The Music of my Christmas

I was in band from 8th grade to a year in college. I played the French horn and I loved every minute of it. My high school band directors accepted nothing but our full effort while boosting our confidence at the same time. Band was like art to them. Music was meant to elicit emotional response. It wasn’t about the first places we got each year in marching contest or about how many of our students were first chair in regional and state. I think that’s why we did so well. It wasn’t just about us being the best, it was about giving something to our audience.

The end of marching season switched our gears from the energy of a football crowd to a concert hall. Our concert band director, Mr. Robinson, had us playing, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord,” which if you’ve ever heard this, know that it’s an intense, emotional piece.  During marching season, Ms. Ellison would say she wanted the crowd to be completely silent at the end of a performance, unable to move with the impact. Mr. Robinson said he wanted babies crying in the audience at the end of this one!  Who knew if babies would even be in the audience, but we put our all into it, playing the music that portrayed that glorious and terrible death our Savior suffered to save us all from our sins. The last note was played and what do you know? A baby was crying!!

I’m not saying it’s good to make babies cry but I think the point was made. I think that music is something that comes out of the heart. I think that’s why not all of our Christmas songs are light and upbeat. With celebration come bittersweet memories. We celebrate our Savior’s birth, but remember that he will be crucified on the cross to save the world.

This is the way Christmas feels to me this year. I’m so thankful to be around family. I’m so thankful that we finally have a house and I’m so thankful for St. Jude, but we’ve met a few folks who have recently lost their babies. I want to comfort them, but how do you comfort in this season, for that reason? When Christmas is centered around children and there’s only empty space there? Fear sneaks in and asks, “Will this be you next year?” Not that it’s about me, but this is what fear does. I pray that these families will find joy again soon, that somehow they will find God’s comfort and be able to not move on, per se, but to let God grow new, joyful places in their hearts, even though a part of their heart can never be replaced or filled.

Personally, I believe God is working miracles in Brent’s body right now and that we will have many more Christmases to celebrate with him, but no matter what a parent believes, you learn to work around the fear. I used to get immobilizing anxiety. I still have mornings where I wake up with adrenaline rushing through me for reasons I can’t pinpoint and I have to tell myself that everything is ok and to get up and greet the day.

All that to say, I LOVE Christmas. I love the romance of the winter season that calls us to bundle in scarves and sweaters. I love the smell of wood smoke in the air. I love doing arts and crafts with the kids at the table. And lately, I even love breaking up the fights that cabin fever brings on simply because I’m gone so much (well, kind of!).

This year, I’m going to celebrate the moments I get. So far, the kids and I have made paper chains with Memere (my mom, what the kids call their grandmother, pronounced Memay, like memo with may at the end, in case anyone is wondering, lol!), painted pine clippings to make our own Charlie Brown Christmas tree lot, painted pine cones for stringing up, and have been reading out of a story Bible each night. Some of these ideas we’ve gotten from Pinterest and some are simply tradition. But it’s been fun.

Today, it’s icing and snowing outside. We are stuck inside, but it warms my heart to see all of them on the couch reading books or coloring at the table. I love blankets and movies in the middle of the day, simply because it’s a snow day! I’ve drunk more coffee than necessary, simply because it’s chilly outside! My husband is bringing hay to our horses, and the previous owner of the cabin winterized the cabin so the pipes wouldn’t burst. Brent secured some wood flooring to start putting down in the kitchen and I think we may have some cabinets soon! It’s a small galley kitchen so we’ll have to be creative with storage and not letting the space feel too closed in. I’m excited to start moving in and getting our space put together and feeling like home! We’re going to hate leaving the school district because the kids’ school has been such a great support, but this move will be our very last! As in, no moving every 3 years! So I’m a little excited! But intimidated at the same time because half of the time I’ll be in Memphis and I don’t want to move the kids from their school in the middle of the year. I’m anxious to move on with our lives, but am reminded we can only go so far because we are still treating Brent’s relapse.

Here’s to choosing joy!

Faith

Faith isn’t blindly forging ahead just because you think something will happen, one way or another. It’s being confident of what has happened in the past and trusting that the Lord has His best interest for you. Sometimes, when we step out in faith, it looks like this: We know what happened before, we can roughly guess what is going to happen and our decision isn’t blind, but kind of a confident knowledge of what will happen, a hypothesis of sorts.

Sometimes it looks like this: We are stepping into stormy waters from the relative safety of a boat. The wind and rain and thunder and lightning are blinding us. We don’t know what will happen, nor do we have past experience in the matter to make us feel confident in the outcome. But we do know that Jesus is out there with outstretched hands, knowing exactly where we are and that He’s always wanted what is best for us.

The second one is how I feel right now. It’s how I felt during Brent’s first round with cancer. We had to make a lot of blind decisions that involved Brent (treatments, consent forms, etc), our kids (where to let them stay, what to do about school, how to handle separation), Brent’s career (leaving the army, going to horseshoeing school). It makes me weary just looking over that list.

Sometimes you’re in the middle of it and you can only see what’s in front of you and you have enough energy for the task at hand. If you step back and look at everything involved, the details become overwhelming for me. All I can do is take this storm one step at a time.

We get to go home tomorrow night after Brent’s last day of treatment. Tonight I will pack out the room, clean up the car, get ready for tomorrow’s long day, etc. But I just don’t want to think about it now. All I want to think about is being home for Thanksgiving. I want to be around our family and eat turkey and swap war stories from the previous year. In telling crazy stories about our kids, I want my Grammy to pat my arm and say, “Whoa! I’ve been there!” and “That takes me back!” I want to and don’t want to think about Grampa passing away a few years back right after Thanksgiving. I want to and don’t want to think about last year’s Thanksgiving when we were celebrating Brent’s first win over cancer.

I just want to enjoy the now. I’m getting excited about Christmas too. I want to string cotton balls and hang them as snow for the kids. I want to make cutout snowflakes with the boys and drape them over paper dolls as tutus with the girls. I want to decorate a tree and look through catalogues with my mom. I want to ride along in Brent’s rig with him and stand in the crisp air next to a warm forge and watch my husband work his magic with steel and beast. I want to see the lights on Fayetteville square. I’ve learned over time that I shouldn’t hold too tightly to the events themselves but to enjoy the moments, but these are some of the ones that are my favorites.

I’m sure it comes from the yearly “tradition” of decorating for Christmas in our own house as kids. We used to have this Precious Moments nativity that we would set out each year. I can still remember the smooth porceline in my hands and the pastels of those cute little figurines solemnly paying homage to baby Jesus. Later, mom added to the magic by putting soft cloudlike cotton enshrouding twinkle lights around it (gasp!). One year, we finished putting tinsel on the tree and all of us sat on the love seat opposite and took turns blowing at the tree and watching the tinsel ripple and shimmer in the glow of only the tree lights.

To me, Christmas and Thanksgiving has been all about the sheer comfortableness of its familiarity that envelopes my memories. These are the kind of memories I’d like to help our kids have. But over the years of moving, army, uncertainty, new family, changes, we’ve held onto some important traditions, but mostly we’ve tried to just enjoy being all together.

So in the chaos of trying to get used to the “new” normal of chemo treatments and traveling, somewhere I read about a family was very busy and worried that all their doings, though healthy and good things were interfering with their relationships with each other. They all felt pretty good about each other but were missing that extra quality time. The advice was to make the most of those 5 minute increments and moments they did have together during this season.

I took that advice myself and last time we were home, enjoyed a dance party in the kitchen, lunch at school, jumping in the leaves, and painting nails with the girls. I get busy and there’s a time for everything, especially with the limited time home between Memphis runs, but I’m learning to enjoy the brief moments rather than lamenting over missing the longer more complicated planned events.  So yes, I’m guilty of thinking about Christmas before Thanksgiving. I’m playing Christmas music on Pandora right now! But I’m not thinking about shopping or anything like that. It’s an attitude of taking it one moment at a time and being prepared to do fun projects with the kids and enjoy the magic of the season. Let the season begin!!???????????????????????????????

Don’t let the title fool you!

Should I list this as a disclaimer? Just kidding! Really, I don’t have any powers. That’s my last name. If anything, as a mom, I feel like I’m constantly getting it wrong. How does the saying go? Behind every good kid is a mom who is pretty sure she’s messing everything up? Well, I’ll be glad I’m weak, because in my weakness Christ is my strength!

So a little about me. I’m Jill. Growing up I read Anne of Green Gables and Little Women. Mom could usually find me in a tree with a book and I loved to be out in the country though we lived in town. Growing up I usually felt like I was the only one feeling the way I did, which I’m sure isn’t really all that unusual. I guess I was always just an introvert but I don’t think I really understood that til now. I just thought I was really awkward (um, still do, but I’m okay with that now:). I like smiley faces:). And punctuation!

Moving on. I had  wonderful boyfriend in high school but he passed away just after I graduated and I don’t really talk about it much these days. I mention it now because what I learned from that experience shapes a lot of how I react to things now. I had a brief, painful stint in college that got me nowhere except to learn I liked English Comp a lot more than I thought. I got a job in a bicycle shop in Springdale where at 20 years old I met this really handsome guy I didn’t think would look at me twice. But he did:) and now we’ve been married 10 years! From the day we met to the day we married we’d only known each other about 7 months. Eek! But we both knew we were MFEO. So it worked out:)

He had just joined the army so we were immediately moved to his first duty station, Washington D.C. We had our first 2 children there in Virginia, Brent and Becky. His second duty station took us to Italy where Quenten was born. After his 15 month deployment we became pregnant with Ellie and moved back to the states, to Missouri where he would be a drill sergeant for nearly 3 years.

Towards the end of his tour there, our oldest became mysteriously ill, and after a trip to the emergency room, then to a pediatric oncologist, then to St. Jude, in one week our lives were flipped upside down. We learned Brent Jr. had stage 4 neuroblastoma, childhood cancer. After all the moving, the scary deployment, the 4 kids in a 6-year period, and everything in between, it was this that flipped our world upside down. After 14 crazy months of separation and fighting the beast, Brent kicked cancer’s butt. But in September of this year, he relapsed, so we’re back at it.

This is just a brief description to kind of fill you in on who I am and my experiences. God has a way of making everything fit together and fall into place and I don’t think anything happens without reason. For example, when I was young, I learned my grandparents had lost 2 children, one while very young to a heart condition untreatable at the time and one to brain cancer later. They were pillars of strength to me and they loved God and they proved to me that one could experience terrible, earth-shattering events and come out the other side with joy still intact. As a young woman, eaten up by grief with the sudden loss of my boyfriend, I experienced horrible anxiety and fear for a year. Anxiety attacks would come in waves that I never thought I could overcome. But from prayer from my mom and good council from family and friends, I learned to handle anxiety rather than be controlled by it. In the army that came in handy. Brent deployed to one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan and fear and anxiety have no place when you are alone raising 3 kids. I’m not saying I didn’t experience fear and anxiety, but I learned to work around it. Then the flexibility of living with army came in handy as we learned to live life between home and Memphis, TN, where our oldest is being treated.

Currently, we live in northwest Arkansas closer to family. Brent Sr. is currently home with our 2 middle kiddos, Becky and Quenten back home, while working as a Certified Journeyman Farrier (sorry babe, had to get that plug in! I’m awfully proud of you!). Much of the time I’m in Memphis with Brent Jr. (aka LB for Little Brent) and Ellie. But when we’re home all together, we sure make the most of it!!

Now, I hear a lot “You’re so strong!” or “I could never handle what you’re going through!” Well, I hear that when I take all the kids grocery shopping, but still! This is why I’m blogging now. Something that made many of my own life struggles harder than they needed to be was feeling isolated, like I didn’t know anyone who was going through what I was experiencing. Feeling like I just couldn’t connect because others weren’t experiencing what I was experiencing. Except, I was wrong. Over time, I’ve met so many great warrior moms along the way. And though our experiences aren’t the exact same, they’re close enough! When I first came to St. Jude with little Brent, I didn’t make a new friend for 7 months. I felt at the time that I just couldn’t connect with someone who didn’t have an older kid with cancer! My world was so small. But since then I’ve come to know some wonderful folks and the more I reach out, the more I see that I was strengthened from their experience and that I had something to offer from my own experience. So, this isn’t meant to be a themed blog about our experience at St. Jude, or our “cancer experience. ” But it is meant to be a landing place for someone to say, “Hey, me too!”

Know right off, I couldn’t do this without my faith in Jesus Christ. His gift of grace is what gets me through each day. Any questions? Feel free to message me! In the mean time, thanks for visiting!

P.S. You can follow the specific story about Brent Jr. and his battle with cancer over at www.caringbridge.org/visit/brentpowersjr.379

“The $100 Apple Cake” or “A gift of grace”

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This past week was pretty exciting. It was the week of scans and tests after round 2 of treatment. Ellie was with us this week and she is her own little element of fun and excitement. You have to be creative with that one, let me tell you!

Also, Brent was supposed to be NPO (not eating) for his bone marrow procedure because he would be sedated. The night before I reminded him and the next morning he was still sleeping so I took Ellie down to the kitchen to feed her breakfast. When we came back in that boy was sitting up in bed munching on Pringles!! Hanging my head in shame I called the schedule and told her the news and she was able to reschedule us the next morning first thing. God bless Penny Buchanan, she’s such a peach for all the rescheduling she’s had to do for us! So the next morning I got up and Brent and Ellie got up and I reminded him not to eat or drink anything. I jumped into the shower and came out and that boy had a mouthful of orange!! This guy normally doesn’t forget stuff like this and he didn’t do it out of rebellion. I think Ellie was eating an orange and he just mindlessly grabbed it and ate that thing up! Boy was hungry by golly! Again, hanging my head in shame, I called the clinic. They managed to get him in 8 hours later (that’s the minimum requirement) so we still were able to get in that day!

Brent had a CT, MIBG, and bone marrow aspirate and biopsy. The CT scan has come in already. The initial CT after round 1 came back still showing the spot on his liver, the spot on his aorta, and the lymph node measuring 2.5 x 3 cm though his bone marrow was clear. Now, after round 2, his CT came back NOT showing any spot on his liver or aorta, and the lymph node only measures 1 x 1 cm! I’m giving til tomorrow at noon to hear back about the MIBG scan and the bone marrow results before I start bugging them!

In this time, the “patient team” called us and wanted to use Brent for a commercial they were shooting for the hospital. Now, when I hear this I immediately assume they mean for photo shoots they have done before where we just show up and they shoot a few pics and that’s it. No. We went up to the 4th floor where they had rooms staged for actual commercials and they sent both of us to “wardrobe” and “makeup” and I was informed that they would be interviewing me for the commercial. Sorry, I enjoy writing but public speaking is not my thing. Ask me to record my voice and I’m a nervous wreck! Well, I told them I didn’t want to waste their time that I’m horrible at this but they assured me it would be fine and put me in a different shirt and put something fantastic on my face that made me look much less tired! They put Brent in some green pajamas and shot his picture. (Now, I had recently bought myself a great “boyfriend” cardigan at Target and wear it everywhere and they decided it would work great in the shoot! Kinda proud of that little purchase! The fact they were going for a “pajama” look was not lost on me, but still!) Then they shot our picture together. Then they put him on a hospital bed behind me and shot me interview with him in the back ground. I did my best to answer the interviewer’s questions but I’m really not sure what they’ll be able to use.

But the interviewer asked me, “What does it mean to know that you will never have a medical bill? What do the donors mean to you?” This was hard to answer right away because, obviously it’s huge when you have a family and worry about bill and expenses and all, but ultimately it means that I can focus on Brent and on my family without all the medical expenses in the back of my head, that I can focus fully on being present and in the moment with my son during this journey. And that’s what’s important. But later, I was talking “off camera” (that’s filming talk for us Hollywood types;) )and I told him it was like getting a gift that, it’s not necessarily that you don’t feel you don’t deserve it, but that you have no idea how you can even say thank you, that the words just aren’t enough to express the gratitude you feel. It’s a grace gift. (Well, I welled up with tears a little and the interviewer wanted me to say it over again, but it was exactly how I feel about people who donate to St. Jude.)

Well, that brings me to the $100 apple cake. This weekend, Brent’s friends in the Arkansas Farrier’s Association got together at Adam Fahr’s place and held a benefit clinic, taught by our extremely talented friend Cody Gregory and headed up by the Arkansas Farreier’s Association president, Lloyd Clayton. Cody taught alllll day long, making shoes, dissecting a horse’s hoof and foot, answering questions. There were several farriers there at Adam’s family farm. The kids ran around with the kids there. Pretty much, Adam had said the only rule was that they don’t cross the bridge (and that was over a mile away!). The kids were in the barns, bouncing on the trampoline, climbing into tree houses and generally wearing themselves out! It was awesome!

Adam’s wife Kelly and her family put together lunch and then later dinner and her father, “Poppy” as the kids called him, fried up the most delish catfish. Some of the Fahr’s friends donated some Boston “butts” the the affair and that was the best barbecue I’ve ever had! In all, there were probably 30-40 people who were there at one point. It wasn’t just farriers, it was the families too. Poppy took the kids on the 4-wheelers and got to know little Brent, called him LB all day and Brent loved it!

The day alone was a gift but it was also meant to be a benefit fundraiser for our family and several people donated to an auction which was held at the end of the day. Well, I was getting more emotional throughout the day. I shared our story with several people during the day and everyone was so encouraging and I was so touched that this group would go to the trouble to help us out. We ate that fantastic dinner and then settled in for the auction. People made tools, there was art work, a beautiful horseshoe and wood swing, and various farrier necessities like Equipack donated for the cause. All these great things for the guests to bid on on after Cody taught all day plus a donation jar!

Well, in walks one of the mommas with a pecan pie and the apple harvest cake. Well, Poppy had been talking all day about this apple cake and how he was really looking forward to it. This woman who makes it has made it famous and it’s heaven on a plate! I’m so sorry for whoever is reading this, her name escapes me but we met! The auctioneer was having a pretty good time and there was some pretty good ribbing and bidding going on when up pops the apple cake. He immediately bids and someone else challenges him and he gets up to $25 when he just shouts out “I’ll give $100 for that apple cake!” “Sold!” and everyone laughs and suddenly he looks across the room and says, “You give that cake to that boy’s momma over there!” I sat there in shock clutching that cake for a minute and said thank you and had to walk outside and cry over my $100 apple cake! Here were all these people gathered together just to help out a boy they didn’t know who was battling something hard just so his family would have a few less worries! That’s what I call a gift of grace!

So I’m saying Thank you thank you thank you to all these phenomenal people! I’m saying thank you to all the people who have donated to Sonya’s fudraiser online! I’m saying thank you to the Rodeo Benevolent Gala who donated when this all first started and I’m saying thank you to all the individuals who have helped in one way or another! Because of you, our focus has been on our family and on Brent. Because of you, I’m having trouble with saying thank you because I’m so overwhelmed with all the generosity surrounding us. I’m can’t even begin to thank all the people who donate to St. Jude.

Just like letting donors to St. Jude see our faces lets them know they are doing good in wonderful and specific ways, seeing the Farriers and their families and getting to be there in person makes me just that much more appreciative of all of those who have helped us in some way. Seeing everyone there just overwhelmed me with appreciation. Of course I have always been appreciative, and never taken your help for granted, but seeing all these folks put faces on everyone who has helped us out.

So thanks again to Adam and Lloyd and Kelly and family and Poppy and to the Arkansas Farrier’s Association and to Cody Gregory (and to his sweet wife Kirsty! I loved getting to know you!) and to the kiddos who showed the kids all their hiding places and to all the people who donated to the auction and to the woman who baked that apple cake!

Thanksgiving last year was sweet because we were celebrating Brent kicking cancer’s butt! This year we are celebrating with thanks because we may be fighting again, but we’ve got an army of help behind us again!

(Oh, and I can’t forget to say thank you to our old hometown of Richland, MO. Thank you for the bake sale you all threw! We appreciate each and every one of you!!)