For the last 6 years, our family has had the awesome opportunity to vacation in Bradenton, Florida each year on a shoe string budget. My husband's parents bought a second home here around that time and have not yet become true snow birds. They come and go throughout the year and graciously open the home to their children when they aren't here.
In the earlier years, when we had fewer children and frequent flier points stacking up due to my husband's business travels, we would fly down, rent a car and spend about 10 days or so, relaxing, soaking up the son, visiting different beaches....Anna Maria Island, Lido Beach in Sarasota and Siesta Key....we would play mini-golf, maybe drive to Disney for the Day....but mostly, we would just enjoy being together as a family without the daily pulls on our time when at home. To say I look forward to this time each year, is an understatement....I long for it. It has become truly a respite for me and my family.
As a homeschooling family, we don't have to travel around the school holidays (a perk to teaching your children at home!) We've been here from late March to early April, from late April to early May and in May. About 3 years ago, we began driving down....7 plane tickets became too much for this pocketbook....and that in itself became an adventure for us. It is quite a sight. We drive through the night, two sport pods on top of the Suburban, an air mattress in the back two seats, and the third row for the last two children still requiring car seats. As the boys are getting bigger, it has become a little more cramped, but there is something so adventurous about a road trip and the whole family being confined to four car doors. Call me crazy!
Well, this year, it looked like a family vacation wasn't going to make the calendar. After 12 years in orthopedic spinal development, my husband just couldn't shake God's leading to inquire about the sales end of the business. It was a huge leap of faith for him as it meant trading product development and management....the safety of the "inside," for the uncertainty that comes from working from home and managing his own set of doctors in his own territory of hospitals. No more scheduled vacation days, no more constant paycheck (although God took care of this detail, as well), no more getting up and going into the office. And as God always does when you are walking in His will in obedience, He opened one door after another and in the blink of an eye....a territory in our backyard with many benefits and perks. So this past January, my husband no longer got up each morning and headed into the office. A longtime prayer of mine was answered, and my hubby now worked from home.
This took a lot of getting used to. But as a family, we all love having daddy with us. In light of my current health situation and all the appointments I've had to go to, I have often fallen to my knees in overwhelming gratitude to my heavenly Father, who knows the end from the beginning. He knew and he lightened my husband's workload, stress and time before we even understood all the pieces. And that is where God's plans are so much bigger than our own. He only needs us looking to the next step, because looking too far ahead overwhelms and often brings confusion. But He already has our whole life story written. And so, with the new job, his previous 5 weeks of vacation time looked a whole lot different. Now, if one of his doctor's was in surgery....so was my husband. And this year, as we tried to plan our family vacation, it just didn't seem to come together in the usual fashion.
Back in late winter/early spring, my older sister, Heather, who also is in the midst of one of her biggest trials ever...a husband who has left after 20 years of marriage....called me and asked if we were going to Florida this year? Heather lives in Texas and has 3 children, all of which are around the ages of my children. As you can imagine, the cousins don't get to see each other too much. Heather and I, well we have become quite close this past year as I have had the privilege to walk hand in hand and heart in heart with her from a distance: crying together, praying together, encouraging each other, rejoicing together at God's provisons and just being. My dad and stepmother had bought a second home last year about 2 hours south of Bradenton, in Cape Coral, FL. Heather and her 3 children were planning a trip in June to Cape Coral for 2 and a half weeks. She asked if we would think about coming at the same time.
We had never been to Florida in June. It is hurricane season, for Pete's sake! By that time, it is actually hot in our neck of the woods....it wasn't exactly what I had in mind, nor even thought would work based on my husband's new job. But again, God knows and put the pieces together.
"My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways." says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:8-9
And here we are.....2 weeks after I received my breast cancer diagnosis....God gave us a respite.
My husband had to fly home for a bit, but Heather and I and our kids nestled in at my dad's and again, just enjoyed being together. The cousins had a ball! And then, we went our separate ways for some family time alone.
Our trip has been shall I say, "just what the doctor ordered!" From the hand of the great physician Himself. We've taken in the white sand beaches and crystal clear ocean water, we've rented a boat and cruised the gulf, as the kid's fished and caught baby sharks (yes.....it was amazing and something the kids will never forget!) We've had dinner on the beach. We traveled to West Palm Beach and went to an amazing Waterpark. We've rented waverunners at Ft. Myers beach and jumped the gulf waves at high speeds only to stop and enjoy a school of dolphins within hands reach of the waverunner....truly an amazing experience! We've played in the pool, scoured the sand for beautiful shells, and enjoyed lazy days playing games and cards.
And for me....on top of all that.....I've had time alone with my Savior and deep communion with Him. There is something about coming here that allows me to hear so clearly from God. Maybe it is my heart's posture, maybe it is fewer distractions...I'm not sure....but I look forward to hearing from God's heart and the quiet time that He blesses me with while here. A couple years ago, I had been asked to speak for the first time about our son, Joshua and the testimony of his life and death. It was here that God put those words onto paper. It was here, that God gave me a verse to begin praying over my husband. It was here that I read "Gentle Ways of the Beautiful Woman" by Anne Ortlund (highly recommend this book), which God impressed upon my heart to lead as a summer book study for the ladies in our church. Not to mention how He spoke to my heart about spiritual disciplines and things that needed changing in my own life through that book. And the list goes on and on......
Well this year, it has been no different. It has been a respite in many ways the same, but in other ways different. As the reality of my life right now tends to creep into my quiet thoughts, I am constantly aware of what lies ahead of me upon returning home. It is like this cloud that can swoop in and block the sun. Since the day of diagnosis, this is what I have been facing. This dark and looming cloud that some mornings I wake up with, some nights I go to sleep with and other days it moves in quickly as does a black storm cloud right before a big storm. And my saying to my husband has been, "the clouds are looming today." But God gave me a verse the other day as I was feeling wrapped in this cloud....
"And he shall be like the light of the morning when the sun rises, A morning without clouds, like the tender grass springing out of the earth, by clear shining after rain." 2 Samuel 23:4
As the sun shines after the rain and brings forth new fruit and vegetation, so shall I be after this storm passes. God will bring me through this cancer and I will forever be changed. The clouds will give way to the morning sun.
And as I walked on the beach on Sunday....I was feeling a heaviness, a sadness...feeling alone even though I was surrounded by my family. I started walking down a stretch of the beach, alone, that became unmanicured. There were dunes that lined the beaches' shoreline, very few people, and seaweed that had been dragged in from sea. All you could hear were the waves lapping against the shoreline. As I walked I began talking with God....
You know throughout these last 6 weeks, I haven't been angry or bitter. I haven't questioned God or even asked "why me?" It doesn't make me special. It has just been my journey to the heart of God. We all go on our own journey and down paths God has appointed for us. But after walking through the death of a child.....nothing else really compares. I learned 8 years ago, that God's love is everlasting and that our posture is to stand with open hands. I have learned to accept the blessings and the hardships. It was a really tough lesson to learn. One I fought and fought until finally God brought me to the end of myself and said, "Do you really trust me and will you accept all that I have for you....my way, not ours?" I answered yes to that question.
God gave me the victory I desperately needed as I surrendered all to Him. It has been a blessed walk. But one that has had pain.
And so on Sunday, I began walking in that pain. As the clouds descended upon my heart and sadness crept in....and as I looked at the shells randomly scattered beneath my feet....I saw a beautiful, yet broken conch shell. I knelt down and picked it up and immediately wanted to find one that was untouched by the seas force. I wanted to find one that was without holes or cracks. You know the ones that you find in the tourist shops. The ones that aren't real. And the more I walked the more desperately I wanted to find the perfect shell. The prized possession. But all I kept finding were broken ones. Oh they were still beautiful, some shiny, some dull and almost whitewashed and speckled....and I asked God to show Himself to me in that moment.
And there was silence.
I continued walking.....and found another broken and cracked conch shell.
The silence from God became ever more real.
And the more silence, the more my heart cried out for His hand to reach down and touch me and His Holy Spirit to speak to me.
And then as He began parting the clouds over my heart. He spoke ever so softly to me...."Stacy, look around you. I am here. I've never left."
And my heart immediately was humbled before the Lord as I gazed out over the expanse of the sea knowing that God's hand created that sea. And as I watched the waves hit the sand knowing that God told those waves how far to go and set the earth in the sky amongst the sun and the moon and dictated the seas coming and going.
"Do not fear Me?" says the Lord.
"Will you not tremble at My presence,
Who have placed the sand as the bound of the sea,
By a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass beyond it?
And though its waves toss to and fro,
Yet they cannot prevail;
Though they roar, yet they cannot pass over it?" Jeremiah 5:22
"How precious are your thoughts to me, O God!"
How great is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they would be more
in number than the sand;
When I awake, I am still with You." Psalm 139:17-18
And He wrapped me with His love as I said, "forgive me, Lord." You never leave. It is I who turns away.
And as I looked down and saw yet another shell lying in the sand.....He quickly reminded me that these shells are more beautiful than those manufactured. They are real. They've weathered the waves, they've weathered life growing inside of them as they offered that life protection. They are the prized possession....a life lived in Christ and beauty is there amidst the brokenness.
Those shells will sit on my desk at home as a reminder again, of the faithfulness of my Father. And the day I walked in the sand.
Later that day, I sat in my favorite spot.....in a beach chair just touching the oceans edge. I looked into the sky and again, God spoke so quietly to my heart.
"Stacy, the truth is, when the clouds descend, the sun is always still in the sky." "It is what you choose to focus on...the clouds or the SON."
Last night we sat at once again, my favorite restaurant at the beach. It sits at the point of Anna Maria Island right on the beaches edge. It is casual, laid back and so friendly.....and dinner is served under canopied tables right in the sand overlooking the ocean. We go there every year. As we ordered dinner, storm clouds began rolling in....really black clouds being pushed out to sea. The wind picked up, a cool breeze took away the evening humidity, we were ushered up onto a deck table just next to the sand and watched the rain come and the clouds descend upon us. The storm passed quickly and we were covered and protected underneath that umbrella. Still enjoying the breathtaking view. And this is what I saw appear....
....the sun begin to peak through the darkest clouds and I grabbed my camera not wanting to ever forget that beautiful sight.
This cancer thing....it is another storm, another cloud, amidst the sun. I pray it passes quickly and God makes my physical body whole and well. I'm sure there will be more cloudy days ahead....but I pray that on those days, my heart and my head will choose to look up and see the SON.