18 reading.

“I may find myself confined to narrow areas of service, or isolated from others through sickness or by taking an unpopular stance, when I had hoped for much wider opportunities. Yet the Lord knows what is best for me, and my surroundings are determined by Him. Wherever He places me, He does so to strengthen my faith and power and to draw me into closer communion with Himself. And even if confined to a dungeon, my soul will prosper… So, let come what will come, His will is welcome.”

As I approached the three year milestone, I had certainly hoped for, even expected much wider opportunities. But I believe with all of who I am that God knows best and that I am here in this place for a purpose, to strengthen my faith and to be drawn closer to Him.

With joy that triumphs,
Heather

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