The Ansley Foundation

This update has been contemplated and rewritten in my head hundreds of times in preparation.  The plan was to do it by Christmas, then year end, then January and here it is February and it must be done in order to move forward. While excited to post about the amazing things that have taken place and the wonderful people we’ve met since Ansley passed, never ending tears and heart breaking grief have stopped me every time I sat to write.  I’ve never used WordPress and have no idea how this will turn out. I can’t figure out how to publish without her name at the top so I’m certain people will be shocked to see another blog from Ansley! I can hear her in my ear urgently insisting that I just “give it to her” as she did with so many things I’d ask for her help on because she was much smarter and faster.  She was cursed with my impatience and I recognized it in her often. Along with that sass, she had such an incredible way with her words and wrote with such honesty and a pure heart. I know that no matter how many times I rethink this, I will never do her blog justice.

They say sickness and death bring out the worst in people and Ansleys journey to death was no exception. From some family members behaving badly to friends leaving her behind when she could no longer physically keep up or past acquaintances trying to keep her things when she passed instead of returning them to us and another making vulgar gestures to Ashtyn in public while wearing an Ansley Foundation t-shirt, we’ve seen it and heard it all. It goes against everything Ansley stood for and became the example of her last few years. It’s not that she ever chose to stay home instead of joining friends. Mostly, she had to because she was tired from treatment, being sick and literally, could not keep up because her cancer made it difficult to walk or be comfortable.  Ansley made life altering choices and had life altering choices made for her the last few years and no longer lived the life of a typical 19-21 year old. That didn’t mean she didn’t sometimes want to. She loved her friends deeply and spent countless hours in hospital beds fighting sleep so she could stay up to date on her friends and social media. A few days before she passed and began really transitioning, she worried that she didn’t have “something nice enough” for a friends upcoming birthday.  She never, ever ceased to amaze me (and always inspire me.)

She was the glue that held some of us together and without her, the bond is irretrievably broken.  I know she is disappointed in the behavior of a few and she is undoubtedly watching and taking names.  Everyone that knew her would agree that she never let the opportunity pass to call you out on your stuff but in the same moment, encouraged you to be better.  During a really grim year health wise in 2017,  she visited a local nail salon and the nail tech made a comment about her weight and told her she needed to “eat a hamburger” or something similar.  It hurt her feelings terribly and embarrassed her but instead of paying and leaving or lashing out,  Ansley explained to the nail tech that she had been in ICU, had cancer and her treatments caused esophageal webbing and she had difficulty swallowing and she couldn’t eat. They had a short conversation and Ansley said she tipped the girl more than required and left.  In true Ansley fashion, she made her point and hopefully passed on a lasting and valuable lesson of compassion and kindness that day.  This bible verse she picked for her funeral service says it all:

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After Ansley passed all the feelings set in and haven’t left yet. They probably never will.  Our life was built for 19 years around her care and survival. We always thought she’d be here. After all the setbacks and years of getting knocked down, she always, always got back up and gave it 100% with her usual smile and feistiness. Even though her health was changing dramatically after the Fall of 2016, most people never knew. She never wanted anyone’s pity and was somewhat private about her cancer. We raised our girls to appreciate what they had, to know things could be worse and I would frequently tell Ansley to not waste her tears on things she couldn’t change and to take life one day at a time. That’s all we could do. It’s all anyone can do when you have no control.  Life with pediatric cancer isn’t the cute little bald kid smiling in posters that you see plastered everywhere or clown visits in hospital rooms.  It’s scary, lonely, debilitating, horrible side effects, being bald for years from treatments, soul crushing, physically and mentally exhausting from trips to hospitals and the years of rollercoaster emotions from good news to bad news. It’s home health care, lack of sleep, turning your bedroom into a mini hospital just to live, watching friends enjoy life and doing what you should be doing but can’t because you’re too tired and weak but smiling for them anyway and the list goes on and on and on and on.  And that’s just a glimpse at life with pediatric cancer when you have a good support system, which we did. Most don’t.  I can’t imagine handling any of that as well as she did and we feel cheated of so many lessons she had left to teach.

I screenshot_20181218-225432_facebookalways bounced ideas and thoughts off Ansley. She was my daughter but in many ways much wiser than me and was usually somewhat unbiased in her opinion. Her life and legacy is my guide now to temper my own thoughts and actions (sometimes more successfully than others-don’t take it personal if you’ve caught me at my worst. It really isn’t about you and it’s impossible to understand this level of grief until you’re in it).  I encourage all who knew her to do the same.  As cliché as it sounds, you truly never know what someone is dealing with or why they are skinny or angry or sad or quiet.  Please be kinder and gentler. Ansley is watching and most importantly, so is God.

Through the sadness of the last 8 months, there have also been extraordinarily wonderful happenings and I wish there was room to describe each one. The stories shared with us about Ansley and her impact on so many lives-we never had any idea her footprint was so large and so loved. We’ve been given priceless gifts that help to remind us of her life here and we will treasure them forever.  From her birthday celebration/Ansley Foundation kick-off to her Great Pumpkin Patch to her Christmas Tree lot-there are so many reassurances that she is indeed around and with us. All the phenomenal people who came out to support us in any and every way completely stunned us.  There are no words to verbalize our gratitude to each of you. There wasn’t one day we worked that lot that we didn’t hear a story from someone whose life she touched or someone who heard about her from a friend and wanted to show us support and give us a hug. We are forever grateful for every dollar donated, every tear shed with us and every memory shared. The fact that The Ansley Foundation is an actual thing and is raising money and actually going to make a difference makes us proud beyond words. Our prayer in setting up her Foundation was that it get as big as God will allow and that He guide us in spending each dollar raised where it will have the most impact. It is our honor to work in her memory and for these kids, their families and a cure. We hope to do so for many, many years to come. No donation is ever too small because as we all know that knew Ansley, BIG things and GREAT things can come in small packages.

Ansley spent much of her last several years (especially her last 24 months)  at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta/Egleston going through tests, surgeries, chemo, scans, talking with Doctors, getting radiation at Emory and chasing a cure. This time a year ago, we’d been celebrating her living through what was hopefully to be a life changing (at minimal, life extending) surgery only to have things continue to go desperately wrong for her.  After an extremely disheartening year, we’d been given a sliver of hope with a surgery on January 29, 2018 but with each code blue and every visit back to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, it became more and more apparent that we hadn’t truly grasped just how sick she was. What we’d feared for 19+ years of treatment was now making it apparent we would not get the ending we had prayed for and the very place we’d avoided for years became our second home from January to mid-April of 2018 and the staff on the floor became our comfort zone and our family.  Behind the doors pictured below was a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of medical intervention, a lot of laughs, a lot of tears and ultimately an afternoon of goodbyes when Ansley checked out to come home on April 13, 2018.

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Life will never be the same for her Dad, her sister or me. Ansley’s life and her passing  changed us forever. The death of a child/sibling rearranges everything and what once was important is no longer.  Pictures of her bring us memories, smiles and tears. She was so smart and fun and beautiful. Her big, blue eyes held a story-both a past and a future- and it’s crushing that she didn’t get the chance to live the rest of it. She would’ve done something completely amazing with the rest of her years. She had so many dreams left unrealized. She wanted a wedding, a home and kids one day. Even after she came home the final time, she’d say “When I have kids one day……” knowing she couldn’t and that she wouldn’t but that spunk and faith she had kept her dreams alive. She had more style and talent than anyone in her abilities to write, sing, draw, paint anphil2-14.15d decorate. But above all, she had the biggest heart and an unending love for Jesus. She really worked on herself and spent time in prayer for friends and family. She’d tell me about sharing her story with people and trying to get friends interested in deepening a relationship with Jesus. It cost her some friendships but it never lessened her desire to tell people about what she’d learned or knew to be true. She didn’t keep her opinion to herself very often but she wouldn’t have been Ansley any other way!  She spent almost all of her last 2 years reading her bible and Christian books, writing in her journals, growing her faith and strengthening her relationship with Christ. Her walk with Christ wasn’t something new to her. She knew she was a child of God long ago and pursued that from a young age.  She shone as a light in the world!

When she shared this tweet, she’d finished a year of horrible health, increasing tumors, the inability to eat or swallow for the most part, she’d almost died 3 times that year, discussed her funeral with her Dad, could barely walk, had a feeding tube, had experienced her last Christmas witnessing some extremely bad choices from people close to her, had done all her Christmas shopping from her bed and managed to not forget one single person, had stopped driving because of weakness and medication side effects, had a wheelchair but she continued to pray, smile, laugh and beat her grandfather, sister, Dad and I in weekly games of Aggravation! She was unbelievably rare and special in so many ways.

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Cancer was a both a blessing and a curse to our family. It brought incredibly loving and special people into our lives to walk with us on this journey while she was ill and now with The Ansley Foundation. Ansley was blessed with such an amazing care team and so many gifted and skilled people in the medical field that worked with her and they continue to check on the three of us to this day. Cancer created a bond for the 4 of us that will forever be unbroken.  It forced us to spend time as a family that probably would have been spent doing other things separately if not for the thousands of hospital hours, commuting hours, Netflix hours, discussion hours and prayer hours. It has shaped the future of her sister who now works on the very PICU floor that Ansley spent her last months going to and from. Ashtyn’s career choice will make a difference in another child’s life like so many made in Ansleys. Most importantly, it led Ansley to deepen her walk with Christ and that led us to begin to strengthen our relationship with Him which ultimately helped to prepare us for saying goodbye to part of our world. Being baptized at her feet in our home last April is a gift that I could never imagine and to have my Dad then follow me and get baptized as well was something I never thought I’d see. Seeing her mom and Grandpa baptized brought her to tears and was something I know she had prayed for and I had prayed about for some time. I’m thrilled God granted us the time and opportunity to do it.

screenshot_20180911-113251_gmail Because Ansley was larger than life and spent so much of her life fighting childhood cancer, we feel led to continue that battle and formed The Ansley Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization.  She was a part of numerous treatment studies and trial therapies, written about in a medical journal years ago and spent many years introducing people to childhood cancer so it’s a natural progression for us into raising funds for research and resiliency efforts for CHOA/AFLAC/PICU at Egleston. Going forward, her Foundation will be more closely aligned with her desire to spread the work and word of God in as many ways as possible.  Within days of this being published, her blog site will hopefully become The Ansley Foundation website so that her past blog entries are always available. We have a list of wishes from CHOA to fulfill and a never ending list of families that need support and grace extended to them. Funds will also go to Neuroblastoma research so we can all help fund a cure and the next child will realize his or her dreams of a future. We can’t thank our amazing community and friends beyond enough for the generosity shown to us and this cause! Like Ansley, we don’t want pity. We want a CURE. For that to happen, large amounts of money must be raised and we will gladly work tirelessly to raise it.  We look forward to growing with all of you to eradicate this disease forever so we don’t watch another life interrupted. Please join our fight and share Ansleys story. Together, we must make a difference.

Please follow us on Facebook @theansleyfoundation , on Twitter @AnsleyInc  and  The Ansley Foundation on Instagram and stay tuned to this site for more updates on where to find the next fundraiser from The Ansley Foundation!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Am Thankful, Even So.

The Bible says to “…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

I’m going to be very honest and admit that this year has picked a pretty gnarly fight with me (as I’m sure y’all have caught on to by now). I’d also like to point out that, and not to toot my own horn buuuuut, I’m definitely coming out on top (WOO)! Just to catch you up to speed, I’ll give you a little timeline.

February meant the beginning of living in the PICU for 3 weeks (shout out to my incredible squad of nurses and therapists). March meant waking up and being told by a  complete stranger that I would never eat anything (ever again…), only to pass a swallow test 4 days days later and prove her wrong (HA – HA! In your face, “nameless ICU Dr”!!!!)! July and August meant multiple esophageal manometries (I recommend NOT being awake for this) and esophagus dilations to try and make eating easier (no, they were not successful). September meant gold bows everywhere for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and remembering and honoring all of my sweet friends who also struggle with childhood cancer (missin’ you forever, Sarah Sunshine and rock ‘n’ roll Brayden!!). October was volunteering to get a very low profile g-tube style feeding tube (bet y’all didn’t know that one) so that I could stop forcing myself to eat just to get some calories in (I was down to 53 pounds) and start eating for fun again. October was also the month of being diagnosed with symptoms of depression and dealing with that in my own way (which obviously everyone has to treat this differently but I decided not to take any anti-depressants and so far, I’m more myself today than I have been since before I landed in the ICU – YAYYYY).

So, here we are on the tail-end of November. Every one of us caught up in life and that same stressed out, anxiety-ridden version of gratefulness that always comes around during the holidays and we’re all screaming inside of our heads, “WHERE DID THE YEAR GO?!”

My answer to this is: on.

Life.

Goes.

On.

I keep looking back at this year and it’s like watching slow motion videos of myself tripping flat out on my face ovvveerrr and ooovveeerr again. But- I keep getting back up.

All year long, I have been dealt one bad hand after another, and every single one has kicked me flat on to my butt. But, after every single butt-kicking, somehow, something incredible came out of it. I don’t always realize right away what the blessing is, but even after all the crying and screaming and being mad at and begging and praying to God, I always ended with thanking Him. Because by the end of my infant-in-a-beauty-pageant style rant, it would finally occur to me that I wasn’t stopping to think about how blessed I am, and that I was completely neglecting all the situations in the world worse than mine, equal to mine, or less than mine. I was neglecting my ability to see past anything but myself, all. No, I’m not implying that getting upset and crying out to God and begging Him or even getting angry at Him is wrong. Obviously you have to grieve somehow, but I think in today’s society we’ve been taught to think “me, me me!!!!” “What do I want?” “Why did this happen to ME??”

Well, here’s the newsflash that’s been front page news every single day for our entire lives and everyone’s lives before us: IT’S NOT ABOUT US! IT IS ABOUT OUR LORD! We forget so easily that when we go through seasons of life where we feel like we are just beat into the ground, that all of this happening to us and around is so Jesus can shape and mend us into who we are supposed to be and into who we are as a Child of God. That, in itself, is a blessing of its own. All of these terrible, awful seasons will always have a point of healing or a reward that we don’t deserve because our God is a loving, faithful God and we can’t even remember to thank Him for waking us up every morning. That doesn’t even touch the amazing things that will happen in these seasons! Babies will be born! People will get married! Lives will be saved! People will graduate college! Soldiers will come home to their families! But, in case I haven’t sold you on the fact that there are better things to come, I want to revisit all the awful seasons I went through this year.

February meant carrying on with my New Years resolution to stop cussing and just straighten out my life, still training (and completely obsessing over) my still new (at the time) puppy, and it turns out adopting him was the best decision I’ve EVER made!! March meant getting out of the hospital after the ICU stay and, more importantly, realizing that in deciding to walk the straight and narrow path, I was not walking it alone. This was very much a realization that Jesus was walking with me (what a wonderful, beautiful, perfect name it is)! July and August was living the last half of a very laid back summer that I spent much of just finding myself… getting involved with my church group, getting more into church, diving into The Bible, justing finding who I am in Christ more than I ever knew before (it was a really lonely summer sometimes but it was a really happy summer). September was glittering gold bows tied on every tree and mailbox on the roads I drive most to remind me that the people around me are always around me (thank you for the support) and celebrating the big 2-1 with the best friends and family and online shopping allllllll month long (okay so I do this every month – I admit, I have a problem whoops)!! October was a surprise trip Nashville for my birthday (we won’t go into details but long story short – we got jipped and have to go back to make up for it) and  spending a lot of much needed time at home, doing things I love (which I’m a home body so if you know me, hanging out with my blankets and pillows all day is toootally fine by me)!

So, here we are back at the tail end of November. It’s been full of so much of my family… more than any other year. I’ve spent so much time with Jesus and my family this year, and I am the happiest I’ve ever been. I’m looking back at this year up until this point, just lie everyone else, and thinking “where did the time go?” It’s been an exhausting year, and honestly if you walk into our house at any given point right now, you’ll find at least 1 out of 3 of us completely passed out either on a couch or a bed from lack of sleep or too early mornings.

The toughest, most trying year of my life.

And I am thankful, even so.

More Than 4.

This post is one I’ve really fought back and forth with myself about publishing because when I got the idea for it, I knew exactly how I wanted to do it. But it was so far out of my comfort zone that I’ve tried to talk myself out of it ever since the idea came to me, but the daredevil side of me won and I’m doing it anyways.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Most of you will know exactly why this is important for me, but for those of you who don’t, I will give you a very brief summary of what September means to me.

At two years old, I was diagnosed with a form of childhood cancer called Neuroblastoma and have had a rough battle with it off and on ever since (but mostly on). This means almost nineteen years of my life has been dedicated to fighting this deadly disease, and I’m one of the lucky ones. Nineteen years of surgeries, biopsies, blood transplants, emergency room visits, inpatient treatments, outpatient treatments, fundraisers, smiles, tears, miracles, and prayers. I’ve watched God single-handedly move every mountain out of my way and I’ve kept on. So in honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, I want to motivate more people to donate to research so children just like me (even though I’m no longer a child), can grow up to live their dreams. So that children like me can just grow up.

Here’s the part thats going to kick me right out of my comfort zone and parade my dirty little secrets right out front with glaring spotlights… I’m going to give you a real glimpse of what childhood cancer looks like, through my eyes, through pictures. Say goodbye to the glamorous wigs I’ve tricked you all into thinking is real, the false eyelashes, and the drawn on eyebrows and take a look at what childhood cancer REALLY looks like.

1901949_508188035950020_1484487579_n1 in 300 boys and 1 in 333 girls are affected by childhood cancer.

10675610_627010110734478_5414500906801799378_n46 kids in the United States will be told they have childhood cancer today.

10481697_602130486555774_238160900150493659_n50,000 kids in the U.S. are fighting their fight from hospital beds.

IMG_2296There are more than 300,000 cases diagnosed globally each year.

IMG_236560% of kids suffer late term effects such as infertility, heart failure, secondary cancer, etc (for me right now, this means esophageal webbing and dysphasia but could mean more late term effects in the future).

img_8725In the past 20 years, only THREE treatments have been developed and approved by the FDA for pediatric use.

img_8296Childhood cancer is the #1 cause of death by disease in children (yes, that’s really me under all that).

img_8774Only 4% of the national cancer institute’s budget is used for pediatric cancer research funding. We are more than 4.

img_8298One in five kids diagnosed with pediatric cancer won’t survive.

So, look at the blissfully happy pictures I upload when I look the way I want people to see me and think of me and remember that’s the real me, those moments are so real. But those moments have been fought for tooth and nail, everyday is another day to wake up and fight. But my God reminds me, “if you have you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain ‘move’ from here to there, and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20

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When I look back on the past 21 years of my life, I see more good than bad. I remember more laughs than I do tears and I remember a lot of prayers that were answered by an incredible, sovereign God. I am grateful for this story to tell because of the people I’ve met, the things it has taught me (that’s a blog post for another day), and the relationships I’ve built because I have childhood cancer.

Dear Lord,

I pray You make me healthy, but until then, I pray You use my circumstances for Your glory.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen.


To put more smiles on the face of a kid with childhood cancer, donate to Blue SkiesMinistries at WhereSkiesAreBlue.org and give a cancer patient and their family a free trip to the beach full of laughter and memories.

To help save more lives and donate money to research for a cure to childhood cancer, donate to CURE Childhood Cancer at curechildhoodcancer.thankyou4caring.org.

To support a place thats kept a smile on the faces of a million kids during their cancer treatments, including me, donate to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at give.choa.org.

Enough is Enough.

I’ve had writers block for what seems like months and months. But something keeps popping up in my mind over and over again; Have you ever thought about how far out of our means we live?

This is something that used to never bother me but a few months ago I listened to Radical by David Platt and he tells this story about a man who, no matter how much his salary increased, he capped his lifestyle at $20,000. The money he had leftover, he gave back. Whether it was to his community, to his local churches, to fund mission trips, or to charity… he gave every penny over $20,000 back. What an incredible, giving way to live. It’s really the way we’re supposed to live but somewhere along the way, we started to want more and more for ourselves. I used to never think about the amount of unnecessary stuff we all have and let’s be honest… I’m no stranger to some online shopping (I’m working on that), but the world has a serious greed problem. The problem is that everyone believes that all this money we have is ours, and it’s not. It’s God’s. If you’re keeping for yourself, you’re stealing from God because even if you worked hard for that money, there is nothing in this world you can accomplish without God.

In this book (which honestly changed my life), he explains why some of us are so blessed, and then why there’s still people living in countries across the world and they have nothing. Why doesn’t God bless them with as much as we have? The reason we have so much is because we are supposed to use our resources to giveback.Christians today have gotten comfortable in using the phrase “I wasn’t called to mission.” Actually you’re right, you weren’t called, you were commanded to.  One of the things we are commanded to do as Christians is to go among the nations and spread the gospel. What good are we doing to spread the gospel by just going to church on Sundays, and having bible studies in our homes? We need to be getting out there and reaching people! I’m not saying you have to go to Nicaragua or to Haiti or anywhere out of the country for that matter, because that’s not something everyone is able to do (me, for example). But you don’t have to go that far to reach the lost. There are lost people right in your city, your state, your own community.

This has been the hardest habit for me to break, is not spending so much on me and giving back more to those who need it. Stop cussing? No problem… No getting drunk? Easy… but no shopping?? Not so easy! Not to say I don’t give back but I know I could be doing much more, I know I’m not perfect. But I’m also not blind to what is going on around me. Who are we to turn our noses up at the homeless man on our streets? We should be giving back to him, not avoiding him. God created us all completely equal in His eyes so who am I to develop this idea that I’m more deserving than anyone else? You do not get to choose the circumstances of life that you’re born into. I was blessed to be born into a financially stable family and I live in a gated neighborhood and in a nice home. I drive a reliable, nice car that my parents were gracious enough to provide for me. But that doesn’t mean I am any better than someone who was born into a life with a single parent that struggles financially or has a drug addiction. That doesn’t mean I’m any better than the prostitutes or the drunks or the thieves or the less fortunate of this world. Somewhere along the line, they were either born into these circumstances or something happened to get them there. While there are some things you can change, sometimes it takes some help from others and I think as Christians, we should be that help.

Christians are a loving people and it’s time we earn that reputation back. Be a servant for our Lord and let His light shine through you. In my bible study this past Thursday, we talked about how God is the Potter and we are the clay, He is molding us everyday into the perfect vessel He wants us to be. Let Him. Go be that perfect vessel and let Him use you for His glory and His righteousness. Listen to Him when He says to love each other. Show love to every single person you meet and see God in their eyes because the same God that created you, created them too.

So, the point of this blog post is to sort of challenge you (just as I’m challenging myself). The challenge is to start each day with a giving heart and use all your blessings as a way to bless someone else and reach the lost, even if it’s in your own community. Make a disciple out of yourself and let the Lord use you to help other people find salvation.


Dear Heavenly Father,

I pray that people see You through me. I pray You use me as a vessel to do the good work and speak the gospel. I pray You use me to reach the lost and the broken and show them that there is salvation and a new life waiting on them, that it is never too late to start over. I pray I can be a light for You and that people see love in everything I do. I pray I speak graciously to everyone and I see You in the eyes of everyone I meet. I pray You clear my heart of anything that breaks Yours.

In the name of our Lord and Savior,

Amen.

Psalms 42:8 “Then God promises to love me all day, sing songs all through the night! My life is God’s prayer.”

If you’ll remember from my blog post entitled “Come to Jesus”, I wrote about how I had thought I’d hit rock bottom about my esophagus. I prayed that night for God to send me a little bit of of hope and to just remind me that He hasn’t forgotten about me. He revealed to me Matthew 8:1-4, which is about Jesus healing a man of his leprosy. So, I took this verse and carried it on my heart and reminded myself of it when I was hurting.

However, it kept getting harder and harder for me to swallow anything solid and even certain liquids. I had the most traumatizing (to say the least) esophageal manometry done while I was awake. For those of you that have never had one, an esophageal manometry is a procedure where a tube with monitors in it is threaded through your nose and then down your throat. After that, they have you swallow different consistencies of liquids and solids to locate the problem (for most people, it’s typically done awake with no problems and little discomfort, however as usual, I was the troublemaker). After three unsuccessful attempts to thread the monitor down my esophagus, we gave up.

This was on a Wednesday. By Friday, I could barely swallow anything. So, my incredible, life-changing angel of a speech therapist scheduled a very last-minute swallow test to be done behind an x-ray (shout out to LBN, she’s the only reason we found out I could eat at all in the first place). Anyways, the radiologist said I basically couldn’t swallow anything thicker than milk. Bummer. But I remembered Matthew 8:1-4. God’s not giving up on me.

Fast forward to Saturday, I had a big day ahead of me at a best friend’s bridal shower. We had a perfect day but I was sure not to try and eat anything. Well, I noticed later in the afternoon, it didn’t hurt to swallow my drink, I was completely comfortable. Later that night, I attempted to eat a tiny piece of chicken and, by the grace of God, it went down without a hitch and I was able to eat a solid meal for the first time in about a week. Hallelujah! I cried tears of joy.

The first person I thought to call was my precious friend and sister in Christ, Rayna Langston. I knew she had been worried about me the few days prior to that and could tell my health was taking a deep emotional toll on on me and that I was exhausted. After about a minute of crying, screaming, and praising God, she asked me what time I noticed I could swallow. I told her it was probably around 3:15 or 3:30. The words that came out of her mouth next completely made my heart swell. For a couple of weeks before this, she had been praying to God to help her improve her prayer life, she wanted some kind of sign that she was heard. Well, that Saturday, I had been on her heart again and she thought, “enough is enough.” So, she prayed so hard for me and my health right then and there. By the time she was done, it was about 3:00. Within half an hour, God had made her prayer my reality.

In the midst of all our chaos, God used us to answer each others’ prayers. He answered our prayers that I should eat but He also used me and my situation to show Rayna that He hears her prayers loud and clear!

Y’all, we serve such a mighty, loving, faithful God. Our God provides. Our God knows our needs and does not overlook them. We are the blessed ones.

Because He still hears us. He still moves our mountains. He still showers us in grace.

“Because He is the God that still does.”*

John 13:7 “Jesus replied, ‘You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.'”

 

(*This was said in a sermon a few months back at my home church, West Ridge, by my all time favorite pastor, Pastor Brian Bloye… and it’s stuck with me ever since.)

I Found My Life When I Laid it Down.

Ephesians 4:22-23 (NLT) says, “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.” 

I’ve noticed recently a lot of “lukewarm” christians. Let me explain what I mean by that. I mean the ones who go to Church Sunday morning but spent their Friday and Saturday nights drinking and cursing. I mean the ones with the high standards about the next person they date but are willing to lay down with a total stranger. The ones who can hear God calling but just can’t seem to separate their flesh from their faith. The ones who don’t know how to make a conversation that isn’t about another person. The ones who perceive them selves as devoted Christ followers on social media but live a life of sin in the background. The ones who only pray when they need a miracle or treat prayer like a joke. I recognize them because I’ve been them. This will come as no surprise to some of you but, I used to be to be no stranger to a party. I didn’t hesitate to let a cuss word come spewing out of my mouth. I was the girl that would speak or do things without giving a second thought about how it would make anyone else feel. I thought I was cool and I thought I fit in where I was. 

Then one day, something in me changed. I started to feel bad being in these conversations where we were talking ugly about people. I no longer wanted to stay out until all hours of the night, I just wanted my own bed. I felt dirty for saying a curse word. I felt God calling me and I wanted to answer. I am desperately begging you, to stop being “lukewarm” christians. Jump all the way in!! I finally let God change my heart and I wouldn’t go back for anything. I get invited to things a lot less often, for awhile there I didn’t have any friends I felt comfortable around, I spent a lot of nights at home just watching Netflix by myself or with my mom. Most of my plans were made to have lunch with my dad or hang out with my sister. I didn’t have a lot of friends but I would tell myself, “I have Jesus. So I have everything.”

One of the prayers I pray the most is for people to see Christ through me. Let me ask you this, am I embodying Christ if I am cursing, drinking, sleeping around? No. This is not Christ-like behavior. If you want people to follow in your footsteps, you must give them admirable foot steps to follow in. The reason you do these things is because you’re searching for happiness in all the wrong places, whereas real pure happiness can only be found through Christ. I’m not in any way saying I’m perfect or to follow in my footsteps. I’m far from perfect and I don’t want you to follow in my footsteps. I want you to follow in Christ’s footsteps. 

Stop preaching the gospel and then turning around and spending your Friday night drunk, or dropping the F bomb in your next conversation or engaging in meaningless sexual immorality (Ladies, if a man is asking you to engage in these activities, he is not the man God has sent to you because he does not fear God…this goes for you too, gentleman). Or maybe you’re not preaching the gospel at all and you’re living your life this way, this is for you too. Start preaching the gospel through the way you live your life. Be kind to people, to everyone you meet. Take that $20 for your nails and put it in the bucket at church. Start a conversation with a random person and end it with, “hey is there any way I can pray for you?” (You would be surprised how many people take you up on this). Let people learn by just watching you live your life. It’s contagious. For example, when I first felt this change in my heart I had to distance myself from certain people to isolate myself from any temptations. This meant that I spent a lot of time hanging out by myself and I got very, very lonely and it was hard. When I said I was going to stop cussing, I stopped listening to rap music. I no longer watch really vulgur sex scenes in movies (I’m looking at you, Fifty Shades). I don’t dress to look “hot”. I dress modestly because I learned that if I’m dressing or presenting myself in a way that might cause another brother or sister in Christ to sin by lusting after me, then I’m sinning too. There was a period of time where I basically isolated myself from my old friends and certain parts of the world so that I could work on myself. And at first, I think people thought I was doing it for attention. “No one just wakes up one day and all of a sudden doesn’t curse or drink or sleep around and actually means it, that’s just crazy!” It was crazy, but I felt called to do it and I did.

So… slowly, people noticed I wasn’t going anywhere. I started getting comments like “you seem really happy”, or “I really like all your tweets and posts about God”. I started to get people texting me and asking me to just pray for them or send them a scripture I thought they needed to hear . I was getting these opportunities put in front of me to minister to people and try to bring more people to Christ. My girls in my bible study group became my best friends and my prayer warriors (I prayed for so long for Godly friends and He blessed me with so much more. I have a family there). Almost everyday I hear a story or a testimony that just humbles me and reminds me I serve such a mighty God.

I am begging you, stop living this life of sin. God promises us so, SO much more than you could ever find at the bottom of a bottle or in someone else’s bed. Let Him in. Let Him change your heart. There is a loving God just waiting for you to accept him into your heart. What are you waiting on?

Come to Jesus.

I have been having an incredibly hard time.

With my esophagus, with my eating, and with coming to terms with it all. I have been praying and praying that Jesus would heal me in His due timing (but please make it fast because I really miss food)!! So, the other night as I’m doing my daily devotional for my bible study group, it told me to ask Jesus to give me an answer through The Word. So, I closed my eyes. And I prayed.

“Dear Lord, You know what is weighing on my heart the heaviest. I pray that when I open my eyes, the first scripture You reveal to me will bring me some peace and some reassurance in Your timing. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” 

With my eyes still closed, I turned into a random page in my bible and opened my eyes. The very first scripture He revealed to me was Matthew 8:1-4, which reads: “Jesus came down the mountain with the cheers of the crowd still ringing in His ears. Then a leper appeared and went to his knees before Jesus and, praying, ‘Master, if You want to, You can heal my body.’ Jesus reached out and touched him, saying, ‘I want to. Be clean.’ Then and there, all signs of leprosy were gone. Jesus said, ‘Don’t talk about this all over town. Just quietly present your healed body to the priest, along with the appropriate expressions of thanks to God. Your cleaned and grateful life, not your words, will bear witness to what I have done.” 

Y’all… only God.

Friends, brothers, and sisters in Christ… I have not yet been healed but this little bit of reassurance from God brought so much peace to something that has weighed so, so heavy on my heart. If I ask that you take away anything at all from this story, I want it to be only God. I want you to trust that only God can lift these mountains sitting on your heart. There is NOTHING you can’t give to God that He will not fix in His own timing and in a way that He sees fit.

The past six (almost seven) months of my life have been an absolute rollercoaster. I have had death dangled in front of my face, only to wake up almost perfectly fine. I have extubated myself at 4 a.m. on a Monday in the PICU at Children’s Hospital at Egleston. My parents were told not just once, but twice, that my condition was “unstable,” yet here I am. I had about 6 centimeters of impacted food removed from my esophagus only to discover that I have an esophageal web or “netting” that is really affecting my diet and my weight is constantly going up and down. I drink at least two Ensure Plus nutritional shakes a day because each one is 350 calories. I take at least two tablespoons of pure canola oil a day because each one is about 124 calories. I do this just to try and keep enough calories in my system. As of right now, I’m basically living off high calorie drinks, soups, mashed potatoes, ice cream, and occasionally chicken or pulled pork. I’m not telling you this for sympathy votes or advice. That’s actually the last thing I want to hear (because believe me, I’ve tried everything). I’m sharing this story to shed some light on what a mess the past seven months of my life have been.

I’ve been on an emotional and physical rollercoaster but one thing still remains: my unwaivering faith in Christ. In the past, I spent so much time trying to camouflage my situation. Wearing false lashes, wigs, and drawing on my eyebrows so I could keep it all my dirty little secret. I wouldn’t talk about it unless I was asked. I was afraid I wouldn’t fit in with my “pretty friends” anymore. I was afraid no man would love me if I “looked sick.” But, you know what? I’m done camouflaging who I am because I don’t fit in with my “pretty friends” anymore (this is no one’s fault, all my friends are incredible but they are all in a different season of life than I am). I’m not afraid of not finding love because I have all the love I need in Christ. Maybe it’s not even in God’s plan for me to get married but who cares?? Because I have the love of my life in Christ and He is fashioning me in His eye, whether it be for my future husband or just for me.

And I trust Him. I trust Him with my friends. I trust Him with who I may or may not marry. I trust Him with my cancer. I trust Him with my esophagus. I trust His timing. My prayer for all of you reading this right now is that you learn to trust Him, too. So I’d like to close out with this prayer:

Dear Lord, 

I pray over every single precious person reading this right now. I pray they reveal to You whatever is heavy on their heart and they put all their faith in You and Your timing. I pray You surround them with all Your glory and blanket them with a sense of peace. I pray You heal us all in Your timing, whatever our struggles may be, and use our circumstances for Your benefit in the meantime. 

In Jesus’ name,

Amen. 

“I hate those who worship worthless idols. I trust in the Lord. I will be glad and rejoice in Your unfailing love, for You have seen my troubles, and You care about the anguish of my soul. …I am scorned by all my enemies and despised by my neighbors-even my friends are afraid to come near me. …But I am trusting You, O Lord, saying, ‘You are my God!'” Psalms 31:6-14 

Bite Your Tongue.

“You have minds like a snake pit! How do you suppose what you say is worth anything when you are so foul-mouthed? It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words. A good person produces good deeds and words season after season. An evil person is a blight on the orchard. Let me tell you something: Every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. There will be a time of Reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can be your damnation.” Matthew 12:34

Okay, so I’m going to step on some toes here. People!! Watch your mouths!!! Hear me out… Living for Christ means He should be found in everything you do. How are you able to successfully minister to people if you cannot even break your own cursing habit? Now, don’t get me wrong, I used to have the very same cursing habit. I used to (and I often hear other people) justify my (or their) habit(s) with “it’s 20whatever, the world is different now. It’s not realistic to live that way.” Um… hello?? Where does it say this in the Bible?

I have loved Jesus my entire life. However, there is a difference in loving Jesus and living for Him. Wanting Him to come through every word and action. Wanting to embody Him. When I realized this change in my heart, one of the first changes I made (among other things) was my cursing habit. And let me tell you something… it was so easy. My passion and need to minister to people was much greater than my want to “fit in” or “sound cool” or whatever it is that gets us to develop these habits.

And it’s not just the words we use, but it’s what we talk about. I’m just not interested in talking about people or making ugly jokes. The words that spill out of your mouth are a direct representation of where your heart is. I don’t know about you, but I have no desire to be ministered to by someone that can’t hold a normal conversation without cursing or go a day without speaking ill about another child of God.

For me, breaking the actual habit was the easy part. I stopped listening to vulgar music and it happened like that. The hard part was getting laughed in the face when I told people “I stopped cursing.” When those people stop laughing and start listening, they’ll take it serious. If you can get people to listen, and I mean REALLY listenyou can get people to believe.

So, if you’ve made it to the end of this and I got you to listen, let me ask you this… where is your heart at?

“Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.” 1 Timothy 4:12

“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart will bring forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from which fills the heart.” Luke 6:45

“If anyone thinks himself to be religious and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.” James 1:26

This is my year of more.

More smiles & laughs, more trials & tribulations, more putting my story out in the world & using it to spread the word about God’s grace. One of my biggest internal battles with myself and something I often pray about is what my “calling” is and why I was given this exact life that faces me with so, SO many challenges. I have to constantly remind myself that this life was hand crafted for me by the same God that hung the stars and calls them all by name. He makes no mistakes and He surely didn’t make one when He made me. The bible says, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain move from here to there and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20) This bible verse has a special place in my heart (I even have it tattooed on me) because when I’m feeling like I can’t carry on any longer or I start to call my strength into question, this verse reminds me that if I put all my faith in God, He will move my mountains I’m facing. He will give me the strength to weather the storm. He will do the impossible.

I was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma at almost two years old and this is when our lives changed (I’ll get to that in a minute). For me, I was only two so this is the only way of life I’ve ever known. I don’t know anything other than this. Don’t get me wrong, I had an incredible childhood and my life now is outstanding and I’m honestly amazed everyday at everything I’ve been blessed with. But, my family. My amazing parents, my sweet sister, my perfect aunt, uncle, grandparents, cousins. They all had normal lives before me. Lives that didn’t involve near as many hospital visits, or hours spent taking care of me or trying to cheer me up when I couldn’t take care of myself. I always imagine what their lives would be like if I hadn’t been diagnosed, but I try not to dwell on it. I know that my family loves me in the exact form I’m in and that they’d lasso the moon for me if I asked (I know this because  I have watched them do outrageous things and pull off crazy tasks for me). I was blessed with such an amazing support system because God knew I would need them to fall into on the days my weak body just gives in because some days, it does just that.

Recently I’ve gotten an answer to a prayer I’ve prayed so many times before. It normally goes something like this: “Dear Lord, I pray to ask You for guidance and understanding. Guidance to know what I’m meant to do with my life and understanding because I don’t know why I face these awful battles over and over. I’m emotionally and physically exhausting myself trying to understand why this is happening to me. I pray You heal me in Your timing and until then, use my circumstances for Your glory. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” God answered my prayers through a book I was reading, Radical by David Platt. In the middle of reading this book, I finally understood that God has blessed me with a beautiful family, financial stability and an amazing life story so that I can go out into the world and minister to the lost by telling my own testimony. So, in this very first blog post of mine, I’m going to share with you my personal testimony.

My testimony begins with the term “Neuroblastoma.” Neuroblastoma is, by definition, “a type of cancer that starts in certain very early forms of nerve cells found in an embryo or fetus” (cancer.org). This means that a lot of babies are born with it, but in a lot of cases their immune systems are strong enough to fight it off. In my case, my immune system wasn’t strong enough and it kept growing for the first two years of my life until I started showing symptoms and was diagnosed. It started when my family noticed a large knot on my neck and took me to have it checked out. I was eventually referred to a specialist and this was the beginning of the next eighteen years of my life. The next eighteen years would consist of remissions, relapses, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, four trips all the way to Michigan from Georgia for an MIBG radiation therapy done in isolation, stem cell transplants, stem cell harvesting, surgeries, bone marrow biopsies, countless nights in the hospital and a million needle pokes. The current status of my disease as shown on my most recent scans is “stable to improving.” This is good but it means I still have a long way to go. My treatment right now is five days of outpatient chemo once every three weeks, if my blood counts allow it. I’ve had a hard time with my blood counts getting low and have had to get a lot of blood and platelet infusions to boost my counts and make me feel at least a little better. That’s really the only complaint I have about this treatment because it doesn’t make me nauseous, I keep a good appetite throughout it (thank God because I can’t afford to lose anymore weight), and I get to come home every night and sleep in my own bed. These are the things I’ve learned to cherish the most: my own clean bed, my own shower, and sleeping in the same house as my family and dogs. Such simple things, but this is what you miss the most when you stay in the hospital as often as I do.I used to despise my circumstances and this life I was given because I was sick of treatments and side effects but now I’ve grown to be grateful for it. This walk of life has introduced me to the most inspiring people and opportunities that I otherwise would have never had the chance to reach. My heart has been so changed because of this and I wouldn’t be the Godly young girl that I am had I not had to endure all of this.

With that being said, I have this desire to go to places on mission trips where people are without these things and minister to them. I’ve developed this belief that God has blessed me with so much financially so that I would have the means to give back and go places to minister to people and as soon as my body has the ability, that’s what I plan to do.

But, I plan to start right here. I’m going to use this blog as my way of reaching people. Maybe you’ll read it, maybe you won’t but just maybe I’ll bring someone to Christ by sharing my testimony here. So, this is the beginning of me telling my story. I’m not sure where God will take me with this, perhaps I’ll write a book, perhaps I’ll start a ministry… I’m unsure yet. But, please stick around for “more.”