Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I bet most of you don’t know…

Hello Family & Friends,
This post is actually something I have wanted to write for a while. It is not about cancer, but definitely about one of our more recent life experiences.

Cancer update: It has been a week and I still have cancer. I actually feel perfectly normal so I have been staying as busy as possible doing normal mommy things to keep the days full. We go Friday at 3pm to get the radioactive dye injection that will allow the doctor to find the mother lymph node. They will tell us Friday what time surgery will be scheduled for Saturday. They said I will get about 3 weeks to heal and then we will start chemo.

No movement on the house yet which is frustrating, but whatcha gonna do. My mom will be watching the kids overnight and Eric and I will be staying at my aunts house. She is just about the most amazing pamperer on the planet and she lives under 5 minutes from Eric’s work. As soon as the house is ready we have teams of folks ready to help us move… can’t wait to be in my own bed with my dog snuggled at my feet.

Thank you for the prayers emails and support. I wish I could respond to everyone, and I am trying, but there just does not seem to be enough time in the day to get everything done before this weekend.

In Him,

I bet most of you don’t know…

I have a mountain home up near the Lassen National Forest. It sleeps 17 comfortably and there is room to throw out at least 10 sleeping bags. The weather is perfect during the summer and during the winter; we get a ton of snow, which is always welcomed since my cabin is located in the Butte Meadows snow mobile park. One of our favorite family traditions is cutting down or Christmas tree in the Lassen Forest, and returning to my cabin for coco.

Napping with Leah by the fire after
cutting down our Christmas tree.
Did I mention that my
mountain home has a creek...
I also have a beach house located on the Northern California coast, just a tad north of Fort Bragg, near the beautiful village of Shelter Cove. My house sits right on the rocky bluffs so when you look out the window all you see in the vast ocean and waves crashing and dancing on the rocks. I just love relaxing in the hot tub at night, gazing at the magnitude of stars while listening to the crashing of the waves just feet away. Sometimes the guys take out the deep sea fishing boat… us girls like to take quiet walks down to the fish-n-chips shop or sit on the patio and talk. It really is such a treat to watch the waves crash… it’s like they are putting on a special performance just for us.

Just outside 'my' kitchen door on the patio.
That would be a splash from the waves crashing and dancing for me.
Oh, and I have a ranch too. Located on the edge of the ridge in Paradise, CA. We have 11 horses, 1 pony, 20+ chickens, 4 goats, 3 pigs, 10 hounds, occasionally roosters, and a growing number of heads of steer. There are both amazing summer & winter gardens that offer the most incredible of fresh produce. The entire ranch is landscaped beautifully and has this vintage cottage fencing dancing throughout the yard. There is also the bluest swimming pool you have ever seen which has a way of calling my name anytime I get near it. Yes, it is like paradise!

One of the many sitting gardens.
That little blue spec in the background is my pool.

My little cowboy looking at his horses.

Okay… so I don’t really personally own these things. Actually, at the present moment we are homeless and living with friends while everything I we own in crammed into a 30x10 foot storage unit on Folsom Blvd. But you see, I have aunts and uncles that do own the above retreats and they have made their blessings open to our family in a way that allows us to feel like they these blessings are ours too. I guess you can say I come from a good line of sharers.

So, what is my point today?

My point is that I want to make a huge public THANK YOU to some friends that have shared the blessing of their home with my family. When Eric was laid off in February, and our house miraculously sold and we had to be out in May, and we just needed a place for 2 weeks until Eric had his new letter of employment so that we could rent an apartment… Justin, Stacy and Zachary Orr said ‘yes’. We did not even ask them if we could stay with them, they just immediately offered when they heard of our need. They did not need to go discuss/debate/pray about it, they just said yes because they heard of a need and knew they could meet it. When we planned to move into an apartment, they offered that we stay until we found a permanent home. They have been willing to be used as needed and we are so fortunate to have been the recipient of their obedience and kindness.

Now I realize taking in a family of 4 is not for everyone… but its is for someone who has already chosen to say ‘yes’ before they even know what God is asking them to do. In fact, for someone who has chosen to say ‘yes’ they would be ready to take in a family of 9 if God told them to. You see, when I started to freak about imposing on their space, Justin said to me,
“This house is not ours. God blessed us with it, it’s His.”

In the past few months, we have received the ‘widows mite’ from a friend that I know was having a hard time with finances as her husband had just returned to work after being laid off. We received anonymous gifts in the mail, which arrived on days when we needed hope like you wouldn’t believe. We received gifts with nothing attached and we received opportunities to work and make what we needed to make ends meet. To those of you that helped us, and you know who you are, once again thank you. You have each displayed something bigger than kindness; you have shown a generosity of heart and a confidence that what you have is not yours but merely blessings that God has bestowed upon you… to use as He has called you. 

Day after day God’s daily provision has been made abundantly clear. I have no doubt that the journey we have been on these past 7 months have been a part of getting us ready for this time of complete dependence and desperation on God’s provision for healing, health and finances that we now face.

In our nine years of marriage, Eric and I have had 3 different people live with us for extended periods of time. I suppose you could say what goes around, comes around… but I think there is more to it. The gift of a home which Justin, Stacy and Zachary have given us has been bigger than anything we could have ever ask for. It has been a daily reminder to us of God’s provision and a beautiful example of the enormous impact you can make when you are willing to say “it’s not ours, it’s His.”

(By the way, depending on the season, if you have a difficult time reaching me, it’s likely because I’m on retreat at one of my vacation homes. Thanks for being such great sharers, Uncle Al & Aunt Carroll and Uncle Don & Auntie Deb. Love you all.)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Gotta get my fight on!

So, last night my husband gave me a butt kicking. It wasn’t a literal kicking but a verbal smack-down. He put his coach hat on and got in my face asking who ever goes to a game planning to lose? You see, being a Randall it is my primary nature to hear bad news and go immediately to the worst-case scenario in any situation. My dad was a safety supervisor at his department for the railroad so we grew up with ‘safety first’ talks day in and day out. I was never allowed to climb a tree – might break your arm. No skateboards – you’ll fall and crack you head open. If you mow the lawn (or even just go outside while someone is mowing the lawn, I am not kidding) – you must wear safety glasses because a rock will fly through the air and take out your eye. You see… safety first… no matter what.

Now, if you know my dad you are probably laughing at these illustrations and can see him hollering at us to be safe. You also know that these ‘safety rules’ come from his great love for us and desire to protect us from harm. (Love you too daddy.)

The problem with living in this kind of world is that you grow to also have an amazing ability to be in constant fear of the ‘what ifs’ in life. Over time, I have learned that fear, really isn’t a good motivator because fear isn’t based on love and usually results in defeat.

Anyways, back to the sports analogy my ESPN obsessed husband was trying to drive home. He was right… and got me thinking about needing to be psyched up for this ‘game’.

I remember when I was a Junior in High School, El Camino women’s soccer hosted  “The Eagle Cup”. It was held at Cherry Island and there were 2 days of games to make up the tournament. We were surely not the strongest team out there, but Coach Anderson did his best to get us ready to take on the world. I remember he would bring the tournament shirt the champions would win to practice and wave it around (like an ass) in the air as we did sprints, yelling at us that these shirts were ours to win. He would go on and on talking about how embarrassing it would be to not take home our own shirts or know that girls from some other team we wearing our shirts. He also had us do this chant:

“You got to want it, to win it, and we want it more.
You got to want it, to win it, and we want it more.
You got to want it, to win it, and we want it more.”

And if we didn’t scream it loud or act like we meant it…. We would end practice with running the stadium stairs, which is the soccer version of water torture. (As I write this, I suppose I see now how he taught us a great life lesson… but man I hated that guy. Anderson, if you somehow are reading this, thank you!)

Anyways, when the tournament arrived we did pretty good. In fact, we did awesome and made it to the final game against Davis High School. The final game actually went into overtime, but before we went to sudden death, I got to experience one of what is actually one of my proudest moments in soccer. I remember in that game getting side tackled and sliding into a mud pit… I was pretty angry.  Time was running out and Anderson told us to take whatever shot we could. Most of the overtime had been spent in our backfield-playing defense, so when as an offensive halfback I got the ball I knew we needed to do whatever it would take to score. I remember hearing those beastly Davis girls running up behind me and for whatever reason (probably fear of being tackled again) I took a wild outside shot on goal from about 30 yards out. The goalie was way out of her box and not expecting a shot on goal and the ball rolled right past the lower left post and into the net.

We one the game. We won The Eagle Cup. And most importantly we got to wear our own shirts home. I actually received MVP for the tournament, which was pretty awesome… although I still feel soccer is such a ‘team’ sport there is no point to having an MVP. Yeah… that was one of those awesome moments in time that you just don’t ever forget.

After my loving chewing out last night, I opened Face Book and found a message from a friend that I knew growing up in elementary school. She shared about her mother’s strength as she had fought cancer and the impact it made on her. She shared, “In my eyes, she went from "just Mom" to someone a whole lot bigger and stronger and unbeatable; not terms I had put together with my impression of her since I was small.”

Wow. I really needed to hear from a kids perspective just how vital it is for a mommy to be a fighter.  Her message came as perfect encouragement in the prefect moment.

So here’s where we are now....
I must shed my innate Randall disposition to live in fear. I need to decide to win and find my motivators. I have to figure out what I’ll be chanting through this ‘game’. I have 6 days to get my spirit in shape. Gotta get my fight on!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A New Lemon

In May, when we were candidating with the church in Santa Clarita there was a night when we were being interviewed by the Leadership Team while the kids were being babysat by the Senior Pastor’s two adorable daughters. We returned home to happy kids and the girls sharing about their adventures and gushing about just how freaking awesome my amazing kids are (okay, maybe that’s a little over the top description… but wouldn’t you agree?). Anyways, they shared that they were playing a game where Shelby would start a sentence and then have Nathan finish it. Here’s the line that they thought was so adorable:

(Shelby) “When life gives you lemons….”
(Nathan) “I say no thanks!”

Wouldn’t it be great if you could just say “no thanks”?

Well, most of you have been journeying with us over the last several months (years) and watching the Joppa basket of lemons grow and spill over.

Well, we have a new lemon.

It’s one I wish I could say “no thanks” to.

But… we can’t.

On Tuesday, I went to the doctor for a second biopsy on a lump that I had found.

On Wednesday, the doctor called to let me know it is in fact cancerous. 

Today we had a consultation with the surgeon and he gave us the low down.

So… here’s the low down:
They do not know for sure if I have breast cancer or some other type of cancer. They do know that it is a aggressive, quickly-multiplying cancer – the biopsy has been sent to a different lab for additional study. We will proceed as if I have breast cancer due to the location of the lump. Tomorrow morning I will get a call to schedule the surgery, which will likely happen next week. They will perform a lumpectomy, and remove a lymph node. While I sleep, they will test the node. If it has cancer (meaning the cancer has spread), they will remove the entire lymph-node-chain-thing on my entire right side and I will wake up with a drainage tube sticking out of my arm. If I wake up with no tube, I can smile and breathe. This would mean the cancer has not spread and was just in the one tumor. After however long it takes to recover from surgery (couple of weeks), I will begin both radiation and chemotherapy. If Kaiser cannot identify what kind of cancer is in the mass, it will then be sent to Stanford or Univ. San Francisco to be studied and identified. If it is another type of cancer beside breast cancer, we will begin round two with treatment specific to that type of cancer.

So that’s it. That’s all we know. It has been an exhausting 3 days and I really want to sleep. I also just want to cuddle with my dog and lay in my own bed. We could very well be signing papers and moving into our home in the next week – but for sure we will be in by Sept. 16th. I am now living for that moment and just can’t wait to give Nathan a bedroom again and to bring all of his toys out of storage. See… there is a lot going on in my mind… can you blame me for not being able to sleep?

So far, I am not mad at God. I am choosing to believe that
‘He loves me’ and that ‘He is good’

I expect that there will be days when I feel different. I know that I am still in shock and will go through an array of emotions. I am working to be positive and to value every minute I have with my family and those close to me.

It’s just all pretty surreal right now.

Here’s how you can pray:
  1. For God’s will with my health and that we can accept His will with grace.
  2. That we could close on the house quickly.
  3. That the move would go smoothly.
  4. For provision for our family. I had lined up a few ways to make $ to make ends meet… and well, those plans are obviously now on hold for a while.
  5. Pray for my husband. He’s a pretty amazing guy and I am so thankful for him. It is in moments like these that I am reminded why I married him. He’s kinda a mess right now as you would expect. Pray God would grant him strength and rest. He has to be 100% at work and at home and I know this is going to be an exhausting season. 
  6. And of course for Nathan and Leah. Life has just totally changed. This is gonna be a challenging time for us all but especially for my precious babies.
Love each and every one of you,

If you want to follow Eric's blog it is at:

Starting in the right place...

Many years ago, at least 15, there was a devastating death that affected my church family. I know I was in high school and I know that it was really the first experience with death I had every encountered. In fact it might of been the first funeral I ever attended.

I had seen/known Steve Reynolds my whole life while growing up at Arcade. His parents were very active in the church and my mom was friends with his mother. Steve was a young father with three small children... their ages were like 5, 3 and 1. He lost his life in a drowning accident while on vacation with his family. It was and remains to be such a tragic story of a life gone too soon. I carried the prayer card for his family in my Bible for years... in fact I think it is still in my old Bible. When we get stuff out of storage I'll have to see.

There are 2 things I remember clearly about that funeral.

First, the church was packed. In fact I think there was over flow viewing in another room. For those of you unfamiliar with Arcade that means there were 1,000's of people there. I remember his grocery store co-workers lining the edge of the sanctuary in their matching vests. You see, Steve was a man that brought joy wherever he went... he had a ton of friends.

The second thing I remember is something that Steve's father, Lloyd shared. (It's been a while so this is a paraphrase, but I will do my best to get the words right.) He said:
In times like these, you must start by 
knowing and trusting that God is good.
And in knowing that God is good, you will find him in your trial. 
But if you start by dwelling on your trial, 
it will be nearly impossible to see how God is good. 

I have wrestled with this thought over and over through the years and it has proven to be a true statement for me.

So today my plan is to start with the idea that God is good... and I anticipate seeing him show up throughout the day in incredible ways.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Blog attempt #3: Gotta go through it.

And now, without further ado; the last but certainly not least of my babies... 
My Little Lady Leah! 
I'm excited to share the final introduction of my children, and yet again a life lesson God has taught me through her. 

My little snuggle-bug Leah at our family reunion.
August 5, 2011

So if I could say one thing about Leah it is that being her mom is a delight! Really - she's a pretty happy, easy baby. Having just turned 1 year old on June 29th, she has brightened our lives in unimaginable ways. She's a pretty good sleeper, eater and listener. She loves to laugh and explore. Leah has a pretty sweet temper... so far she's just a great baby. Of course she has her moments, but outside of the way she spits when she is mad there really isn't much negative I can share.

One thing about Leah that stands out as special to me is her birth delivery. It was a very different experience than I had gone through with my other two. With Madison I was heavily drugged and induced - resulting in going from 2 to 10 cm in about 25 minutes (can you say ouch!!!). This is what they call a "traumatic pregnancy".  With Nathan my 1st contraction was instant labor with the next following under 2 minutes later. I had an epidural, but since that precious little bundle of joy gave me the gift of "back labor" (double ouch and a crazy scream) I got to experience pretty much every movement of pain through my spine... making the epidural nearly pointless. So when I was preparing to have Leah, knowing that my labors are pretty fast (thank you traumatic pregnancy), I had told Eric that if things were going quickly I did not want an epidural and wanted to go natural. He thought I was being hilarious and had me record this request on his phone so use later so I could listen to my own voice sharing the birthing plan. And yes... he played it back to me while I white-knuckled the hospital bed. 

Now... I need to point out that my decision to have a natural delivery had nothing to do with a belief in a drug-free environment for the baby, or fear of epidurals or for any reason that would cast judgement upon someone else's birthing choice. I wanted to go natural simply for the fact that I thought it would be faster and more time efficient. Basically my logic was:
Horrific pain for a short amount of time 
was better than horrific pain for a long time. 
Now remember, this thinking is a result of my experience with Nathan of having an epidural during back labor, which basically meant that labor slowed down, but the pains in my back were constant. 

Okay... so what's the point?

The point is, our nurse was a wonderful gal that I liked from the moment I met her. After talking we discovered that she actually lived across the lake in the same community we were from and was an active Christian in a local church just down the street from our house. Once Eric (gleefully) played the recording and she knew I wanted to go natural she grabbed me by the hand, looked me in the eyes and assured me this was a great choice. I'll never forget what she said to me. She said (give-or-take): 
"God designed your body perfectly to birth this baby. 
Every contraction is His design to get you closer to your child. 
It is our nature to resist pain, this is why we take drugs and epidurals, 
which is actually resisting the intentional design of  your body. 
Instead of pushing and fighting the pain away, you are going to embrace it. 
You will breath through every contraction and find peace....
peace in your fingertips, toes and butt. 
Let the contraction move through and out of your body. 
This is best for you and the baby - and if you work with the contraction, 
work with His design, 
you will see your baby sooner than if you fight against it."

I remember chanting to myself, through each contraction, "Embrace the pain, this is God's plan", "Embrace the pain, this is God's plan", "Embrace the pain, this is God's plan", etc. I will not pretend that giving birth is 'fun'... but by making Leah's birth a truly spiritual event I believe I personally received such a beautiful gift from the experience. Yes, it hurt like crazy when she entered the world, and my dad swears he could hear me screaming from the courtyard, but four hours and 20 minutes after my first contraction, Leah Marie Joppa made her debut. My mom, aunt and husband were there to witness her arrival. And just like on TLC's 'Baby Story', it was beautiful. 

Honestly, delivering Leah might just be the most empowering, liberating, strength building experience of my life. And in the past year I have often thought of how the words of my nurse can really be used as a metaphor for so much in our lives. It is natural to resist pain and do everything to avoid hard situations. However; sometimes God's plan just might intentionally include painful experiences to strengthen and grow us. When we push His plan/pain away... we can lose the lesson... or perhaps we just delay it. But taking life, even in the painful times, one breath at a time and working through them (sometimes over and over) just might be the best for you/me. Ultimately, when we are following Gods desire, when we get to the end destination, retrospect shows us that the journey might of been difficult but worth every minute. Perhaps the journey is actually the real point of this crazy thing called life!

Or... in simpler words, from one of Nathan's favorite books, "Going On A Bear Hunt":
Can't go over it.
Can't go under it.
Can't go around it.
Gotta go through it.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Tiniest Teacher

After writing my first post I came up with some other blog ideas… but then I felt that after introducing Nathan I should introduce my other children. I do not really want this to be a mommy blog, however I suppose meeting my kids is a way to lay the foundation to whom I am today. I would think that most of you would expect that this next post would be about our baby girl Leah, but I feel that I must first share with you about Madison… our 1st daughter whom was born still. You see, my love and adoration for Leah is magnified by the missing part of my heart that Madison owns. So here I go… sharing my pearls… about a little girl that altered my(our) life forever.

Precious Footprints of Madison Kristine Joppa
March 2, 2006

First, here is the story of Madison:
On March 2nd of 2006 I delivered our first child, Madison Kristine Joppa. She was absolutely beautiful. She had a full head of hair, soft pearl colored skin and the most perfect set of lips and mouth I had ever seen. At 2.1 lbs and 13 inches long she looked like a perfect porcelain doll. Madison was born still at 26½ weeks.

I had been on my way to work when I was rear-ended by a young girl eating a bagel. As we exchanged information, an ambulance arrived. I felt fine and did not see any need to go to the hospital, however Eric (on the other end of a cell phone) told me to go with them. He assured me he would meet me at the hospital & all would be fine. When the doctors looked for Madison’s heartbeat, and could not find anything so they brought out a different machine. Nothing showed up on that machine either - I was confused and scared. Just a week prior we had a checkup and everything was fine. The nurse wheeled us down for an ultrasound and our fears were confirmed as they found that our baby had passed away. The next afternoon, when Madison was born we learned from the autopsy that she had been gone at least 4 days. I have come to believe that God blessed us with a car accident (which had nothing to do with her passing) so that we would have the chance to hold and be with our baby. We were with her for two short hours. Due to the narcotics that they put me on, I do not remember much, however I do know that she was perfect as she slept peacefully in our arms. We have no answers as to why she left us or what happened. We are simply left knowing that our beautiful baby touched our lives – if just for a moment in time.

About a month later Eric and I began attending a local grief support group, Sharing Parents. This peer support group is for parents that have lost babies from the point of conception thru 6 months of age. Through this group we received the support and compassion we needed to travel this journey of grief and pain in a healthy manner. I am currently in my 4th year of volunteering and 3 year on the Board. Last year I had the honor f serving as the President and this year I am a co-President. So… needless to say, the loss of Madison has impacted our life greatly in a number of ways.

I have often found myself wondering what good has come from her death and what have I really learned from this experience of loss. So here goes… the lessons I have learned from my little lady Madison:

v    Life is not fair.
Ø    Life is just is not fair. Bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to mean nasty people. They just do. Death does not discriminate. 100% of us will die. Some too young… some possible not soon enough. But it is a guarantee… all living things will die. This reality does not make walking thru death or grief easy – it just means that logically this is a normal part of life. A required part of life. I suppose I could be spiritual and argue that death is the purpose of life. Despite this logic, I do not like death.

v    For me, compassion was something I needed to genuinely receive from others before I could give it away.
Ø    Before Madison entered my life my compassion meter barely existed. I clearly remember a friend that had a miscarriage and my response was a hurtful “well, 50% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. (Blah, blah,blah -insert insensitive comment here)”. Now I have learned to respond, “I am so sorry for your loss. (Insert actual human response here)”. I’ve learned to cry with those who weep and sit with those in pain. When Lazarus died “Jesus Wept.” (John 11:35) He showed human emotion and cried with the family while at the same time showing his own love for Lazarus threw his tears. It’s okay to cry. We should cry. And when Job lost his family if friends came to be with him and comfort him. They cried when they saw him, removed their fancy clothes, and threw dust over their heads in mourning. “Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.” Job 2:13 Did you catch that? They sat silently for 7 days and nights. Perhaps later they questioned and went off on him… but they started with modeling how to support and love some one in grief.

Ø    I have also learned to stop the need to blurt out clichés and take the time to think ‘what’s it like to be them’ and to show honest compassion. Do you honestly thing a person who just gave birth to a dead baby finds any comfort in being told, “God needed an angel.” Is it loving or bring any joy to tell a person who has lost their spouse that their life mate is in “a better place”? Or to someone who lost a parent does the idea that "It was meant to be" bring any peace? For even those of us that know and believe in an eternity of peace with God in heaven these words can sting. For those that do not know or trust God… these words can build painful walls and hurt like a dagger. A simple “I’m sorry” and hug are worth about 1 million times more comfort than words spoken to “fix” the griever. Truth is you/I have said those words to comfort ourselves… not the person grieving. Be like Jesus and cry. Be like Job’s friends and sit silently just being there.
v    Finding the good in things can be tough.
Ø    Over the past 5 years I admit I have struggled with the verse: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 Finding the good in Madison’s death has not been easy or something I can honestly admit that I have completely done yet. Have I learned compassion? Yes – but I can think of about a billion other ways to learn compassion besides loosing and then giving birth to a dead baby. Has our ability to minister and love to those in our church and relationship circle been expanded through this experience? Definitely – but isn’t there is a book or movie (or even someone else’s story) that could have taught us these lessons? I guess what I am saying is that I have a hard time finding the good in our child being taken from us. I struggle to see the good in the death of our dreams for her and our family.

I guess that at the end of the day the only thing “good” I can come up with is that our son Nathan is alive. Just by looking at the calendar, one can conclude that if Madison were here, Nathan would not be. Nathan is my special boy. I can’t imagine life without him.

So that is a little of what I have learned. I've learned to have joy in the children that are here with us - even when they cry out at 2am. Joy and gratitude that we do have two of three healthy children to kiss and tuck in at night. And joy, that despite the pain of this journey, I do trust in a God that loves me and my family and with His love, I can trust that we are exactly where we are supposed to be.

"I'll love you forever. I'll like you for always. As long as I'm living, my baby you'll be."
Love, Mama