anxiety

Trust In The Midst Of Trials

Photo by  Maria Stiehler  on  Unsplash

This post is different.

Usually, when I share something, it’s from a rearview perspective—I’ve experienced something, learned a lesson or had an “a-ha” moment and I want to share it with you.  

This post is different.

I am very much in the midst of the circumstances I’m sharing today.  I don’t know how this story will end, but I feel God prompting me to share the journey, not just the final destination.

For the past six months, I’ve battled minor health issues and major anxiety brought on by those health issues. This battle has robbed me of more joy, contentment, memories and emotional wellbeing than I care to think about.  It’s made me a mediocre wife and a mom with a short fuse (at best). It’s caused me to throw myself into my job—because work is (usually) something I can control, unlike my emotions these days.

Last week, everything started to fall apart. I went to the doctor for a (minor) issue and came home with more questions than answers and a body so wracked with fear, stress and anxiety that I was barely able to function. What followed for the next seven days were more inconclusive tests, pain radiating throughout my entire body, one epic meltdown in front of my husband and a child who missed show and tell day.

And that job I thought I could control? I cancelled meetings, moved a final exam and made careless errors.

At multiple points during the week, I cried out to God, begging him to “show Himself” and “help me.” These are prayers I’ve prayed hundreds of times over the past six months. Mostly, I’ve heard nothing in reply.  

Sometimes God is unexplainably silent; and while His silence is never due to lack of caring or love, it may not be for us to comprehend this side of Heaven.  

In my desperation last week, I remembered the story of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8. The widow petitioned a judge—who was neither a Christian nor a good man—for justice. He refused her request for a while, but after a period of time, she wore him down and he granted her request.  

Jesus used this parable to encourage the disciples to pray and not give up, saying in Luke 18:7 “will not God bring justice for His chosen ones who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, He will see that they get justice, and quickly.”

So, I kept praying. I’M STILL PRAYING. I’m claiming the promises of Hebrews 4:14-16. I’m trusting that Jesus is interceding for me before God and I’m approaching the throne of grace with confidence. I’m also choosing to believe Psalm 41:3 and 42:11—that the Lord will restore me to full health and my downcast soul will yet praise Him.

 And when those promises seem empty, I’m focusing on the ways that God has shown up in my life over the past year: the lump in my breast that they literally COULD NOT FIND on an ultrasound or mammogram, the pre-cancerous mole that was removed without need for further treatment (save annual mole checks) and my father-in-law, who was diagnosed with stage three Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in August 2018, ended chemo last month and as I write this is playing at the beach with my boys.  

When circumstances cause us to doubt God and His goodness, we must call to mind His promises, remember His history of faithfulness in our lives and above all else, we must NEVER STOP PRAYING.  

I’m currently reading Jennie Allen’s “Made For This.” In it, she talks about praying an “anything” prayer…of “laying your life in the hands of a reckless, invisible God,” because our time on this earth is short and pointing others to HIM is all that truly matters.  

This post is my anything prayer.

This is my testimony in the midst of trial that God is who He says He is. That He is good regardless of what my circumstances tell me. That HE WILL COME THROUGH…if not in this life, then the one to come.

Today, I go back to the doctor to ask for more tests…

 I DON’T KNOW HOW THIS STORY IS GOING TO END, BUT I TRUST GOD WITH THE OUTCOME.

 If you find yourself in similar circumstances today, know that you are not alone. I see you. I feel your pain, both physical and emotional; and I’m sorry.

 In her book, “It’s Not Supposed To Be This Way,” Lysa Terkeurst says:

“Perfection intimidates. Compassion inspires. And in that you will finally find the why. Why did this happen? Because there’s someone else in the world who would drown in their own tears if not for seeing yours. And when you make one other human simply see they are not along, you make the world a better place.”

We may never know the reason for some of the suffering we experience, but our questions and our tears can unite us if we let them.

 

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month: Billy Warner's Story

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I met Sarah Warner earlier this year at the RISE conference. Ten minutes into our first conversation, we realized were both from California (the conference was held in Los Angeles, but people came from all over the world); and Sarah asked if I could give her a ride home.

Despite the fact that I was raised to NEVER give a ride to strangers, I didn’t hesitate to say yes to Sarah’s request. (You can read a bit about our ride together and what Sarah taught me here.)  

In August 2017, Sarah and her husband, Mike, lost their 12-year old son Billy to cancer. Sarah’s story is one of hard, unfathomable things. Things that no mother should ever have to endure. But her story is also one of strength, resilience and dignity in the face of extreme pain. September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Over 15,000 children in the US are diagnosed with cancer every day. Nearly 1,800 children in the US will lose that fight each year. For as far as we’ve come with cancer treatment, we still have a long way to go.

Today, Sarah is sharing her story and her son Billy’s cancer journey. The outcome is not pretty, but Sarah and her family are making something beautiful of their lives despite the destruction that cancer has left them. This interview is very real, raw and personal; and it’s such an important read. Hearing statistics about childhood cancer is one thing. Reading someone’s personal encounter with the disease is quite another. I’m humbled that Sarah shared her story and her son Billy’s life with me and with all of you.

PS- If reading Billy’s story is triggering to you in any way, you might want to skip down to the last few questions when Sarah addresses how to love, help and talk to someone dealing with cancer and the death of a child. She also shares the best way to support Childhood Cancer research.

Jenn Prentice (JP): Hey Sarah, thank you so much for being here and sharing your story. Will you tell everyone a little about yourself.

Sarah Warner (SW): My Name is Sarah Warner, I live in Sonoma County, which is also known as “Wine Country” in Northern California. I’m mama to 2 boys, and I’ve been with my best friend for just shy of 20 years. We joke that his sister brought me home to him in high school. I’m a wedding planner who’s owned my own business since 2013. I also do part-time bookkeeping. This works really well for me because the hours never conflict. I get to take my kids to school and then go to work. Then I’m off in time to pick them up, and I start working on my business at night... Or at least that’s the plan.

JP: You and I had the opportunity to get to know one another at the RISE conference. We actually shared a ride home, and you so graciously shared your story with me. Can you share a bit of your story with the people reading this blog? 

SW: Our family is big into Boy Scouts. In May 2016, we had just come home from a hike with Scouts, and I watched my son Billy (who was 11 at the time) undress so we could look for ticks. I noticed how angular he had become, and I asked him to step on the scale. He had gone down in weight to 74 lbs. He was 94 lbs in December.

 We made an appointment with his doctor, who worked up some blood work and did a chest X-ray. Everything came back clean. We went back a week later and he had lost another 5lbs. More blood work and scans were ordered; and those came back clean too. So, we started a waiting game of getting into see specialists and other doctors. It was taking months, and during that time, Billy’s joints and abdomen started hurting. He didn't feel like eating. He was tired but managed to rally to go to school and scouts. 

At the urging of my boss’s wife, on a Monday morning, I drove him to the ER at UCSF children's hospital. Within 6 hours, they were fairly sure it was cancer, they just weren’t sure what type. He was immediately admitted him into the hospital. They did a pet scan and found a tumor on his spine. They did a biopsy on it and confirmed that it was cancer--stage 4 neuroblastoma.

This is a cancer normally found in babies. Only 4% of diagnosis are in kids over the age of 10. Billy was 11. That Friday we started his first round of chemo; and thus began a very long, horrendous medical journey for Billy and for our family.

He did four rounds of chemo and had a reaction to every one of them. After four different chemos, they determined it wasn’t killing the cancer off fast enough. Som they started three rounds of antibodies. They told me those would be hard. They didn’t tell me that the first day, I would question everything about being a parent. I thought I signed Billy up to be tortured. While they try to find the right combination of painkillers and the correct infusion rate, Billy was having intense nerve pain; and just when I thought that was over, the swelling started. Again, Billy had reactions to EVERYTHING, but after three rounds, it looked like he only have one small point of cancer left.

JP: So, this was in November of 2016? And at this point, it was looking hopeful.

SW: Yes, in November 2016, he had major abdominal surgery taking out most of the tumor, his left adrenal gland and several lymph nodes. I didn’t know this would be the turning point. There was more cancer than had shown up on the MIBG scan, some of his cancer would only show on a PET scan. The surgery left Billy unable to eat more than just a couple bites, which was devastating because he was an adventurous foodie. This time we didn’t leave the hospital for a month, and then we only left for his brother’s birthday and Christmas. The around the clock care was just too much for us to do at home.

The next step was to do a stem cell transplant to kill off the remaining bit of cancer. With a stem cell transplant, the first step is a very rigorous chemo that kills your immune system—both good and bad--completely. The slightest cold could have killed him.

JP: So what did that mean?

SW: It meant a stay in the hospital for over a month. It meant not seeing his brother for six weeks. Unfortunately, the scans after transplant showed the cancer growing back; and we were forced to turn to palliative care and radiation to shrink and ease the pain of the cancer near his occipital, hip and back.

But this is what I need people to know: During Billy’s journey, every time he was discharged, we made the most of the time we had out of the hospital.  We took trips to Southern California to visit family and have fun at Legoland and Universal Studios. We went to New York for a Make a Wish trip. We made Hawaii happen. He flew in helicopters and biplanes. He skydived indoors twice.  He swam with dolphins, snorkeled with turtles, went to magic shows. He ate crazy things, rode in limos, camped in a safari, learned about science. He played games with cousins and played in the sand.

Billy LIVED! Billy pushed us to LIVE.

A few people didn’t understand why I “made” Billy go do all these things. They were actually mad at me for doing all the things we did. But I wasn’t dragging Billy to have all these adventures. When one was done he’d look at me and ask “Where are we going next?” He wanted to go to as many national parks as possible, and my community rallied to make these moments happen for us. IT. WAS. HARD.  It was a lot of planning to travel with a sick child. It was terrifying to think I might need to take him to an ER I didn’t know; but I wouldn’t trade those memories for the world.

JP: Unfortunately, Billy passed away in August of 2017. You just marked the one year anniversary of Billy's death. I know you guys do a lot to keep his memory alive. Can you talk about that and what you did this August?

SW: Billy Died 10 days before his 13th birthday. Mike and I decided that in his honor we would have an adventure in that time frame every year. This year we went to New Zealand and had a Billy sized adventure.  We went on a luge. My husband jumped off a cliff and swung with our monkey that travels with us as our Billy mascot.  Shea (our youngest son) rode in a Shark scuba that jumps 18’ out of the water. We ate all kinds of fun things and tried doing new things. We learned about the local animals and even went to a Scout meeting.

JP: Can you talk about this past year. What has gone through your mind and your heart? 

It’s been a really hard season. Starting in June with his friends graduating from middle school, and then, in the midst of his birthday and Angel-versary, those kids started high school. I’m so glad I get to see them doing that, but it also kinda rips my heart to shreds. 

Too much has gone through my mind: How unfair it all is. How unlucky we were to get dealt this card but also how grateful we are for our amazing community.Things that you wouldn’t guess have been triggers. Shea broke his collarbone, and just going to the ER is like asking for a panic attack. I won’t go to San Francisco for networking events or really anything, because that drive just reminds me of going to the hospital and induces anxiety.

And then there are our friends who are still living with cancer. I know when they have scans, and I feel like I’m holding my breath for results. I’m overjoyed when those results come back negative, but I’m also sad that we never got that journey. 

People tell us we need to go to therapy, but nothing can fix this. They don’t have magic tools to make this easier. Don’t try to fix us. Just be with us as friends. Listen. There’s this circle I shared to try to get people to understand what we are going through.

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I don’t have it in me to console anyone but Mike or Shea--and even that is a stretch some days. 

JP: What are some things that people said to you while you were dealing with Billy's illness that were or were not helpful? What are some things that people did that were or were not helpful? 

SW: I found early on that I would tell my community what I didn’t need to hear. (Don’t tell me about your oils/diet.) We had a Facebook group, and I asked them to post jokes, cute animal stuff, or babies photos--all things that made Billy smile. It became a group people loved to go to smile, or so I’m told. Sometimes all I needed was someone to cuss with, someone to send an emoji so I knew I was heard.

JP: What about after Billy passed away? What are some things that people said or did that were or were not helpful?   

SW: My friends who just sat in bed and watched TV with me were the best. Dinners that weren’t casseroles or bag salads were treats. Don’t get me wrong, I love casseroles. I just can’t eat that for a month. Friends who took/take my youngest son to school were amazing, because mornings are the hardest for me. Friends who understand that I want to be invited to do things but who also understand that I might cancel or cut out early because I don’t have the spoons (look up spoon theory) that day are also appreciated. 

JP: How can people who are hoping to help with childhood cancer research get involved? What are some of the best organizations to donate to? 

SW: There are so many ways to help:

Host a lemonade stand, benefiting Alex’s Lemonade Stand. 

Buy gifts from organizations that give back like Love Your Melon. 

Give blood. It is so needed. Nationally, there is a shortage; and kids like Billy really do need it. 

Give money for your birthday. I personally love Family House San Francisco. it was our home away from home. We lived there for 18 months. I hate to think what it would have been like to try to get care so far from home. 

My biggest platform: Give to your local research hospital. For us this means I want research money to go to UCSF pediatric cancer research. 

Contrary to popular belief, St. Jude doesn’t take every child. They use protocols researched elsewhere. Don’t make families feel dumb for not going there. I had a well-meaning friend of the family try to tell me I should move Billy’s care there, so we didn’t have to spend so much time fundraising. My friends were the ones fundraising. Being states away from our family would have been exponentially harder; and there were no open trials for Billy’s cancer. 

Finally, more than just research, you can give money to camps like Camp Okizu where oncology kids, siblings and families can go and have the emergency care they might need and be around others who understand the lingo and emotions is huge. Especially for the siblings. They get the short end of so much. Their parents are often gone for so much. Their sick sibling gets all these cool gifts and trips, meanwhile their world has been turned upside down. I’m glad Shea gets to go to this camp. 

JP: Sarah, I can’t thank you enough for being willing to share your life with me and everyone reading. I have one last question: At the end of your life, what legacy do you hope you leave behind? What do you think would make Billy the most proud? 

SW: At the end of my life I want people to say I was a good friend and I want my son to know he was loved. I want him to know how to live in the moment and to be kind because you don’t know the journey someone else caries in their hearts. I want my Scouts to remember my love for my boys, and my dedication to having an adventure. 

 

On Mental Health Awareness and Being a Crappy Christian: An Interview with Blake Guichet of Magnolia Ink

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Can I be honest? I struggle with social media. I vacillate between feeling inferior and alone because it looks like everyone is doing something infinitely more awesome than me or feeling like I'm part of the problem. On an Internet where people only the show the highlight reel of their lives, it's rare to see someone whose feed--and whose life--is beautifully honest. 

When I think of my friend Blake Guichet, those two words come to mind: BEAUTIFULLY HONEST. One look at her Instagram feed (@thegirlnamedblake), and you'll know I'm right. Blake is both beautiful and honest. She's also a talented writer, a mental health advocate and a self-proclaimed "crappy Christian." And did I mention that she's hilarious??

Blake and I connected through the RISE conference, and though we didn't get the chance to meet face-to-face, I felt confident enough in who she was as a person (and in her amazing graphic design skills) to ask her to re-design This Is Thirty Four. Every interaction I've had with her over the past few months--and everything I've seen her post on social media during that time--has only confirmed that Blake is as real deal. 

Blake's Instagram feed offers daily encouragement to me to be more intentional (you know I love that word) in the way I'm living my life. Her heart for Jesus and for others shines through in everything she writes. So, read this interview and be encouraged by Blake's words; and then go follow her on Instagram. You'll thank me later! 

Jenn Prentice (JP): Hey Blake! Thanks for doing this interview. For those that don’t follow you on Instagram (but will after this interview), tell them who you are.  

Blake Guichet (BG): I’m a born and raised Louisianian, like in the “never lived anywhere else” sense. I graduated from LSU in 2011 with plans to move very far away and begin my career as a writer/speaker, but God had other ideas. I met my now husband, Jeremy, about two months before I graduated, fell head over heels in love, and kept my roots right where they were. We got married a year later, had our first daughter, Pacey, a year after that, and our second daughter Elliot two years after that. We’ve packed a lot of life into the last seven years, but it’s pretty dang beautiful.

So now I’m a work from home mom wearing a lot of hats – business owner, graphic designer, writer, sometimes-blogger, and I’m sure a whole bunch I’m forgetting. But I love it. I love our life, and I’m thankful that God’s plan is always better than our best-laid ones.

JP: Well, from my perspective, you are rocking each of the hats you’re wearing, especially Magnolia Ink. Tell me more about your business.  

BG: Magnolia Ink is my branding and website design business, officially born in July of 2017, but it had been kind of lurking in the background in an unofficial sense for years before that. My number one priority in my business is using my abilities to enable other business owners to move forward towards their dreams with a brand and a web presence that accurately represents them.

JP: From working with you on the redesign of This is Thirty Four (thank you for that, by the way), I know that you have a well-oiled process for designing people's websites and branding. How did you develop that process? Or maybe a better question is: what lessons did you learn early on that led you to develop such a great process?

BG: This question cracked me up because my process is built exclusively off of trial and error. I did (& still do) a lot of “business” things wrong, have to learn lessons the hard way, & put policies in place to ensure they don’t happen again. But I definitely love where my process is now. My two week turn around for a brand and a website is really attractive to a lot of people because it enables me to focus on one client at a time and give them the attention and product they deserve. My business is super automated so that I spend minimal time on the small stuff and maximum time on the things I love and with my people.

JP: You have a beautiful blog yourself, but you recently took a step back from blogging. Can you talk about that and why you chose to step back?

BG: Honestly, I felt like God was telling me to. Is that a super Sunday school answer? I just started to feel like the blog isn’t where I needed to be putting my energy. So I stepped back and asked Him how he wanted me to move forward, knowing He’d be faithful to funnel my desire to serve Him with my words and thoughts to something else.

JP: So, what does rest and simplifying and scaling back mean to you right now?

BG: It means keeping my heart in check above everything else. It’s asking myself “why am I doing this, what is my intention? Is it to achieve and to feel better about myself, or is it to glorify the kingdom and use the gifts God gave me?” It feels weird to say that encouraging and challenging others is my “gift,” but I’m learning to lean into that a little more. I recently launched an email campaign where people can subscribe, and I’m sending out a weekly email with everything from Biblical insight to my favorite bra, and everything in between. It feels like a perfect middle ground between blogging and nothing at all. It’s much more personal and more private, but still a huge way to connect with people and continue building a community.

JP: Speaking of connecting with other people, one of the things that I think a lot of people can connect with you on is mental health. You're extremely open about mental health and the importance of managing your mental health. Can you talk about your own struggles and some of the things you've learned?

BG: I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Clinical Depression when I was 20, and it’s taken me about nine years of walking through life with those disorders before I started really openly talking about it. But the biggest thing I’ve learned is that pulling the things that Satan wants to be left in the dark - our struggles, the things he can pin us down with - that’s where the power is. Pulling that stuff into the light and declaring that Jesus already has victory over them, that’s when we win. Because then we get to join in with each other and stand next to our sisters and brothers and then no man is an island.

JP: You have a list of resources for people who are struggling with anxiety/mental health issues. Talk about that and how people can get access to it.

BG: Yes! I put together Through the Waves: Prayers & Verses for the Anxious Heart honestly as a resource for myself at first, but as I cultivated it and really leaned into using it, I realized so many people could benefit from it as well. So you can find it on my blog at https://www.thegirlnamedblake.com/home/through-the-waves

JP: I think pretty much everything I write starts out as something I need to hear and then ends up as something I share with other people in the hopes that they might benefit from it too. I know your resource guide is touching a lot of people’s hearts and minds and helping them in their journey.

 Let’s lighten things up a bit.  You are such a fun person to follow on Instagram because you are so freaking funny. What role does humor play in managing anxiety/mental health?

BG: Hah! This question made me laugh out loud the first time I read it. I don’t know if I’m funny as much as I am painfully honest, but I think sometimes that translates to funny. I absolutely have had to learn to laugh at myself & my circumstances. I honestly use sarcasm as a bit of a defense mechanism, sometimes to a fault (ask my husband). But being able to allow things to roll off your back and have a snarky comment to go with it makes life a little less heavy and can make it feel like the walls aren’t always closing in.

JP: And speaking of funny, you want to write a book, potentially entitled "Confessions of a Crappy Christian." I would read that book. I feel like that describes my life...or at least my journal entries..can you talk about your faith, the role it plays in your life and what it means to be a "crappy Christian"?

 BG: I think that’s going to end up being the official title of the book because so many people identify with it. I know some Christians will probably be highly offended by someone describing themselves as “crappy” in their faith, but my heart and prayer for this book are that not just Christian women are reading it. I want people who have heard about Jesus but are maybe turned off by this idea of perfectionism and holier-than-thou believers to pick up the book  and see someone who loves Jesus more than anything, telling the story of how often they get it wrong, and how much Jesus still loves them because of it.

JP: Yes! Yes! YESSSS! I think that’s a message we all need to hear, regardless of where we’re at in our faith journey. Well, you know me well enough by now to know that I could talk to you for hours. BUT, I am going to end the interview with the question I ask everyone: At the end of your life, what type of legacy do you hope to leave?

BG: Dang. This is a good one. My first thought is my girls. I want my legacy to be two strong, deeply rooted, on fire for the kingdom women who are consistently rocking the boat and confident in who they are in Christ. I want people to remember me as someone who made them feel a little less alone in their day to day crap, who challenged them to be the best version of themselves and maybe made them laugh along the way.

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