Friday, October 20, 2017

Jesus Wants Your Weakness

I was blessed today to read this article. 

Suffering has shown me that my strength is not in me.
The raging seas have made me cling to the rock of my salvation. I can say in full conviction, “If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence. When I thought ‘My foot slips’ your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up (Psalm 94:17–18).”
Read the rest of the article Jesus Wants Your Weakness.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Off the Shelf

A few notes on the books we've been reading recently.

When God Doesn't Fix It by Laura Story

When I asked for recommendations on what I should read next, immediately two of the Home Joys readers answered with When God Doesn't Fix It by Laura Story. One even offered to send me the book.

Laura was a newlywed with dreams for the future when her husband was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor. Complications from brain surgery left her husband with permanent loss to his memory and vision.

I found When God Doesn't Fix It like a cup of cold water on a summer day. Laura doesn't deny the difficulties when faced with a problem that can't be "fixed."  She is honest about the stress both to her relationship with God and their marriage. But she shares so much truth on how God meets us in the dark places and how God can be glorified by our surrender to Him. Laura reminded me that even when I hate the story of pain and suffering I'm experiencing - this same story can be my greatest offering to God.

I had to push through the last few chapters. I guess I just wasn't all that interested in Laura's career as a worship leader and recording artist, but the first half of the book made it highly worthwhile and highly recommend it - even if you husband doesn't have a brain tumor. We all face dark places where we need reminded that God is still there.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

A friend recommended When Breath Becomes Air saying that she thought I'd enjoy the book but wasn't sure now was the right time for me to read it because its topic was death. I reserved it from my library and it sat by my bed for a few weeks. But once I started reading, I inhaled the book in a few days.

When Breath Becomes Air is a beautifully written book by a brain surgeon who in his last year of residency found he had lung cancer. So, yes, it is a book about death - but not nearly as morbid as it sounds.

I thoroughly enjoyed the insight into brain surgery and the life-and-death decisions that a doctor must make. Kalanithi examines death, first from the perspective of literature, then as a doctor, and finally as a terminally-ill patient. In many ways his perspective on death echos Ed's. Kalanithi realized that all of us will face death, and even though he was only in his thirties, he decided he wouldn't waste the time he had by fretting over the time he had lost.

The prose and insight in When Breath Becomes Air is lovely, but there is some glaring holes in my opinion. Kalanithi briefly acknowledges God, but he writes from a secular perspective. There is no mention of an after-life or the power of God and prayer when faced with death. For this reason, while I loved the book and was glad I read it, ultimately it wasn't as soul-strengthening as the first book I mentioned.

Following Jesus in Everyday Life by Gary Miller

Have you ever looked for a book that could challenge your whole family to follow Christ in practical areas of life? Our family is reading through Following Jesus in Everyday Life. Written for developing countries, this is a manual designed to teach Biblical business principles along with practical aspects a godly life. With Scriptures, questions, and stories - this manual has been perfect to begin family discussions on a variety of topics. I highly recommend it.

Following Jesus in Everyday Life is available from TGS International.

Another book on the same vein is Create for Work by Bob Schultz which Ed read to the children last winter. Schultz shares stories from his years as a carpenter to show the joy in working for God. Even though it is written for boys - my girls benefited from it also.

Loyalty test

Loyalty Test by Romaine Stauffer

Most of us grew up celebrating George Washington the hero of the Revolutionary War. But what if you were a Christian living in the colonies who believed that God commanded you to honor the king, pay your taxes, and to kill no one?

Loyalty Test tells this unfamiliar side of history through the story of Christian Burkholder, a Mennonite minister living in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in the mid-1700's. The huge number of footnotes show that Romaine spent a many hours in research before writing this story. I often roll my eyes when reading historical fiction because the fiction is more evident than the history, but this book is an exception.

Our family thoroughly enjoyed Loyalty Test and, in our turbulent political scene today, I think it is a valuable book for anyone to read. We all need to decide whether our loyalty is to God or to a political system.

If you like Loyalty Test, you might want to read the story of how Christian came to America in Hidden Treasure. Both book available from CLP.
Tell me the stories of jesus

Tell Me the Stories of Jesus by Caleb Crider

As a family grows, sometimes things fall through the cracks. That is how I felt this winter when I realized my three-year-old didn't know even the most basic Bible stories. Somehow I had not read as much to her as the other children.

But then we bought Tell Me the Stories of Jesus and it became her favorite book. Soon she was asking me questions such as "Why don't we go visit Jesus? He loves little children." This hard-cover, full-color book is filled with stories from Jesus' life told on an easy-to-understand level. It will definitely be a well-loved book in our family for many years. Available from CLP.

What books are your family enjoying?

(This post contains affiliate links.)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


People have various responses when they hear that Ed has aggressive brain cancer. Of course, those closest to us mourn and grieve. Many have prayed for us, some even fasted, which blessed us immensely.

Often we are pitied. This is completely expected and understandable. Forty is considered young to be faced with a terminal illness. Our friends wish we didn't have to face cancer. Some have walked their own journey with cancer and know the heartache and suffering it brings.

But occasionally we meet an entirely different response - completely shocking because of its sheer opposite view.

Soon after Ed's cancer diagnosis, he met a business friend. After discussing the dim prognosis of glioblastoma, this friend, a committed Christian said, "Ed, I envy you. You may be near heaven."

I am not recommending that you tell every terminally ill person you know that you envy them. Especially if you don't mean it. But those words blessed Ed. Instead of pitying Ed, of mourning the years on earth he may lose, this friend had a Biblical view of eternity.

This earth is all we know and have experienced. This is where we have been born; this is where we fall in love; this is where we dream; this is where we make plans for the future. It is normal to live, love, dream, and plan. It is normal to seek happiness here.

But in looking at Scripture we find that there is far more to life than just what we can see.

The truth is that we are all diagnosed with a terminal illness and will all face death sometime.
"And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:" (Hebrews 9:27)
The truth is that God is preparing a far better place for His children than earth. Imagine, the perfection of the Garden of Eden without the possibility of Paradise Lost.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." (1 Peter 1:3-5) 
Some of you have shared your stories of heartache with me. I have no answers for the mental illness, abandonment, handicapped children, church problems, broken relationships, and more.

But the truth is that the worst pain we face now will dim in comparison to heaven.
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)
The truth is, for the believer in Jesus Christ, the best is yet to come. 
"And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." (Revelations 21:4)
The truth is that death is hard for those left on earth but not for the Christian who goes to be with Christ.
 "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain... For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you." (Philippians 1:21,23-24)
While we pray for healing and try to use each opportunity on earth for God's glory, I don't want to waste time pitying Ed or any other person who gets to reach heaven.

Because I know with certainty, that no one, not a single person, has ever sat in heaven wishing they had a few more years on earth.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Treasuring Each Day

I have been asked how a cancer diagnosis changes your life.  That question deserves a whole post by itself, but obviously a terminal illness helps you evaluate how you spend your time. There is many things that just don't seem important when cancer is in the picture.

Compared to God's time, our time on earth is limited to a few brief years. This awareness can help us treasure each day as a gift from God and hold onto moments spent with our family.

I had a lot of anticipation for September. Fall is one of my favorite seasons. Ed was feeling good and we looked forward to some fun family times.

On Labor Day we helped my parents harvest their potatoes. For the older ones it might be work, but for the younger crowd, digging potatoes is a finding buried treasure. 

Another Saturday was spent making applesauce. I didn't do much gardening and canning this year, but it is nice to have some jars filled for winter.

The first week of September was Ed's chemo week. Ed has five days of chemo every month. The doctor increased his dose to see how his body could tolerate it. Ed takes his chemo pills right before bed hoping to sleep off the side affects, but the first night Ed was very sick. The doctor prescribed a stronger anti-nausea medicine and the second night went well. 

But there was a mistake in Ed's chemo prescription and he was only sent enough for two days instead of five. After many phone calls, we finally got the right dosage, weeks later - too late for September. I was rather annoyed. I hate chemo, but since we have chosen to do chemo, it was frustrating to not get the right dosage on time. 

But after our son's accident, I wondered if God had it all planned. Maybe the full dose of chemo would have weakened Ed's body and he wouldn't have felt well on that stressful weekend in the hospital. It was one more time that I needed to lay down my frustration and accept that God's in control. 

Trent's accident required us to cancel our family vacation. We couldn't take a boy to the beach when his leg was wrapped up and couldn't get wet or dirty.

But by the Saturday after his hospital stay Trent was feeling good and we wanted to do something fun as a family even if it wasn't a true vacation.

We rode the Metro into DC which we haven't done for many years. 

Then we spent the day in the Air and Space Museum. Last year we had studied Astronomy in school and we had planned to end the year with a visit to this museum. Ed's illness in the spring had curtailed those plans so it was nice to finally make it happen. 

That Saturday went so well that the next Saturday we ventured back to DC, this time to the National Zoo. 

I was chagrined to find that our eight-year-old couldn't remember being at a zoo. The weather was sunny but cool and perfect for a day outdoors. 

Trent still has a brace on his leg so he can't bend his knee, but he can walk without pain. The surgeon is very pleased with the way his leg is healing. Two weeks after his accident, Trent was thrilled to get permission to take off the dressing each day to take a shower. 

As some of you predicted, I've had trouble keeping Trent down. He hasn't left a leg brace slow him down much. After finding him climbing a tree, this week I decided he could stand on a step-ladder and help me remove a wall paper border. 

Ed and I were dreading this week. Monday was Ed's MRI and this was also his chemo week. This time the chemo dosage would be increased even more. 

Sunday night Ed swallowed his pills. I kept waking up all night long, looking at the clock, and thinking, "he didn't get sick yet." Besides a little queasiness that first night, he wasn't sick all week. But by the end of the week Ed was tired. He came home early on Thursday and took a nap for the first time in many weeks. He says he feels tired and achy - like he was coming down with the flu. He is trying to rest more, but, like Trent, it hasn't slowed him much. Today (Saturday) he spent the day working in his shop and doing various home repair jobs.

The MRI on Monday went well. The machine was as loud as ever. Ed describes it as putting your head in a metal bucket and letting your children hammer on it. But thankfully he made it through without getting sick. 

Then we waited for the results.

The last MRI Ed had was in June right before he started radiation. We had waited several months to get another MRI because we were told that radiation would cause a lot of swelling and the tumor would be much larger just from the radiation swelling. We were hoping that by now the swelling would have decreased and we could get an accurate measurement.

Compared to his June MRI, the MRI this week shows a small (several millimeters) increase in the size of his tumor. The radiologist said that there is still evidence of swelling. Our doctor hopes that this increase in size is radiation-caused swelling and not growth. 

So we really don't know much more than before. Of course we hoped to find that the tumor has shrunk significantly. But until Ed's next MRI in December we won't know for sure if it is growing or shrinking. 

But besides being a little disappointed, Ed and I are not really upset about the results. It is just one more opportunity to trust God who knows exactly what's happening in Ed's head.

And one more opportunity to make the most of each day we have together.

And it could be that the peace we have had in the past weeks, with increased chemo, lawn-mower accidents, prescription mistakes, MRIs - is all a credit to your prayers and God's grace. Thank you.

With each story I hear of yet another person diagnosed with a terminal illness, of conflict in countless places in the world, of Satan working to destroy souls, marriages, families, and churches - all I can say is...

Lord, come quickly. 
(1 Thess. 4:13-18)

Kittens and More

Thanks so much for your prayers this week. I owe you all a full update, but the short version is that we are all doing well. (I know, that is lame, but if I get started, I won't know where to stop.)

Until I have a bit more computer time, I'll just share these few photos for our local friends. We are loving these kittens, but now it's time to find them a new home. 

These kittens are very tame, eight weeks old, and ready to leave their mom. The black and white one is long-haired. Their mom has been a wonderful family pet and her kittens seem to have inherited her calm personality.

Drop me an email if you want to add a new mouser to your home.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Take No Thought

It has been two months since Ed completed the six weeks of radiation. By now the swelling should have decreased enough to see clearly in Ed's brain. Tomorrow (Monday) Ed plans to have his MRI.

I have been dreading this day. The doctor says it is not a big deal. This MRI is just to give a baseline for future MRIs. I'm glad to have a doctor that is calm and positive. But I've heard what a terrible beast glioblastoma can be. What if it has already began regrowing?

But for the last weeks, every time I thought of October 2 and was tempted to panic, I thought, "Take no thought for tomorrow."

Last winter, the children memorized Matthew 6:25-34 And as every mom knows, when you help a child memorize a passage of Scripture, you end up learning it yourself Very Well.

Did God know that I would need to have these verses imbedded in my mind? I'm guessing it wasn't a mistake. (We also learned Psalm 90 last year, but I'll save that for another post.) Here is the Matthew passage.

Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. (Matthew 6:25-34)

What does it mean to "take no thought"? To me it means having a firm belief in the greatness and goodness of God and a willingness to leave tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after - in His hands. It doesn't mean making no plans for tomorrow, not grocery shopping, or refusing to buy a winter coat. It does mean seeking God first, which, I have found, doesn't leave a lot of room for worry.

I'm always encouraged by your stories of God's faithfulness. What does this passage mean to you? How do you seek God first, particularly in those challenging times? How do you defeat fear and worry? Please share with us in the comment section.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Foodie Returns

My foodie came back.

And I didn't know it was gone until it returned.

In the past I've enjoyed experimenting with recipes, learning to make new recipes, and practicing creativity in the kitchen. But when Ed was so sick in May, choosing even a simple menu felt impossible. Ed's intense headaches caused (we know now) by his brain tumor, caused severe nausea and vomiting. He lost fifteen pounds in a few days (and he was already thin.) I could hardly choke down food myself and dropped five pounds. But my children needed to eat even if Ed and I couldn't. I remember wishing that someone would bring us supper, but of course I was far too proud ask.

I muddled through and a couple days later the church prayer chain buzzed with the news that Ed was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Immediately our closest church neighbor brought our favorite poppy seed chicken casserole, Ed's sister dropped by with a box of yummy goodies, and another friend brought her amazing cinnamon rolls and chicken potpies. From then on the casseroles and boxes of cookies walked through the door so fast that I stacked them in the freezer. What a blessing to not have to think of meal prep in that next month of endless doctor appointments.

Three weeks after Ed's surgery, he decided to join a clinical trial testing the effect of the ketogenic diet on glioblastoma. The thought of preparing food for a radical diet overwhelmed me though I wanted to support Ed. Then we found that the study was providing all the meals in order to make the diet more accessible. What a relief.

The meals the doctor provided were frozen and all Ed needed to do was thaw and reheat them. After the first week when Ed's body adjusted to no sugar, he felt well on the ketogenic diet. But after a few weeks, he was weary of eating frozen/reheated food. I think maybe if it had been winter, he wouldn't have minded. But this was summer and in our garden was fresh spinach, kale, and broccoli. He longed to eat fresh salads and raw veggies. So Ed made the decision to continue the ketogenic diet but to prepare our own food.

The ketogenic diet is a low carb, high fat diet. If you google ketogenic you'll find that it is presently a very popular diet for weight loss.  There are oodles of resources online on the keto diet. But we quickly found that most of the information would not work for Ed without adapting.

Ed is on an extreme version of the keto diet. He isn't doing keto for weight loss (though that was a side effect) but for medical/therapeutic purpose. In addition, he was significantly restricting his calories to result in a fasting diet. There is very little human research done on brain cancer and diet, but we do know that cancer feeds on sugar. When sugar/glucose is eliminated from the diet, cells can burn fat/ketones for energy. The theory is that cancer cells do not have the ability to make this switch. The goal of the ketogenic diet for brain cancer is that the cancer cells will starve, weaken, and die because of lack of fuel.

In the mice studies that have been done, the best results have been from significantly restricting not just glucose, but protein and calories as well. So the goal of Ed's doctor is to give Ed only enough calories to keep him from losing too much weight and give him needed to energy to function, but have no spare calories or protein that could convert into fuel for his cancer.

Ed has always been thin. I cooked for him for fifteen years, and thought I was doing a good job, but he never gained a pound. While we ate reasonable healthy, we still loved our desserts and consumed a ridiculous amount of Turkey Hill ice cream every summer. Never in his life had Ed went on a diet or counted calories. So we were in for a big change.

I was determined to learn to cook for Ed since he desired fresh-cooked food, even though it looked overwhelming. The therapeutic keto diet requires exact measurement of ingredients and concise balance of fats, protein, and carbs. Ed's goal was a 3:1 ratio of fat to combined protein and net carbs. In other words 3 fat grams to the combined number of protein and net carb grams. And ideally he would increase that ratio to 4:1. His goal was to have less than 20 net carbs a day, ideally only 10. And he tries to keep his calorie intake to about 2,000.

That is a daunting list. A 3:1 or 4:1 ratio means that everything Ed ate had to be swimming in fat. (Which usually means yummy. Think rich sauces and dips.)  It also means he can eat very few vegetables. He eats mostly low-carb veggies such as spinach, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. He takes supplement to help with some of the vitamin deficiencies. But the fact is, when you know you have an aggressive cancer in your skull, and you think you have even a small chance of slowing it down, a vitamin deficiency doesn't seem like a big deal. To put it bluntly, if you'll be dead in a few months if you don't do something, you don't worry about losing your teeth or eyesight thirty years from now.

 I stocked up on carb free fats such as heavy whipping cream, mayonnaise, mascarpone cheese, coconut oil, and olive oil. Ed had always drank his coffee black, but now he poured in the cream. I also bought lots of nuts such as pecans, brazil nuts, and macadamia nuts plus flours such as almond flour and coconut flour.

At first I kept it very basic. What could I add to a fried egg to make the right ratios? What kind of dip or dressing could I make so that Ed could eat with raw broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach? Could I make pancakes with almond flour? Ed didn't have much variety in those first weeks. But slowly I tackled new foods and came up with more options.

 Such as a replacement for bread with his burger.

I began obsessing over every label. My digital scales was used many times a day as I weighed his food by the gram to figure exact ratios. We made mistakes (and still do) which was quickly reflected by testing. At first the doctor had Ed checking his blood ketone and glucose levels every morning and evening with a finger prick test that diabetics use. The study provides all the strips for Ed and the ketone strips are expensive so now Ed only checks them twice a week and uses ketone urine strip tests morning and evening. Once a month or so the doctor orders thorough blood work. There are some serious side effects that are possible with an extreme diet like this and we are grateful for the support of doctors who understand the diet. I wouldn't recommend doing an extreme version of the keto diet without a doctor's oversight.

For cooking keto I found the most helpful information online on sites such as the Charlie Foundation that use the ketogenic diet for therapy for children with epilepsy. Our doctor recommended the Keto Cookbook written by a mom of an epileptic child that was hugely helpful because every recipe is a 4:1 ratio. Suddenly I had far more options.

And little by little I found I was having fun. Yes! The foodie had returned. I could enjoy being in the kitchen again. I began to freeze some meals so I didn't have to be always worrying about what he would eat at the next meal. I found shortcuts, like serving Ed the same meat that the rest of the family ate and adding a high fat side dish.

And best of all, once I got the basics down, I could enjoy making snacks and desserts that were compatible with the keto diet. Ed is so grateful for any of my attempts and willing to try new things that it truly does make it fun for the cook. One of the things he really enjoyed was iced coffee. With whipping cream, de-caf coffee, cocoa powder, and stevia I could make a yummy treat that helped him forget about ice cream.

We don't know if this diet is reducing Ed's cancer, but we are grateful that he feels so well. Maybe the diet is contributing to his good energy levels this summer.

Anyone who has done a special diet knows that the worse part is eating away from home. I never realized how many meals we eat away in the summer. Every weekend we had a picnic or reunion or a fellowship meal. Or maybe all three! We usually brought food for Ed as sometimes there was nearly nothing that he could have eaten. Potato salad, iced tea, baked beans, corn-on-the-cob, fried chicken, watermelon, and those luscious dessert - none could Ed eat. On the other hand, often he could join a picnic with only a few adjustments. He'd skip the roll and wrap his burger in lettuce. Grilled chicken, lettuce salad, and raw veggies could be enjoyed if he added extra mayo and sugar-free dressing. Our families went the second mile in preparing menus that Ed could enjoy at family picnics. He has just learned to put the blinders on when walking past the dessert table at fellowship meals.

Last week, when we ended up with an emergency trip to Hershey with our son, I wasn't sure how Ed would stay on his diet. When Ed stopped by our house for a change of clothes, he grabbed some his keto food out of the freezer and threw them into an ice chest. That gave him several meals and a bunch of snacks that we knew were okay. For the remaining meals, Ed picked through the cafeteria and came up with several good options such as a scrambled egg and bacon with a topping of mayonnaise. We decided that we'd do as good as we could and not stress about it. And when we got home two days later and Ed was able to test his ketone level, he was just fine.

I've learned a lot this summer about food. I've found out that even though I'm super thin, I still crave food too much. I don't want to admit how grumpy I have been this summer that I couldn't share my favorite foods with Ed. I didn't want to make Ed's diet restrictions any harder than necessary so I cut out that bowl of ice cream after working in the garden or the shared chocolate after the children went to bed. Ed always raved over my homemade bread and it was no fun to make bread he couldn't eat. Food is the way we celebrate, fellowship, and bond. Take it away, and, well, I felt like whining.

But I know that Ed is doing this diet for me. If Ed was single, he would still desire to live, but I'm not sure he'd be making any huge effort to stay out of heaven. But Ed wants to live for the sake of his family and diet is part of that effort.

And I'm so glad that my foodie has returned to make cooking fun again.

I tried to answer the questions we've been asked about the ketogenic diet. Feel free to ask if I didn't hit your question. For more information about the ketogenic diet and brain cancer here are some links.
Charlie Foundation
Ketogenic Resources for cancer
KetoNutrition - huge list of resources
Can a Keto Diet Treat Brain Cancer?


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