Sunday, March 28, 2010

God's Incredible Timing



Quick Update on CJ:

CJ endured chemo on Friday like a trooper. Actually, more like a warrior. He was struggling on Thursday, but by Friday morning he was determined to get it done and have one more chemo behind him.

I reminded him on the way to the hospital that he lost a bet to his nurse and it was time to pay up. The last time she saw him, the nurse who draws his blood each week, bet him that his counts would be up and he would get to go on the cruise. He doubted it. She told him if she won she would get to pick the band-aid he worse the next time she draws his blood and he would have to wear it all day.

Needless to say, CJ lost the bet and walked around with a pink band-aid on his finger that day. He wasn't too happy about that and I noticed before we left he managed to conveniently "lose" it. Chemo went well as far as chemo can go. His port access was a little more painful than usual but he had great blood return and his counts were good enough to increase his doses again.
God's Incredible Timing:
Today, we were scheduled to speak at a local church. Pembroke Pines Baptist Church has been a strong and faithful supporter of CBC. When they heard about what CJ is doing for his birthday they were very impressed and decided to allow him to come and personally extend the invitation to the church. They felt it was time to put a face to the name of the non-profit so the church would know who they were supporting and why. They also wanted to lift up our family and the ministry of CBC in prayer. So we gratefully accepted the invitation.

Over the past week I prepared the basics of what I wanted to share before CJ spoke and extended his invitation. This morning, as I was getting ready I was finalizing my speech and asking God for wisdom and guidance. I realized I wanted to share at least two examples of how their support has directly impacted these families. I immediately thought of one. I knew I would share about the mom and dad whose 3 year old boy was diagnosed with Stage 4 Neuroblastoma, and due to the families circumstances and the changes the cancer would bring, they immediately found themselves homeless. Yes! Homeless! Nowhere to live, no car, and no money. Since it would take a while for any social assistance to kick in, and other non-profits had lots of red tape before the funds could be released, the hospital contacted us and asked if we could help. Thanks to the generous support we have received, we were able to place them a small efficiency near the hospital where they would be close by for their son's treatment and get them started with the down payment they needed to get settled.

I began to think of all the possibilities I could share as a second example and I just could not decide how to pick or what to share. As I began to ask the Lord what I should share that would adequately describe what we do, my phone rang. I hesitated in answering a number I did not recognize because I only had 20 minutes before I needed to leave to make it to the church on time. It rang again. I answered.

It was Yvonne; the grandmother of sweet little Andrew who we helped at Christmas time. I knew as soon as I heard her voice say, "Hello." I knew! I held my breath because I thought maybe it wouldn't hurt as bad when she said it. I knew she was calling to tell me Andrew had passed away, but what floored me was what else she said. Through tears she shared, "Dawn, I was just calling to tell you Andrew passed away this morning. I wanted you to know and I wanted to thank you for all you did for him and for our family." Thank me! What?

I was crying and my chest felt like it would burst. I kept thinking how awful the timing was and wondering how was I going to speak to a church full of people I have never met? How would I get through it? God spoke to my heart and said, you will get through it because you won't be speaking....I will. I just told you the second thing I wanted you to share. It was so overwhelming and yet so crystal clear that I was to share how their support enabled us to support and encourage this remarkable family at a critical time in their lives.

If you don't remember beautiful Andrew just scroll down to the blogs I Want to be a Separatist and The Real World and you will see him with CJ and how we were able to bless this little child with a day of joy. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! to the Miami-Dade Mortgage Fraud Task Force for all you did to make this day amazing for this little guy and his family. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you to the president of The Collection, Ken Gorin, who showed up with a Ferrari on a flatbed and unloaded it to take Andrew for the ride of his life. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you to each and every one of you who supports CBC through the chemo bags, bracelet fundraisers, and other donations. YOU are the ones that Andrews grandma is really thanking today. YOU made it possible for us to come alongside this family at this time and impart a small blessing and support.

Furthermore, we went to the church and we shared what God called us to share. Amazingly, this was the song we sang just before I was called up to speak. Read the lyrics! It took every ounce of my being to sing and worship. I prayed myself through every line and cried like a baby through each and every verse. Notice the last verse! Powerful stuff my friends. God had me completely humble and broken before him before walking up to that stage and taking the microphone....

Blessed Be Your Name:
Blessed Be Your Name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name

Blessed Be Your name When I'm found in the desert place Though I walk through the wilderness Blessed Be Your name

Every blessing You pour out
I'll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

Blessed be Your name
When the sun's shining down on me
When the world's 'all as it should be'
Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name On the road marked with suffering Though there's pain in the offering Blessed be Your name
Every blessing You pour out
I'll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name


Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

You give and take away You give and take away My heart will choose to say Lord, blessed be Your name!


Sweet Andrew!

CJ, on the other hand, was incredible! After I shared, he gave the invitation to his birthday which he has generously donated to raising awareness and support for children battling cancer. It appeared that the Lord strengthened me with humility and strengthened him with confidence. I guess He knew just what each of us needed to convey the message.

If you have not heard already, CJ is donating his 11th birthday to raising support and awareness for kids like himself that are battling this disease. Instead of a party, he is hosting a fund-raiser and each and every one of you are invited! Actually, it will only be a success if you all come out and support his efforts. (Those readers in S. Florida of course! For those out of state please feel free to participate by making a donation to CBC in honor of CJ's birthday or get creative like CJ has and host a fundraiser in your area)

For those of you who are local, the owner of the Denny's located in Davie has generously agreed to allow CJ to invite all his guests to dine at this Denny's on his birthday, Monday April 5th, between 5pm and 8pm. Anyone who comes to eat and mentions CJ or CBC, they will donate 20% of the check to Children Battling Cancer! The owner of this Denny's also has a child battling cancer. His name is Noah and you can read about him on our website at www.childrenbattlingcancer.com under CBC families. He was the October child.

CJ will be there at the Denny's the entire time and he plans to entertain his guests with magic tricks as a way to say thank you for coming. We will have face painting and other activities planned for the kids that attend. We have been told there will be some surprise guests from the Miami Dolphins and you just may get to meet the most incredible person we have ever met in our entire lives. Her name is Lotsy Dotsy! And she is the Lord's clown. That's right! A clown, set apart for the glory of the Lord. Come see for yourself.

Please share this with all your friends and family so it will be a huge success! We want to pack that Denny's out continuously between 5pm and 8pm that night. How often can you eat a meal at a restaurant and know that a portion of the check will go to a great cause? It is the day after Easter so everyone will be nice and tired and ready for a relaxing meal out. This is one of those opportunities to make an impact in the lives of kids like Andrew.

INVITATION:
WHAT: CJ's 11th Birthday donated to charity
WHEN: Monday, April 5-8th from 5pm to 8pm
WHERE: Denny's in Davie 5645 S University Drive Davie, Fl 33328
WHY:
To raise awareness and support for children battling cancer

Reminder: Don't forget to mention CJ or CBC when paying the check that night.

Special Note:
If you have been making cards for TEAM CBC Cards for Cancer Day in support of Spirit Jump, you can turn them in at the Denny's that night as that is the final week for collecting! Thank you to all who participated in making cards for kids with cancer!


CJ and Andrew in November of 2009


Andrew and Ken from The Collection.
Ken said, "He giggled the whole time."
What a smile!
Enjoy heaven cancer free sweet boy!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Can You Be Trusted?



We are back on solid ground after a wonderful days at sea. Actually, we spent three of those nights at sea and the other two were spent in the Bahamas at the Atlantis resort in Nassau. It was amazing to say the least. The most amazing part is what we miss the most now that we are home.

Surprisingly, it is not the ship, although the ship was fantastic and an amazing experience for our family. It's not even the Bahamas, although the islands were gorgeous and an amazing display of God's creation. It's not the water slides and pools, although they were an absolute blast for our family. It's not the food, although it was plentiful, delicious, and I did not have to prepare it! It's not the entertainment, although we had front row seats for the shows that were incredible, hilarious, and even jaw dropping thanks to the Circ-de-Soleil aboard the ship. It's not the limousine ride through town to see some pretty cool Nassau history. It's not even the breathtaking deep blue ocean that surrounded us for five days.

All of these things were amazing and made our trip a vacation we will remember forever. I could spend pages and pages just letting the words flow describing how amazing this trip was, detailing everything we did, and all that we saw and experienced. But I feel burdened to tell you what we keep seeing over and over in our minds and what has left the most amazing lasting impression on our hearts.....it's the people we encountered! Their faces. Their smiles. Their warmth. The love they showed our family.

It's Alain, the ship's hotel manager who greeted us as we arrived and arranged for our entrance on and off the ship to be smooth. He was so extremely kind and patient with our family. He made arrangements for us to enjoy this trip to its fullest again and again even taking us up to the bridge to meet the captain which was a major highlight.

It's Tony, the ship's restaurant matradee who greeted us at every meal and made those times extra special for our family. Our kids fell in love with him instantly. Our two year old Corey was asking for him by name by day two and CJ couldn't wait to get back to the ship after two days in the Bahamas to see Tony. By day four, Corey was looking out the window in the room of our ship saying, "I see Tony in the water."

It's Deborah, our waitress who was so sweet to our family and always had a smile and kind word.

It's the waiter who served our family at the shows and always added that extra special touch of kindness to our time spent there, and the waiter at the restaurant who took me aside to encourage me and tell me to be strong and trust in God's strength.

It's Troy, the Limousine driver, who was friendly and kind and made sure we got to see some Bahamas history while we were there.

It's the photographer who took extra care to make sure we got a great picture and then placed them on our bed as a gift to our family and made sure we got them all even after they had been put away.

It's Bernard, our cabin steward on the ship who always had a kind smile and kind word and made sure the kids got the fun towel animals they loved in their cabin.

I could obviously go on and on. There are the nameless ones, who although I don't know their names, I can still see their faces. They left a lasting impression on my family's hearts.

Permit me to finish with the the two Teresa's, a mother and daughter-in-law, who greeted us when we entered the ship and made sure we had everything we needed for a wonderful vacation. Not to mention that Teresa is the one who made all of the arrangements to make this possible for our family.

I have to tell you a little about this woman. Yes, she is part owner of a cruise ship and that may sound very prestigious, but she is extremely humble and is willing to use the blessings the Lord has entrusted to her to bless others. Don't for one minute kid yourself and think that that the cruise lines are not suffering in this economy just like every other business. They are! But she is obedient to His call on her life regardless. She is a woman of prayer and faith who wants God to receive all the glory for what is taking place between the Bahamas Celebration Cruise Line and Children Battling Cancer, Inc.

When I think of her, I think of the Scripture in Luke 16:10 which reads, "Whoever can be trusted with little can also be trusted with much and whoever is dishonest with little will also be dishonest with much." I can only imagine what she has been faithful with in the past to lead her to being trusted with such a blessing.

Since I met her, this Scripture has played over and over in my mind because it has challenged me to ask myself if I have been faithful with what God has entrusted to me. It is so easy for me to look at others and say, "Well, if I had that I would do great things to bless others too." But God's response is, "Have you been faithful with what I have already entrusted to you?" And we all have been entrusted with something! Don't think so? Humor me for a moment would you....

Do you own a pool? When was the last time you had a family over that does not have a pool to bless them with a day of swimming? Do you have a backyard with a swing set? When is the last time you had a family with kids over who does not have a yard to bless the kids with a day of play? Do you have access to a beach or amazing park where you live? When was the last time you invited a family over to enjoy it with you? A big screen TV with surround sound? When was the last time you invited a family over for a movie night and served popcorn? Do you have a boat? A cabin? A camper? A horse? Tools? Talent? We all have something God has blessed us with that we can use to bless others. You want to know a secret...it wasn't given to you for you. It was given to you for you to use for HIM. His gift for His purposes!

Anyway, I don't know why I felt I had to share that with you. Believe me, I am preaching to the choir here. Our family needs to grow in this area as much as the next person. I pray that our encounter with Teresa and the Bahamas Celebration Cruise Line will cause us to take a deep look at our level of obedience in this area. I pray it encourages you to do so as well. Just imagine what the world would be like if there were more people like this woman willing to use what God has entrusted to them for His purposes. Can you be trusted?

I want to encourage you to support the Bahamas Celebration Cruise Line in any way you can. Book a trip with them. Recommend them to a friend. Send a letter or email thanking them for what they are doing for these kids with cancer. What is it they are doing you ask? Here comes the most exciting part! The cruise line is partnering with our organization, Children Battling Cancer, Inc. (CBC), to send one of our CBC families on an all expense paid cruise to the Bahamas each month. Is God amazing or what!

Please remember to check the website www.childrenbattlingcancer.com for upcoming events and ways you can help support these families as well. And be sure to read our CBC child of the month and add them to your prayer list for the month that they are featured.



Before I say goodbye let me add that CJ and the rest of the kids had a great time and so far have shown no signs of any new sicknesses we picked up. Thank you Lord! We were fastidious about being cautious and using the hand gels frequently and doing lots of washing and praying. He does however still has a touch of the persistent deep cough , which he had when we left, but we see that diminishing more and more.

It really was so great to see him so carefree, running, swimming and playing. He even got to the point he did not care if he took his shirt off to swim and people saw his port. This trip was a blessing to our family and we will cherish the memories we made forever. Thank you Teresa! Thank you Bahamas Celebration crew and staff! And above all, thank you God!

Keep in mind that CJ heads back to the hospital for chemotherapy next week (Friday the 26th) and I know he is not looking forward to it, but each day is a day closer to being done with all this chemo. Please pray for his continued healing and that he will not have a relapse or recurrence of cancer!


Here are some pics from the cruise.




Look at those smiles! Anyone who can make your kids smile like that has mom's vote!


Happy Birthday Alibrandi! 14!


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sweeet Dreams

Sweet Dreams CJ!


CJ's counts are up! Praise God!

We went in this morning for counts and CJ looked over at me as we were walking in and said, "Mom, I am just going to expect them to be low again so that I won't be disappointed if we still can't go on the cruise." Secretly, I was doing the same thing but I let him think it was all his idea! I was praying for high counts and the doctors to release us to be able to take this amazing trip that the Lord and His people have blessed us with, but I was also praying that I would be able to joyfully submit to whatever His will may be.

We left the doctors office with the great news that CJ's counts were up so we will be resuming his daily chemotherapy and we are able to take the cruise! The doctors gave us the okay with a reminder to take extra precautions, high counts or not. We leave tomorrow (Weds) for five days. Please pray for us, especially for Chris. Taking CJ into situations like this is very difficult for us even under the best circumstances. (Not that we have seen those in a while.) But even with high counts....'reality' of our situation is always with us. However, it is that same 'reality' that drives us to take these opportunities and make the memories for our family.

This week was a difficult week for our family with CJ's counts down. It always creates a tension and uneasy feeling that is difficult to describe so I am not going to even try right now. Allie and CJ both got coughs that were incessant and nerve-racking with his counts so low. Poppa Enzo had surgery to remove his infected port and we received the news of the loss of another child with cancer. Then to top off the emotions, CJ woke up one morning and came to sit with me as I was reading. He was up early and was quietly cuddled up next to me as I read. Suddenly, he spoke quietly, "Mom, I had a dream I was dying from the cancer. It was very real and you and dad were there. I asked you if I was dying and you said, 'that is always the question'. " I nearly froze because he has not had this happen before and he did not know about the other kids we had learned about passing. It was heartbreaking to sit and listen to him describe the details of this dream.

I share this with you to share his heart and his fears and his dreams. Pray for this sweet boy who should not be dreaming about dying of cancer but about whatever it is ten year old boys dream about....fighting battles...winning wars....amazing feats.....Okay Okay, so maybe he is dreaming about what ten year old boys dream about, only in a different way. Sweet dreams my sweet child!


I will keep this short and close with a challenge (to myself mostly) but a challenge none the less.

Today, the home health nurse came to my step-fathers home to clean and re-pack his wound. After spending time taking great care to clean the wound properly, he finished his work, put his things away, looked at my dad and said, "Now that that's done, lets get to the most important part....I suppose you are not wearing that cross around your neck to hang yourself with so let's talk about Jesus." He then proceeded to share "the most important" part with my dad for the next 15 minutes. He told him it was not about the health of his body but the health of his soul. He told him it didn't matter the length of life but the depth of life and where he spent eternity. He shared Jesus plainly, openly, loving and directly with a man he has never met before and may never meet again.

I was so affected when I heard that today. I pray it deeply affects you too. Don't take it lightly. Consider it. Oh God, make me more like that man. Help me to focus on and openly share the "most important thing."

Bon Voyage!
Thank you for your continued prayers!


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Grounded


We have been grounded! We are not setting sail today (Weds) as planned. CJ's counts have plummeted to a new low we have never experienced before and he is currently in isolation at home.

His ANC is 59. That is below 100 and too close to zero as far as I am concerned. For those new to this blog, the ANC is his absolute neutrophil count and is calculated using his white blood cells and other factors in his blood. His white blood cells are what is causing this plummet in counts. We have been assured by the doctors that this is caused by the chemo and not anything else. The white blood cells are an important factor in our ability to protect and fight infection.

As a result, we have held all daily chemo and will wait for the counts to rebound. We are expecting and hoping that this will happen rather quickly. However, there may be a delayed effect in the chemo he received last Friday so we are not at all sure how this will all balance out.

Unfortunately, this all led to the last minute cancellation of the cruise I mentioned in the last post. What I did not mention however was that this cruise was a generous gift from a woman who God has strategically placed in our lives for such a time as this. She is affiliated with the cruise line and she and her affiliates have orchestrated the entire trip to bless our family. I can't wait to tell you more about her and how the Lord is using her in the lives of children battling cancer, but that will have to wait until I have her permission to share further.

For now, let me say that this woman is an obvious instrument of God who has been appointed to be a blessing to His people and suffering children. I say 'obvious' because about a month ago I was desperate to be reminded that God was in complete control of what felt like seemingly out of control circumstances. Intellectually, I knew it to be true but I needed (selfishly wanted) to see His hand at work in a way that could not be denied or explained away. The reality was that my spirit was at anguish within me and I was thirsting for Him, yet unable to drag my pitiful self to the well to drink the living water He was offering. I was spiritually dehydrating and I felt it. I cried out to Him.

To make a long story short and only confuse you more lets just say He broke down a brand new car and that had otherwise no car troubles and placed this woman in the direct path of a family we had been helping, who also happened to be in desperate need of work of God. (Most of you know sweet four year old Mackenzie. If not read her story on our site and then visit her site and pray for her as she is at MD Anderson this week getting a second opinion and hopefully a treatment plan) When Mackenzie's mom called to tell me the story of meeting this woman under these circumstances, I cried and thanked God for His faithfulness. She could not have known how desperately I needed to hear it and that He did this not only to remind her He is in control but to also remind me. His kindness is unfathomable and knows no bounds!

God's presence and hand behind this sequence of events could not have been more obvious had He reached out of heaven and disable the car with his bare hand. Even the strictest agnostic would have a hard time explaining this happenstance. It was amazing! I rehearse it in my mind daily as a reminder of how awesome He is.

So a month later we are planning a cruise for our family out of the generosity of this woman only to hit the unexpected road block of CJ's low blood counts and a last minute cancellation. Having to cancel was heartbreaking for everyone involved, especially CJ. He felt like it was all his fault that everyone was disappointed. After he shed some tears, we reminded him that we would not even be taking this cruise in the first place if it weren't for him. That seemed to helped put things in perspective. We had a quiet ride home and we each had some one on one time with the Lord in that silence.

CJ finished crying and as we were almost home he asked through sniffles if he could have a slushy. I immediately cringed inwardly! These are the moments I hate about cancer. I know it sounds absolutely absurd and you are probably thinking, 'what is the big deal about a slushy?' Well, since you asked I will tell you. He was just dealt the blow that the cruise was off and he would have to stay home isolated from friends and extended family. The last thing we want to do is say no to something a simple as a slushy but we both knew he could not have a slushy from one of those machines. With his counts that low it is too risky for him to be exposed to some bacteria in the machine and not be able to fight it off. I know it sounds pathetic, but sometimes a simple slushy can put you over the edge. When he said it all you heard was silence in the car. I think we were all hoping he would think we didn't hear him and then forget about it. I certainly wasn't going to answer. I figured Chris was thinking the same thing I was and I was more than happy to let him be the one to say no this time. But believe me, Chris left ample room for me to have to answer so he certainly was thinking the same thing as me. Poor CJ...how did he end up with such cowardly parents that can't even say a firm no to a slushy? I know it sounds ridiculous but thing kids with cancer and their siblings hear "no" more than you may think.

So I spent the morning I was supposed to be boarding a cruise ship trying to readjust to the fact that I am not on vacation and my brain was definitely lagging behind in the change of plans. I had no food in the fridge since I was supposed to be gone for a week, I couldn't go anywhere, and I needed to rethink my schedule now that I was home. I confess that I was still a little perturbed that we were not sipping coca cola with little umbrellas in it or whatever you do on a cruise, when I sat down to update this post and a message came in to the blog comments.

It was from a mom we met at the cancer camps we attended last year. We also had the opportunity to deliver a Thanksgiving Box (that one of you made) to her family for Thanksgiving. Her daughter Carina, age 12, was also diagnosed with Lymphoma right after CJ. The message relayed that she was in the maintenance phase of chemo, just like CJ is, when she had an unexpected relapse. Within 40 days of her relapse she left this life to be with the Lord.

I had the privilege of spending a couple hours on the phone with her mom this afternoon. I was hoping to support her and offer her some comfort and instead, God used her to minister to me and encourage me. She not only shared Carina with me in a way I will never forget but she shared her faith with me in a way that will change the course of my life forever.

At that moment, I was completely aware and understood why we were not in the middle of the ocean sailing to the Bahamas. There was work to be done in my heart and words to be shared between two moms who have watched their children battle cancer. I would not have rather been anywhere else on earth at that moment than on that phone crying and praying with this mom. What a blessing!

Once again, the Lord hears the struggles and frustrations of my heart and says, "Just wait....pay attention... you will understand soon enough." I don't find it odd that one of the things this mom shared with me was to not question God in what seems like interruptions or delays. He is in complete control. This mother lost her daughter LESS THAN A MONTH AGO....Please hear that.... LESS THAN A MONTH AGO and she is encouraging me to not lose sight of Him and to trust Him. There is nothing more powerful than that.

Meanwhile, Poppa Enzo is back in the hospital today. He has a fever and an infection in the port which needs to be removed immediately. However, he is extremely weak and his counts are way down so any surgical procedure is risky. We are praying for a miracle and healing for him if you are willing please join us in that prayer! I just can't imagine my kids losing another poppa within months of losing their Poppa Jerry so tragically.

I am sorry this post is all over the board. It only demonstrates the state of our hearts and minds right now.... all over the place. From highs and lows to joys and sufferings. Such is life, but at the speed we are coming around each bend it is impossible to even catch our breaths.

Thank you for your continued prayers.

Please lift up CJ for a boost in counts and that there is no relapse of cancer now or ever.
Please lift up Poppa Enzo for healing and strength.
Please remember to lift up sweet Mackenzie as the doctors reconsider her treatment options.
Please lift up Carina's family (the DaCosta Family) as they mourn her loss and cherish her memories.

I leave you with the words of Carina's mom....

" (As Christians) We raise our children for eternity. We raise them to spend eternity with the Lord. That is our focus. We raise them to be prepared to meet Him face to face. That is our greatest goal and hope for them. Why when they are there, do we dare say "send them back here". She is there. She is where I want to be. I will miss her until I get there."
She also said,

"Cancer did not take my daughter. The Lord took her home."

You have just witnessed profound faith my friends. If I am ever called to walk that road may I be found even a fraction that faithful!