June 1, 2023. It has slipped up on us all. SUMMER is here, kids are out of school, and families are going on vacation. There was a time when I was so excited about summer, even though kids were going from one sport camp to another, VBS (either attending or helping), church camp, or scouting trips – with weekends spent at my sister’s pool. How do things change so quickly?
During those years of hustle and bustle, I NEVER thought about a change in the life I had planned for my family. We would always go on family vacations, spend weekends at the pool, including holidays with laughter, hamburgers, and hot dogs. We still have the hamburgers and hot dogs, but somehow, the laughter is missing.
Over the last 28 years, I can say our faith has not wavered, definitely tested, but not wavered. December of 1995 is when Jay was first diagnosed with cancer. I can promise you that it has not slowed him, much to my frustration. His next treatment is next Thursday, and if he didn’t have to work on Friday, he would. He never slows down. His BROTHER did not slow down – he had goals (basketball, high school, college) while battling cancer. Jay’s FATHER still came to watch the boys practice football during his treatments. There is a pattern here. I firmly believe Trey learned from watching his dad, his papaw, and hearing about his uncle. Trey had goals in the midst of his battle. I remember someone asking me at the time why he had a bucket list. That bucket list kept him going. Also, as a result, I see so much maturity in my Collin at age 23.
Over the last year, I have felt myself slip into a depressive state because I have been dealing with an ankle that will not heal after a tendon tear, two surgeries, and soon to be my 7th (no, 8th) cast. Food, television, and a scooter have become good friends of mine. Even during this time, I have been praying for friends that have been suffering from circumstances much worse.
This morning, I noticed in my devotion (which was Trey’s), I had written at the bottom of the page I was praying for the Troike family (Yes, I misspelled Troike). Wyatt was a friend of Collin’s at Collierville and was a patient of St. Jude at the time. Believe it or not, I have never been one for journaling, so the fact that I noted this prayer for the family struck a chord. I am sure at the time, they were struggling with the unknown. It prompted me to jot down who I had prayed for on the way to work. EACH of them are walking a similar path our family has walked…cancer. But we have always known God is in control, His sovereignty, and He is definitely in the details of our circumstances.
Eleven years ago, our circumstances changed with Trey during his battle with cancer. We were told by his doctors his chemo had stopped working and it would be a matter of time. I remember asking, “A matter of time for what?” Even years later, my heart still sinks remembering being told Trey may have until September (2012). I would have never thought he would be gone in a month. But in that one month, he had several procedures that enabled him to make it to the beach with the church and an extended family vacation. There were plans to change his chemo after his return from the beach. That was not God’s plan. This coming month will be another difficult time of reflection.
Whether you are facing cancer or similar circumstance to make you feel defeated, do not let Satan control how you handle the situation. He will manipulate you towards loneliness and entice you down a path of darkness that will not help you when the going gets tough. Well, tougher. Like our Pastor has said, and I paraphrase, “If you aren’t going through tough times now, you will.” We may not know the outcome of our circumstances, but we DO know the guide!
If you need to be encouraged in your current circumstances, I urge you to get the book by Coach Mike O’Neill – Don’t Back Down (on Amazon and in local Collierville stores). Its content is filled with laughter, tears, struggles, uncertainty, hope, but mostly with the Holy Spirit.
Read the scripture again – I heard, but I did not understand. So I asked, “My Lord, what will the outcome of all this be?” Daniel 12:8 I don’t think we will know this side of Heaven. Right now, I’m okay with that and I’m learning to pivot as my circumstances change. Thank you, Ross Geller – character from Friends – PIVOT, PIVOT, PIVOT!
I took this pic while laying in bed last Saturday morning. It was a day I knew I would be able to sleep a little later. It’s odd how as I get older, I sleep longer. I’ve never been a late sleeper. So, I was a little perturbed that the sun was shining straight down in my eyes. Well, a lot perturbed. I was ready to post this and complain about the sun in my eyes.
For some reason, the picture was immediately absorbed with the rest of my 10,000 pictures on my phone and I didn’t think about it again…until now. I’m sitting here watching basketball and deleting pictures and there – look. See it?
It’s been a hard week for many reasons. Honestly, I’ve wrestled all week with the build up of memories from 11 years ago, not slept well (vivid nightmares), been frustrated with myself at work (perfectionist failure 🙄), and overwhelmed by a busy schedule that I created for myself. I found myself grabbing my devotion book at work around 10 am today thinking to myself, “Oh, I got to get this in!” I assumed God would use my speed reading to soak the words right off the paper into my soul. A hurting, grieving soul.
I worked a little late last night and drove Collin’s car home from work for Jay to take to the shop. I didn’t have my church choir CD to listen to, so I found myself praying…for friends with cancer, my friend Ashley, healing, my husband, my sweet son, the woman that God has for Collin, and for my sister and the group to return from their cruise safely. I vividly remember asking God to speak to me because I told Him that I felt I have not had anything encouraging to say in order to write a blog. I begged to be used. I asked Him why people are drawn to someone else’s trauma. I didn’t expect an answer. Jay and I have been talking about trauma addiction lately and it is just another struggle I’ve dealt with – and watched a sweet girl deal with the realization that Trey’s death has caused trauma in her life.
I asked the Lord, with no hesitation, to always use my words and actions for His glory. I kept asking to be used, like a mantra – use me, use me. When you pray to be used, are you afraid of just how God will start moving in your life? I am. I know Trey asked to be used. Sometimes I wonder…well…I can’t go there right now. When I prayed last night, I actually said out loud, “Now God, I don’t need anything drastic.” You might ask how I remember praying this. I was driving down Poplar Pike and just crossed over the railroad tracks in front of Germantown High School. I brought myself back around to the fact that I WAS driving, needed to pay attention, and was thankful a train wasn’t coming because I sure wasn’t looking! I was too busy giving God my request list.
I am in choir at Germantown Baptist Church and we are preparing to record a CD next Monday and Tuesday. I have worked so hard to memorize the songs by listening to the alto track. My essential tremors make it difficult to hold the music and I know how important the sound of turning pages can be in a recording. Last week, words from one of the songs spoke to me and I sent them by text to my friend, Anna Wakefield. I remember her saying in rehearsal it was one of her favorite songs we are singing. As I looked at this picture, as if for the first time, I finally saw the cross through the sunbeam. Immediately these lyrics came to my mind.
“Lift your head, Morning is coming; there’s more to the story. Don’t forget; in grief and in glory, Still great is His faithfulness. He is Present Helper, Keeper; great is His faithfulness. Perfect, Sovereign, Fortress, great is His faithfulness. Abba Father, Comfort, great is His faithfulness. Redeemer, Restorer, Sustainer, great is His faithfulness. Wait on Him, rest in Him, come find your peace again. Trust in Him, hope in Him; great is His faithfulness!”
Oh, how these lyrics pierce my heart. He speaks to me most when I worship with an openness to allow Him to be everything He promises in His Word. My Comforter. My Restorer. But more than these things, the promise that because of His sacrifice, morning IS coming and there IS more to MY story. Maybe God DOES write my list of requests on HIS heart with a smirk saying, “Lisa, remember who I am! Come find your peace in me.”
Hey buddy. I thought I would write you and catch you up on some things. It’s 2 AM and I was doing this in my head so I thought I would put it on paper. Putting it on paper these days means that you are dictating something to your phone. That would totally blow you away. And, you know I don’t do anything at 2 AM unless it’s important. Honestly, Abbie woke me up because she had to go to the bathroom and I took our new golden retriever puppy out at the same time. I know you would feel the same way Collin does and be protective of Abbie versus the excitement of the new puppy. It’s hard to believe we got Abbie one month before you started feeling sick.
I haven’t written to you in a long time. Actually, my writing has slowed. Not for the lack of thought, but just a lack of time and discouragement. It is not that you are not thought of, it’s just the days of hearing your voice have long gone; a day I knew would come and I have dreaded.
Last year (2022) we did a study of heaven in Sunday School. I was so anxious to dive into the word and here what Carolyn had to say about where you are and where we will eventually be together. I know too often I loosely use the term of seeing you when I see a goose, or comment during a ball game that you’re the angel in the outfield, or tell someone that I know was close to you that you are an angel on their shoulder. I know none of that’s true and you are not something that can be put in a pocket and carried around. And I definitely know you are not an angel in heaven. People misinterpret scripture and we don’t become angels when we die and float on clouds! Maybe it comforts me that it’s the memory of you that is carried around. I have no doubt that you are doing exactly God intended-spending time with Him, praising Jesus, and hopefully talking to many of the prophets you read about. It would be nice to think that you are looking down on me and your family, but I know you would not want to see so much of the sadness in this world. And frankly, it’s not biblical. Neither is this, really, but it sure makes me feel better. Some people journal every day, but I blog.
Several things happened in church this last Sunday that brought you to mind. While we were singing the songs I consider contemporary worship, there was a little girl probably between the age of five and eight in the seats behind me, and she was singing every word to the songs. I started to cry because one, it was just so precious, and two, I knew that mother was teaching her children by listening to the music in the car (like we used to do). Pastor Matt announced that we will be studying in James very soon. Honestly, I can’t remember if I rolled my eyes or had a feeling of excitement knowing that James was one of your favorite books in the Bible. Either way, it will be a great study and I know that I will learn much from what Pastor Matt has to say. (You would love him, by the way. He knows Papa K.)
Lastly, it was announced that Impact is coming up soon. Your Aunt Donna and I had a collective sigh. We know it’s not Impact in our minds and should still be D-Now, but I think during the many changes in the regime at church, the name was changed to move with the times. I get that. But while others move on, I have keen awareness that it is January and the beginning of the season I dread every year, January through July. I wish I could sleep January through July and wake up in August for vacation. We know that is not how life works.
Many things happened in the last year. Your dad, Collin, and I all had surgery. Too bad it wasn’t all at the same time. Your dad started treatments at West Clinic and is going every three weeks. While it’s heavy on my heart that he has to endure this, we know it’s what is best and it’s helping to reduce the cancer in his neck. So many around us are being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I just don’t understand why people are suffering.
I didn’t ask for donations to St. Jude for your birthday this last year. So many give to St. Jude and that’s such a blessing but I wanted to do something different. This idea actually came to life while on a short vacation and the Ralph Lauren store in Pigeon Forge was all in. I didn’t know how I was going to accomplish this idea that I intended to be very small. I took a chance and put the word out (Venmo would be your friend, I know that for sure) that I was in Pigeon Forge and wanted to buy Polo hats to give out to St. Jude and West Clinic patients in honor of your birthday. I had in my mind that I would probably end up buying maybe 10 hats. Those 10 hats turned into being over 200 to be gifted away from donations. We almost bought the store out and I came home and ordered more as the money continued to come in. I remember getting a message from a friend of mine that was given a hat at West Clinic in your memory. What a blessing to see things come full circle and help others. The circle of life. Just had to put the Lion King reference in here for you. The money I had leftover from the collections I gave to the Collierville football team to add to your scholarship for a senior football player.
I don’t know if mature is the right word, but I think purchasing the hats for others last year was much more constructive than being huddled up in a ball in bed. There was such joy blessing others. It’s something you would do and I hope to come up with something for your birthday in July.
Out of the blue last night I got a text from a sweet family friend of the family that I have not heard from in probably 8 plus years. She sent a picture of her microwave and said she still stops her microwave when there is 13 seconds left on the timer. The small gesture of a simple text has such an impact on this mama’s heart. People might call that a Godwink, but I think it is a blessing that people are still carrying you close to their heart. That’s my greatest desire. Matter of fact, just this week Tara Peeper sent me a text with the picture of the song 10,000 Reasons on her first day back to school. And Gina Johnson got a purple toothbrush today and sent me a picture and thought of you. Purplely, we said! Oh, how I hope people will continue to reach out with their precious thoughts. Whereas they might think it would cause sadness, it actually helps so much in the healing.
I got another message from a dear friend that told me she holds the last decade of memories of you close to her heart. That meant the world to me. When many of us who are faced with our own mortality or that of our loved ones, we seem to understand the grieving process a smidge better, and the way you handled your journey to Jesus has helped all of us. I know one day Jesus will heal me of the grief I carry, however heavy it might be at the time. But you know I’m one strong mama.
A lady came into the new law firm I work for and she made the remark that I looked familiar. I gave my standard line, “Do you remember the Collierville football player who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2012 and was the pray for Trey movement?” She immediately said oh yes, we prayed for him. I said well I’m his mother. Whether or not that is how she recognized me is not the point. The point is I opened the door to share your faith story, and maybe it’s a little selfish of me that I know I’m keeping your legacy alive. Even though my coworker knows your story, I know she probably thought I was crazy in bringing you up. But she will be a mom one day and understand.
Well, I still miss you incredibly. Things are starting to move into place upstairs. I finally cleaned out your closet. I take that back, I just took your billion clothes off the rack. I’ve told your dad that is my New Year’s resolution is to get upstairs totally cleaned out. I have no idea why he laughed at me. Maybe because that hasn’t been done in 10 years. Now that it’s starting to bother me, it’s time to get things done. I might have to rent a dumpster!
I read this in an article about cancer, “It’s common for the grief process to take a year or longer. A grieving person must resolve the emotional and life changes that come with the death of a loved one. The pain may become less intense, but it’s normal to feel emotionally involved with the deceased for many years.” While that statement is so true, I wonder what is their definition of “many years.” I think I have matured in my grief because the pain is not so intense and my tears no longer flow as often as they did. Oh, but it will catch me off guard at times! That has nothing to do with how much I miss you being with us, it is more about accepting reality.
We need a place we can turn to when we are going through the dark valleys of our souls. Having hidden in literal caves to escape death from King Saul, David knew the value of having a good, safe hiding place. For David, God was his refuge that was entirely trustworthy and reliable in all circumstances.
I remind myself that God knows my heart’s innermost cries. Our feelings of fear, anger, frustration, and everything else is safe in His hands. I have held tight to David’s prayer in Psalm 9:9-10, which says “The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” Oppressed? Yes. I still feel the pressure from society to conform to the norm that I should be in a certain stage of grief. I feel like that is putting me in a box of when I can and cannot talk about you and feel comfortable with others dealing with the memory of your death. I think, personally, it takes a lot of guts to talk about you. You know I’m laughing because you would talk about yourself all day long.
I could go on and on, but it’s now 3:50 AM and if I have a migraine tomorrow because I did this, your dad’s gonna kill me. And the dogs are getting restless because I’m talking. Thanks a lot buddy, now I’ll never go back to sleep. I guess this is getting me back for all the nights that we ate oatmeal together at 3 AM and I did your laundry.
We (the family) are all close to the heart of God, and my prayer is that He will be even more merciful during these next seven months as we walk through moment by moment that we experienced together until your last breath. Your Aunt Donna and I talked about that yesterday, the day you took your last breath, who was there, how she felt. I have given my book about you two some of my coworkers and they have a fear of reading it because of sadness. They have no idea the many moments that we spent in laughter. I never thought the memories of laughter would be in the forefront of the memories of such heartache, but I’m SLOWLY getting there.
This song just came to mind that your ducky (Madison) has sung in memory of you and the words are so fitting.
When the pieces seem too shattered to gather off the floor And all that seems to matter is I don’t feel you anymore When I’m over come by fear and I hate everything I know If this waiting last forever, I’m afraid I might let go I need a reason to sing, I need a reason to sing I need to know that you’re still holding the whole world in your hands. Will there be a victory Will you sing it over me now Your peace is the melody You sing it over me now I need a reason to sing I need to know that you’re still holding the whole world in your hands That is a reason to sing!
PS It’s 5:50 am and I never went back to sleep! So I haven’t proofread this!
There are days when…I am incredibly sad, especially as the holidays get closer.
There are days when…I don’t pray.
There are many days when…I am angry.
There are many days when…I don’t understand His plan and why hurt, pain, and disease continues.
There are Sundays when…I just can’t get out of bed. It has nothing to do with being lazy, not wanting to worship, or the choice to do other things. It is just a feeling of walking into His house so downtrodden.
Does that make me any less than who I am in Christ? I don’t think so.
One of my favorite devotion books is New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp. What I read this morning hit me smack in the feels!
“Biblical faith never requires you to deny reality.
You don’t protect the message of the gospel by denying your own spiritual struggles, and God surely doesn’t need you to defend his reputation by faking it. You must not meditate on the judgment of God. You must not squirm at the thought of his presence. You must not allow yourself to wonder if he loves you. You must not see yourself as unworthy of his care. You must not work to measure up in his sight. You must not think that he acts more favorably to you when you are obedient than when you sin. You must not beat yourself up when you fail. You must not envy the worthiness of the person next to you, as if he or she is more accepted by God because he or she is more spiritually mature than you. You must never run from God in fear as you think of the empirical evidence of remaining sin that you give every day.
There is nothing we could ever think, desire, say, or do that could in any way add to the forgiveness and acceptance that we have received from God based on Christ’s work. You are perfect in the eyes of God because the perfect righteousness of Jesus has been attributed to your spiritual account. You are righteous before God even in those moments when you say what you are doing is not righteous. You measure up in his eyes in even on those days when you don’t measure up, because Jesus measured up on your behalf. Meditate on and celebrate the amazing grace that has completely changed your identity, potential, and destiny.”
It is not my story, my husband’s, or Trey’s that I want you to hear. It’s the story of a like-minded family in Christ who loves the Lord and is struggling like we did 10 years ago – Mike and Beth O’Neill. When I said I get angry, this is why. I hate what cancer is doing to this precious family and I can’t fix it. I can’t heal him, I can’t send him where he will get better treatment, and I can’t change any circumstance that is surrounding their struggles. They walked with us EACH day when Trey battled his cancer and they have continued to pray for us.
Is it okay for me to be angry? Absolutely. I asked the person who walked with us just as close as a family member, (Pastor) Keith Cochran. I consider him family. I asked him about anger. He said, “Yes, I was angry at cancer for affecting another life. Angry at how people try to personalize it. You know, the “I know how you feel, my grandfather had cancer…” It’s not the same. Even if it is, it doesn’t help. People mean well, but either say the wrong thing or say nothing.” I told Keith he was right on point. I put my anger in the category with sadness and hurt…not hate.
I don’t have an answer because I could honestly be eaten up with anger if I let cancer be the source. Sometimes it is just hard to accept that God’s plan is not our plan. Personally, it is hard to see my husband continue to battle cancer, go to treatments every three weeks, and know that Collin must think about it too. I don’t think Satan wears me down. I think I wear myself down. I let my ankle pain and the fact that I have been in a boot since April (after surgery in September) push me into a more depressive state. And then I get angry at myself for being depressed!
I want to go back to what my devotion said. “Biblical faith never requires you to deny reality.” What I need to remember, while my reality may shake my emotions to the point of anger, it will never shake my faith. Never. Christ is my center and he needs me to turn my focus off my reality (that sometimes sucks).
“I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” John 16:33
Please join me in praying for the O’Neill family. And remember, as I have said many times, it is okay to NOT be okay.
Oh, did I say I hate cancer?
CaringBridge link for Mike O’Neill below I hope you can access.
To be honest, I have started this blog probably five times with five different topics. One being things I have learned over the last 10 years since Trey’s death. I want to be encouraging, uplifting, and point others to Jesus, who has been my comfort. But there has been…
10 years of not driving after just learning;
10 years of Collierville graduations;
10 years of friends getting married;
10 years of new babies;
10 years of new jobs after college;
10 years of an empty chair;
and I’m supposed to be okay with this, yet I am not. I know, no one said I had to be okay. But in our culture, it is taboo to talk about the children we have lost…especially say their name. My child is no different than yours, and my love is no less, mine is just in heaven. Matter of fact, my love might be greater because I cannot touch him, talk with him, smell his cologne when he walks through the room, watch him primp in the mirror, hear him yell at the television during a football or basketball game, watch him play the sports he loved, and most of all, be a witness to him worshipping Jesus. Some days I feel so robbed of time.
When I attended a bereaved parents retreat in May, it did not go unnoticed to me that Trey has been in heaven the longest. I listened to people and thought to myself, “It’s been 10 years so why don’t I feel any different than those that lost their child several months ago?” I feel as empty as the sweet lady who lost her daughter in March to cancer. Fact is, that emptiness is never filled, our hearts never “mend”, we are never the same, and we shouldn’t be.
I have prayed and prayed that I would have the opportunity to talk with Collin about Trey and things that were on my heart. Collin drove me to Madison Molnar’s wedding and on the way home, we were able to have the conversation I had wanted for some years. Without giving details, it was so good to hear that he is no longer angry. I told him if he was, it was okay because sometimes I am. We are human. We talked about marriage and children. Collin said he does not plan to have any children because he does not want to watch his child go through what Trey went through. My heart melted for him. He said when the time comes, he would adopt. We talked about how much he has changed in 10 years. Going from 12 to 22 has been a hard road for Collin, but I have clearly watched the hand of God in his life.
Trey’s life, illness, and death not only changed our family, but many others. My sister and I were talking about a friend who thought her daughter was saved until Trey’s funeral. Another friend walked the pancreatic cancer journey with his father, and because of Trey’s story that he was able to share, his father is in heaven. As a Christian, seeing God be glorified should be one of our main daily objectives. Trey did that with his life, in his illness, and through his death. But I’m still his mother.
I will still grieve for the rest of my life; holidays will never become easier; my love will never dim; and this heart will forever feel shattered. Just because Trey is in heaven, as I have said many times, I will not stop saying his name or telling his story, thus the Polo hats.
What have I learned in 10 years? Some things may seem crass, but still important in the grieving process.
The love I have for Trey is no greater than the love another parent has for their child, especially a bereaved parent. Loving him and shedding enumerable tears will continue until I see Jesus face to face.
As much as I would like for this to have happened, the world did not stop when Trey died. People kept going to work, kids went to school, families planned trips to Disney/beach, and the sun rose and set even though I begged to go back for one more day, one more moment.
Do not have high expectations of others, because they will disappoint you (and not of their own doing). They have not walked in your shoes and any bereaved parent will tell you that you would not wish this hell on anyone in order to know the depth of pain.
I’m a member of a club I cannot leave, did not choose, yet I pay dues every waking moment.
Everyone grieves differently, even a mother and father. Yet you must respect each other and there must be grace.
Photos and videos I have of Trey are some of my most prized possessions. It is a harsh reality he will forever remain 15 years old. Document each moment of life because only God knows the day and time you will be called to be with Him.
Learn to be forgiving. People will do and say things that will blow your mind. Make sure you have an outlet.
Lean into your grief. Accept grief and have the coping skills to manage your day, and it is day-to-day. It will hit like a tidal wave, knock you off your feet, and keep you in a frozen state.
Just because you are grieving does not mean you are weak in your faith, that God is not working in your life, and that you do not have value to your church and community. Satan is the father of lies and I have listened to him too many times and convinced myself I am alone on this journey, when it is very much the opposite.
There is nothing I could have done to change the trajectory of Trey’s journey. I firmly believe, as it says in Psalms, God formed him in my womb, knew his name before he was born, every hair on his head was numbered, and the plan for his life was laid out before he took his first breath. Let me be clear, I have to remind myself of this DAILY! A mother’s instinct is to protect and there was nothing I or Jay could have done to protect him from the cancer that invaded his body.
Through all the turmoil, grief, and suffering, I still believe God’s plan is perfect. God does not ask nor does He need our permission to carry out His plan. We need to be willing to be molded to fulfill it. Is it easy? Absolutely not. The last 10 years have been difficult in ways you will never understand. But God understands. He is faithful.
I cannot and will not hide from my grief, because it would also mean I would be hiding from Trey. I am not over the loss; I will never be over it; and I will always crave for Trey to be remembered.
How can you feel joy, pain, grief, and love all at the same time? Because you have known deep sorrow and the precious gift of unspeakable joy that life can bring. And a puppy helps too!
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials; for you know the testing of your faith produces endurance.” James 1:2-3
“And on that day when my strength is failing, the end draws near and my time has come; still my soul sings your praise unending, ten thousand years and then forevermore.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, O my soul, worship His holy Name. Sing like never before, O my soul. I’ll worship your Holy Name.” 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman
And Trey took his last breath, opened his eyes and saw His Savior. My Jesus.
It’s hard to believe Trey met Jesus 10 years ago July 5. There have been so many changes (good and bad) in the last 10 years of this grief journey. God has truly ministered to us with comfort, new friends, and sweet reminders that this is not our home. We WILL see Trey again.
I had someone ask me if we were going to do something since “10” is a big number. To be honest, I had not given much thought. The days of spending July 5 with his friends have come and gone. That is not a bad thing! They now have sweet families of their own and know the love a parent has for a child.
I want to get to the point. Trey always wanted to give back when he is was ill. He had a servant’s heart. I tell people one of the few times he got upset was after he talked with Peyton Manning. He asked me why he didn’t call another St. Jude patient. At the time, we tried to make things happen but it just didn’t work out.
It wasn’t until I attended a bereaved parents retreat about a month ago that I came up with the idea after talking to many parents. What was Trey’s trademark? POLO! I put Polo hats on him from the time he was a baby and he kept with the love of those hats in all colors! Sometimes he wore them facing forward and sometimes to the back…but he always had his yellow Polo hat. I still have all his hats except for a few I gave to his close friends after he died. One particular, I remember going to St. Jude to take his hunter green Polo hat to Kristina Hunsucker who was fiercely battling cancer at the time. She was a friend of Trey’s and I just thought having one of his hats would comfort her. She did lose her hair during treatment and I know it was special for her to have one of his hats.
Fortunately, Trey did not lose a lot of his hair during his treatments. I think God knew he could not handle that part of his journey. But there are many children who do! So, I want to purchase as many Polo hats as I can to give back in memory of Trey’s faith, courage, and bravery during his cancer battle.
This is how you can help. If you feel led, please donate a dollar or $5 to help me purchase at least 13 hats. I’m in Pigeon Forge, TN for a mini vacation and I want to start buying them now at the outlet. As they always say, no amount is too small. You will be a part of giving back to a child in need of a smile during a very dark time.
You can Venmo me at Lisa-Erwin-6 and I will keep a list of his “loving friends and family” to put on a letter that will accompany the hat telling of his journey. If you do not have Venmo and want to help, just send me a message and we will honor that commitment. This is just another way to keep Trey’s memory alive and at the same time, help a child. Trey would totally do this.
If I have tagged you in this blog, please do not feel obligated. It’s just a way of spreading the word that we ARE still considering “all things joy” while continuing to walk this grief journey together. We don’t have sponsors or the #prayfortrey fund (that went to Collierville High School for his scholarship).
I hope this will give you a warm feeling of doing something to honor our sweet boy’s 10th year with Jesus. If you are not able to give, I would love, LOVE to receive any memory you might have of how his journey made an impact on you as I am putting together several Shutterfly books of his journey.
Thank you to all those who STILL love us well until we see him again!
“Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when encountering various trials, for you know the testing of your faith produces endurance.” James 1:2-3
P.S. Please excuse any typo or grammar errors! I did this on my phone!
Beauty from Ashes. “To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.” Isaiah 61:3
“Gloom despair and agony on me. Deep, dark depression, excessive misery. If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all. Gloom, despair, and agony on me.” You’re singing it, I know. It’s okay. How many watched Hee Haw on Saturday night? Roy Clark and Buck Owens made those lyrics such a comedic moment.
Despair and chaos. They are such good friends. They both cause a loss of hope. I think you will agree our country is experiencing such despair and chaos.
Six months ago chaos envaded our home on many levels. In October of 2021, I found myself in the middle of a battle with good and evil. I posted on Facebook asking for prayer for the Erwin family. I was screaming inside, but knew the quickest outlet for my frustration was a plea for prayer. Only my husband, close family, and two best friends knew what was happening in our household. I had begun having more headaches, panic attacks, and anxiety induced heart arrhythmia.
DESPAIR AND CHAOS
While Jay and I were on vacation in Wisconsin in October, Collin called to say that he was moving out that weekend. This was the weekend we were returning from vacation. While this is the natural process your grown child should take, the selfish mother in me knew that I would be alone when Jay went to work. The loneliness began to overtake me and flood my soul with thought of losing two boys. Yes, that sounds a little crazy, but if you have sent a child off to college, you understand.
Jay had his regular visit at West Clinic right after Collin moved out. The cancer hole (that’s what I call it) on the side of his neck had stopped moving in the direction of closing. Instead, the hole was getting a tad bigger. Even though his CT scan did not show the presence of cancer, Dr. Tauer was concerned about the changes. Dr. Tauer asked for Jay to have an MRI before his appointment to see his surgeon, Dr. Fleming. It has only been in the last few weeks that Dr. Tauer called Jay to tell him they did not see anything suspicious on the MRI, but he still wanted him to get Dr. Fleming’s opinion. Jay saw Dr. Fleming in December and he told him the only way to know before having surgery to close the hole is to do a biopsy.
Without going into a lot of personal detail (names have been changed to protect the innocent, haha), I began to see the direction of my 23-year career at Burch, Porter & Johnson go in a different direction. Joe was doing much better at practicing to retire, and I felt the parts of our well-oiled machine begin to rust. Things around me at the office began to fall apart and I did not understand the changes. I craved support from a firm that had walked with my family through many difficult times. Satan was having a field day with my emotions causing havoc on my body.
THE DAWN OF HOPE
As many say, you can’t make this stuff up. On Saturday (the day after my visit to the internist about my heart-who wanted me to see a cardiologist), I received a friend request on Facebook from Steve McDaniel. Steve is an outstanding estate planning attorney I have known for over 30 years (before going to BPJ) and a friend of Joe’s. Without hesitation, I accepted his request and told myself I would check with him on Monday. I actually mentioned it to Jay that night and thought – “That sure was out of the blue.”
Monday morning (Nov. 8) the following email exchange occurred between the two of us:
Me: “You sent me a legit friend request – right? I wanted to make sure it was you.”
Steve: “Yes, it was me.”
Me: “I’m glad! I might be calling you soon!”
Steve: “Not that you are looking, but we have a paralegal who retires December 10 and has not been replaced.”
Me: “Oh my goodness. We need to talk.”
Steve had no idea the circumstances in my life. He only knew, as everyone else did, that Joe had retired and the direction of my career was not clear. That is how I felt after much upheaval among the ranks. As the email progressed, it turned into an immediate plea for Steve to take me into his firm. I did it without a second thought. Things were moving fast, like within hours. The partners met Monday evening and Steve sent me a confirmation text that one of the attorneys would be sending me an email. Salary…increased. Paid time off…increased. I was in shock, but not questioning God’s movement.
Within two weeks, God opened a door, shoved me through, and closed the chapter of my life at Burch, Porter & Johnson. I can honestly say that even though I knew it was what God had intended for me, the decision to turn in my resignation was difficult. God covered me with an overwhelming peace. December 1, 2021, I began a huge, new chapter as a paralegal at Williams McDaniel and God loudly closed the door at Burch, Porter & Johnson. I honestly could not have walked down that path of decision making without my husband, family, and my besties (Becky and Andrea).
As the months have gone by, Jay and I have watched Collin mature into a responsible young man. I no longer wake early in the morning worrying if he will wake to his own alarm. My baby, all grown up. As I said at Christmas, it has been a joy to slowly see a smile return to his face and hear the laughter when he joins us for dinner once a week. He knows this house will always be his home as we watch him fly.
Today (Friday), Jay will have his pre-op bloodwork for surgery on Thursday, January 20. Dr. Fleming decided that Jay needs to have a biopsy done by surgical procedure because the area he wishes to access is close to his carotid artery. I would not be human if I did not admit that I worry. History causes us both anxiety. Jay has come to the point of wanting the wound closed. This will be a complicated surgery and we both know that there cannot be evidence of cancer. We are praying for a clean report to pursue this avenue. After 10 years of surgeries, biopsies, chemotherapy, and radiation, it’s time. (BUT! Dr. Tauer did tell Jay that if cancer ever returns after the surgery involving a plastic surgeon, he will be able to resume chemo.)
Ten years. It was ten years ago the cancer in Jay’s neck began to surface. It has been 25 years since his first melanoma surgery (December 1995). Ten years ago we also began a journey no parent wants to travel. It is hard to fathom it has been 10 years since we were told Trey had cancer. As I have said many times, for this mother, it was yesterday and he is still 15. If people do not understand that grief will always be a part of our lives, I’m okay…you move on and I’ll move on. I have gained friends through my LimeLife family that have also walked this journey and new friends in my workplace that knew our story before I walked in the door. God provides and preserves.
As despair and chaos unexpectedly collided over that last six months, I have struggled to maintain the hope I have in my Jesus, and find the beauty in my circumstances. In my daily devotion this week, God spoke to me so clearly. “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Ps. 42:5
January 12 – From A Shelter From the Storm
“It is difficult to remain hopeful when you are depressed and everything you do seems to fail. You can, however, fight this situation.
*Believe that God is greater than your circumstances and any problems that are weighing you down. Accept the victory in His holy name. “In all things we are more than conquerors.” Rom. 8:37
*Lay your problems before the Father in earnest and specific prayer.
*Believe steadfastly that God can and will achieve something glorious through this dark period in your life. “And we know that all things work together for good for those that love the Lord.” Rom. 8:28 (One of my favs)
*Make a conscious effort to turn your eyes away from yourself to see the world in need. God has a purpose in all things.
God is still on the throne and still in control.”
If I read this devotion six months ago, it would not have spoken to my heart to help me remember the need I have to continually and totally depend on the Lord. Period. The beauty is in God’s timing. The recent turmoil brought me back around to a point of dependence and trust.
If you are or have ever been in a place where you feel the chaos of this world is overtaking you or swallowing you whole, remember that there is beauty in the suffering. One thing I vividly remember after Trey’s funeral on July 7, 2012, is the rain that started to fall at the graveside service. I said to myself, “It is July and 90 degrees! Why is it starting to rain!” When we returned to the church, it was still raining. Courtney Jordan (Dahlsten) and Karson Jones (Iberg) convinced Jay to step outside the Faith Building doors and stand in the rain. What did God provide? A beautiful rainbow. A reminder of His promise He is always near.
He is always near during the chaos to majestically show His beauty.
Covid. God is still near.
Cancer. God is still near.
Job change. God is still near.
Job doubts and difficulties. God is still near.
Your baby growing up. God is still near.
10 year, heart-wrenching anniversaries. God is absolutely still near.
“”But God” brings hope when we can’t see a way through.
“But God means ashes aren’t the end of our story.
“But God” says God, not our circumstances, always gets the last word.” Lisa Appelo
I love this quote, but I would change the “But God” to “Only God.” Read it again. Only God brings hope when we can’t see a way through. Only God determines our story. Only God gets the last word. It begs the question, where is your hope? For my family, always, only God.
Friday evening I was on the way home from the Collierville football game. My phone rang and the name Sara Federico came across the caller ID in my car. I anxiously answered the phone.
“This is Lisa.”
“Is this Lisa?”
“Yes! Sara, are you really calling me?” I said that because I thought I had accidentally called her.
Sara continued, “Everyone is okay.” I thought, well, that’s so sweet to check on us after the tragic shooting in Collierville.
I replied, “Yes! We are all fine! Jay wasn’t at work and we are all okay.”
Sara said, “No Lisa, everyone is okay. I’m with your sister and she has been in an accident.”
It took me a minute to put two and two together. I knew Judy probably had gone out because it was a friend’s birthday. But I said to myself, Judy never goes out at night. Sara went on to explain that she had decided that night to take her daughter to Dick’s for soccer shoes. Only God.
You might not remember, so I’ll give you a hint. Who is Sara? Dr. Sara Federico was Trey’s oncologist at St. Jude and became Collin’s doctor after Trey died. During Trey’s battle, we had more than a friend/patient/family relationship. We love Sara and she loves our family.
Sara told me that when she got to Judy, all she could say is call my sister, call my sister. There was another witness with my sister who had her phone. Judy said, call Donna Thorne. Sara paused and said, “Wait a minute! I know this family! Give me that phone!” I can hear her with that little giggle she has. And I am sure her cheeks were beet red. She was very concerned about her daughter who was in the car and witnessed what SHE had just witnessed.
As Judy was driving south on Germantown Parkway in front of Wolf Chase Mall, someone pulled out in front of her. Judy t-boned the car and swerved to avoid hitting the car again, and drove into a ditch. The only way I know this is because Sara saw it happen. Only God.
Sara told me on the phone that she had already talked to Donna. Judy was breathing and all her vitals seemed to be okay. She said her chest hurt, her knees, and Sara said her wrist might be broken. Sara indicated that when she saw smoke coming from the ditch, she thought the car might be on fire. It was the airbags.
Sara kept me on the phone until she knew paramedics were there. Sara said that it had taken an enormous amount of time getting in and out of Dick’s and she was actually complaining about it while in the store. We BOTH agreed and knew why she was detained at Dick’s. She was meant to help my sister, Judy. I promised I would update her the next day after we knew Judy’s condition. Only God.
My first question was what company responded? Memphis or Shelby County? It was MEMPHIS! Donna could hear Judy screaming through Sara’s phone. I can’t imagine Donna’s panic. I was relieved to know that the paramedics that transported Judy to Germantown Methodist knew Jay, my husband. Again, Only God.
When I called Jay to tell him what had just happened, he told me that she would probably be at the hospital all night. The hospitals are incredibly busy with Covid patients. Thankfully, Judy was put on the hall with broken bones and not Covid. Judy arrived at the hospital around 9:30/10:00 p.m. Donna had her home just after midnight. All night? No, God provided the best care for her and got her home.
Sara was right! They determined at the hospital that Judy had broken her left wrist. After her appointment with the ortho today, she was told she also has a hairline fracture in her right wrist and strained ankle. She is in a boot, has a soft cast/wrap on her left arm (in purple, of course), and a removable splint on her right wrist. The doctor said that she did the most damage she could do to her knees without actually breaking anything. Her bruises are numerous. We know that her days will get worse before they get better.
When I look at the pictures of her car, I repeat, ONLY GOD. God had his angels surrounding her the whole time.
After the events of the week, I was reminded that even in the midst of tragedy, uncertainty, and fear, God is always in control. It is hard for us to tangibly see Him in control and at work during these circumstances. We begin to question His sovereignty and His goodness. All He asks is that we trust He will work all things out for good. I will admit that I don’t always see the good – especially in the waiting. Doubt and anger can become a frequent friend.
We do not have all of the answers as to what exactly happened Friday night when the car pulled out in front of Judy. But we do know that God kept her safe, provided angels to surround her, and an unknown witness who prayed for her out loud while they were waiting for the ambulance.
Proverbs 3:5-6 is such a simple scripture that we sometimes pass it over because we know it so well. Write it on your heart and be thankful He knows your every need. GOD knows your every need. ONLY GOD knows.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not to your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path.”
Please continue to pray for Judy as she heals and for Donna, who will be taking care of her.
“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Eph. 6:18
I believe prayer and prayer requests come in many forms. If you see a post on Facebook and a friend requests prayer, what do you do? You type, “Praying!” Most of the time, the person on the other end never knows whether they are prayed for or not. It is just assumed. Sadly, I am seeing a lot of those posts lately.
Last Sunday morning just before the church service was to begin, my sister and I had an older member come up behind us in the pew. She immediately asked our names and if she could pray for us. Shocked, I immediately said well, okay. She prayed the sweetest prayer for God to lead, guide and direct us (not in those words). Right there. Music playing. I lost it. It caught me so off guard that I began to sob. I told her that she reminded me of my mother who passed away last year. My sister understood. Our mother was our greatest, most faithful prayer warrior.
After two emotional baptisms, our pastor, Pastor Matt Brown, began the service by saying (and I paraphrase) that people walk in the church doors with many things going on in their lives. He said, there may be someone who has recently lost their job, received a terrible medical diagnosis, and some might be having problems with their children. He then asked if anyone in the congregation had a burden that the church could pray for, please stand so the church could pray and love on them. I didn’t hesitate, I stood. What surprised me is out of a congregation of hundreds, only a hand full stood. My thought when I stood was that I have many burdens!
I feel a burden for those with Covid. It is attacking my friends and family (vaccinated and unvaccinated) like a leach latching on to healthy bodies. This burden is for our entire nation and it is causing division. Satan is having a good time with that!
I feel a burden for what is going on in Afghanistan. I am living in my snug home and innocent women and children are losing their lives. There are many in other countries who are worshipping in hiding.
I feel a burden for the lost. Our pastor is teaching us how Jesus is better. He is our hope. How do we reach the lost to let them KNOW Jesus is better without exhibiting the love Jesus has for us? I keep saying, friends be ready. Jesus is coming soon.
I have a heavy heart for my friends who are suffering in many ways.
There are many days that I walk in the sanctuary and I don’t see a three-step stage with two urns of flowers on each side. I see a casket. A casket that held my 15-year-old son. I hurt for my sister who works at the church knowing the hard days she has just walking the halls with all the memories of the kids running the halls…”Aunt Donna!”
In the split second of standing, not all of those burdens and thoughts went through my head. What went through my head was YES, ME! Church Love Me! Pray for me! It was only when I sat down that I realized that I was one of few that stood, unashamed to say, yes, pray for me. I also realized that friends probably thought, “Oh, she’s just missing Trey.” Yes, but that was not reason! I’m more than a grieving mother. I will always miss my son.
Isn’t the church called to pray?
Isn’t the church a home for the sick and hurting?
Did anyone else hear the young girl who was baptized say her father had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer? It stabbed me in the heart. Just those words. (Since beginning the draft of this post, I have exchanged texts with Casey about her father. Such a blessing.)
As I left the parking lot of the church, I started to feel like a wrecking ball had just swung upside my head. Wait, why didn’t anyone else stand? Was Pastor Matt really prompting for the entire congregation to stand for a congregational prayer? Did I miss something he said? Are we so caught up in the proper way to act in church that we can’t wave a white flag to say, hey, over here! Whoo hoo, I have needs.
My sweet Madison saw me stand from the choir loft and called me Sunday afternoon to make sure everything was okay in the family. I told her everything was fine and we began to discuss the church service.
We are a blessed congregation at Germantown Baptist. In our exuberance of settling in with a new, wonderful pastor, I hope the church will not get comfortable. Complacency will not prompt our souls to reach out to pray over others, like the sweet lady did Sunday morning over me and Donna (despite her own circumstances). She was the hands and feet of Jesus. We cannot be the hands and feet of Jesus with a grumbling, divisive spirit. That also applies to our marriages.
In Paul’s letter to the church of Thessalonica, he emphasized the importance of prayer to keep their faith strong by praying without ceasing. If we took Paul’s words literally, we would pray around the clock, day and night. I don’t know about you, but for me that would be a challenging feat! May we all strive to increase our communication with God, and have a spirit of prayer for others.
Oh, by the way, never assume someone’s needs. It’s always a good idea to ask how you can pray for them. My hope is that when I see others in need, I will reach out, inquire about their needs, and be intentional in praying for them.
We are so appreciative of everyone who has checked on Collin’s MRI. I wanted to reach out to follow up with the results. I could have posted this somewhere else, but like my sister says, “document, document, document”. My mind isn’t what it used to be! Can I get an Amen?! (Not about ME!)
Collin had his MRI a week ago Monday, July 26, at West Clinic. This was his first MRI at West since transitioning from St. Jude. The normal procedure for Collin over the last 9 years was to have his MRI and then see Dr. Sara in clinic that afternoon for the results and a checkup. Everything was always fine and I actually never saw a written report of his MRI. Now with Trey, I requested a copy of everything he had done! Even his bloodwork each morning at 4 a.m.!
As the week progressed, I had several ask if I had received a call from West Clinic or if I had called them. Honestly, I would get busy and forget to call. I also thought they would call Collin since he is now over 21.
Yesterday, Jay had an appointment with his surgeon, Dr. Fleming. We are hoping to get him scheduled for surgery the beginning of December to graft his neck. After hearing from Jay’s doctor’s appointment, it dawned on me that I had not heard from West Clinic. I thought the easiest way would be for Collin to set up his patient portal. Results are there, right? Yes, they were.
I read his MRI yesterday afternoon and as I told Jay, the feeling of blood draining from my body was overwhelming. I was probably white as a sheet. Pancreas. I saw that word. Tears immediately began to flow, but I pulled myself together and went into MAMA mode.
I know, you are probably thinking this is over the top and you are about to hear Collin has cancer. NO. This is what I read…Questionable punctate signal abnormality in the pancreas. Then further, attention is warranted on subsequent imaging to exclude cystic lesion. WHAT! Google, my friend, what does that mean? Punctate is spots or “dots”. You could have scraped me off the floor.
I began to text and call everyone I knew at West Clinic to get to someone that could explain his MRI to me. I was so afraid they would get to Collin before they would talk to Jay or me. I asked Collin this morning if West calls him, have them call me.
After several phone calls this morning, I finally heard that voice, Kurt Tauer here! How ya doing kid?! (I don’t think he really needed to know. He knew.) We discussed his MRI and Dr. Tauer wants a CT scan done. He thinks these spots could be just fat and he might have a fatty pancreas. Yes, I’ve said all of this to say Collin might have a fatty pancreas. Just like Dr. Tauer said, “Of COURSE it would be his pancreas”. We are hoping to get it scheduled for Friday.
I can’t tell you how proud I am of Collin. He said, “Well, if it is cancer, we got it early”. I told him that we are really getting the cart before the horse.
Now my point. We all are experiencing some kind of suffering whether it be physical, mental, or financial. A friend texted me this morning, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Gal. 6:2 I know of another family who has been very transparent about their journey with their mother by asking for specific prayer requests. With Collin’s permission, I am doing the same.
Pray Dr. Tauer can get the scan covered by insurance in order to it this week. When he said two weeks, I said, uh no.
Pray for a clean and clear CT scan with no questions.
Pray for Collin as he works the next couple of days and that he does not let fear enter his mind. (He says he’s fine.)
Pray for Jay and I as our minds have already gone down this familiar path of waiting. My thought yesterday on the way home from work was that I must have JOY in the waiting. (James 1:2-3)
Pray that when he has the CT scan done, we will be able to get results quickly and nothing will fall through the cracks.
I KNOW God hears. I KNOW God answers. I am not merely a believer, but a follower. Followers take action. “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” John 12:26
So we are laying this at His feet and ask that you help us by doing the same. Thank you West Cancer Center for all you have done and are doing for our family.