Sunday, March 20, 2016

  I'd like to thank you all for your support and encouragement that has not ceased since we first heard of Whit's diagnosis last year.  Most of all thank you for your prayers. They were effective and crucial to God's plan for her life as He allows all of us in the body of Christ to participate in the glorious cause of salvation. And thank you for continuing to visit her blog and support both of us in our posts. Sharing through this site has helped me greatly in the healing process. However, I consider it inevitable that I will somehow change the nature of  Whitney's intended purpose for her blog if I continue to post. 
My wife, Ramona Cannon Hardee, keeps posting facebook pics and updates of the kids from time to time if you want to check in on them. Keep our family in your prayers please.

 I will keep this site active for at least another year. Some have suggested collecting her writings for a book. Perhaps that's a good idea. Stand firm in the faith, my friends.
We, as believers, hold that God is in control. We paste it on our facebooks and on our bumpers.  Except for Kris Kristofferson, we don't often ask what we have ever done to deserve the blessings of life.  But when things go wrong, we are faced with a dilemma.  Unbelievers just say stuff happens and that's life.  That was me for a long time. The irony is that I was agnostic during the many years of my life when all was swell. I felt I was living a charmed life...good job, wonderful family, the Chihuahua was housebroken. But I doubted God's existence or, at least, felt there was no way to prove it.  But when Whit was her sickest, I never considered that there was no one there to be angry with.  We, as believers,  can't  say stuff just happens.  Even if we want to blame satan or the bad choices we are allowed to make, God is ultimately in control and that has to be reckoned in our hearts and minds or we end up with a tear in our sail.  
I mentioned in an earlier post that I had become angry with God. I said that it was ok because God is a “big guy”.  After reading back over those statements I felt I needed to add a not-so-little footnote that I never lost my fear of God.  Now I could take the self-comforting route and fluffify that fear of God  into a comparison with the fear of getting blindsided in a pillow fight, or explain that fear with terms  like “awe” and  “ reverent wonder”.  But the bottom line is an element of that Godly fear is because He could revoke my Earth visa any time He pleased in any unpleasing fashion He desired.  Yeah, I’m talking about the same God who composed the little birdsongs to comfort me in the morning as I sit on the porch steps lacing my shoes.  Good for us that that is not His nature.  But if we..if I were to lead someone toward the idea that we somehow had a right to  harbor anger toward God, it would be better I have a "millstone tied around my neck and be thrown into the sea".
I'm not shying away from my trust in the God who built me to understand my frustration and hurt. But a tilt in that direction that goes uncorrected will inevitably lead into treacherous waters--not gale swept torrents, but the horse latitudes where driftless ships thirst for a sip of wind.  God will not leave us in our anger. But if we  drop our sails and paddle hard enough, we may veer from that gentle current.
Last Fall, I was understandably missing a lot of church and had taken a hiatus from teaching Sunday School as it seemed every off weekend I had was spent at the hospital.  I just plain played hookie some other times.  That made it much easier to stay my heading as I avoided my brothers in Christ who can read me like a bold print banner flying behind a turboprop (Google said they are noisy, so..)   We all are blessed with one of those brothers or sisters. Pastor Chris would visit to see how we were doing, but I could always seek cover by tending conversations away from matters of the heart. I did slip once when I quipped that even Jesus felt forsaken. That was cheap.  But, then there were his occasional phone calls...maybe once a week. Pastor Chris never pressed, but the short, asking pause he allowed at the end of my scripted responses became something I wished to avoid.  Looking back, I am ashamed to admit that my  grievance with God may have  begun to infect my relationships with all that I identified with God...or at least anyone or anything that might expose my rebellious course.  But ,then again, isn't that inevitable?   It was rebellion, after all. Rebellion is essentially sin. And rebellion can not, by its nature, be hidden or contained.  I tried.  I would even  flip the radio back over to the "Message" when I got out of the car in case my wife drove it next. But it was cranking "Ozzy's Boneyard" during my drive. Now, I'm not suggesting that climbing aboard  "Crazy Train" is going to carry you to hell. But let's face it, Ozzy is the "Prince of darkness". But why, just because I was having an issue with my faith, would the nature of my musical taste change?  When we change the nature of our relationship with our Creator, everything changes to some degree. It must. Rebellion, unchecked, can be like a cancer quietly tunneling, invading , from organ to organ. 
 Thankfully, God is merciful. But I am accountable.  I am "of age" as a a human being.  When I was a child it was a loosely held truth we would not be accountable for our sins until the age of 12.  I recall thinking that was kinda unfair since you would be too young to commit most of the fun sin. Bear in mind this was the early '70s .  My confessional would have consisted of admitting I raided my buddy's crawfish trap or to changing my "D" to a "B".  Yeah, you could actually get away with that back then. But I have come to believe that we all have our own age of accountability. That is a time in our lives when God deals with us through an experience, circumstance or process and we know in our gut we have been given an offer--no... a choice that is personal, spiritual, undeniably eternal.    In effect, we choose to serve or rebel as we can no longer live in a spiritual Switzerland. And-- while we are spanning the globe--you may be stationed in sunny Hawaii for a while, but you will inevitably be called to the front, or the front will come to you...see "Pearl Harbor".  As in any war, there is carnage, pain, death.   But no one loves peace like a weary warrior.  And no one loves Heaven like a soul who has been through a little hell.  Heaven. It is where all reasoning begins and ends.  "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him."   It is the purpose we seek in understanding all of our sufferings and triumphs. There is but one strait that leads to it. Lay down your oars, lift your sails and the wind will always guide you...the current will always carry you.       And Pastor Chris...thanks for asking. 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

I've shared a few childhood memories on this blog.  This is one that I may regret.  But I'm in my mid-fifties and my motives to impress have receded with my hairline and sagged with my waistline.
 I recall how my Mom would gather my brother and I every night to kneel by the couch and say our prayers before bed. At 5 minutes in, we were anxiously swaying to and fro on our knee caps, occasionally doing the one-eyed squinty peep to see if Mama had settled into the "lounging" kneel which signaled the circumference of our supplications would extend to 4th and 5th cousins. She was one of this would take awhile.  At 10 minutes in, my younger brother had usually surrendered in silent battle to the sandman.  He would lay there in a contorted fashion that testified he had done his best to maintain a posture of reverence to the very end.  At 15 minutes, our pools of drool would puddle together like liquid mercury from broken thermometers. Then, at some point, Mama would utter the words, "in Jesus' name", which triggered a series of involuntary, yet instinctive,  muscle contractions that somehow jolted our bodies back into the kneeling position just in time for the long awaited "Amen".  Then... it was our turn. My brother and I would quickly name off each family member and friend as if brevity would invite an early release. Notta.
 We owe our mother such a wonderful debt that we can faintly repay.  But I always held back one prayer for the privacy of my bedroom.  I recall asking God for super powers...understandably a young child's fantasy. I can't recall exactly which powers, but flying certainly was one.  The troubling part was that it didn't stop there.  I included in my petition that He needed to create monsters in the world so that I could defeat them... big monsters. I'm not sure what that says about me.  But what was the point in having super powers if there were no monsters to defeat?  I was a big Ultraman fan. However, I'm not sure why.  Ultraman  never showed up until most of Tokyo's power grid was in the dirt.

How wonderful to be so childishly naïve as to not realize that we have enough monsters already. Godzilla is easy enough to pick out as he is tearing down power lines and such.  But satan can be much more difficult to recognize. He is a beautiful master of disguise.  How naïve for us to not realize that we need the supernatural power of Christ in our lives everyday. 
I know I may read like I'm handling my loss swimmingly.  But there are moments and minutes when I feel I may drown. That's inevitable. I was warned by others how it would be. But whatever your monster may be, we can't let those moments and minutes become hours and days.  No matter who you are someone relies on you to be a light for them...although you may not even be aware you are being watched.  Don't hesitate to summon that power of Christ as we can not fight these demons alone.  And I mean that quite literally.  I mentioned before how I was an agnostic about God, don't be an agnostic about satan.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

I've been pondering a kind of mystery.  A couple of  weeks ago I stood broken hearted before my church family and thanked them for their prayers and support during Whitney's illness. But mostly, I thanked them for what they were to her in all the years prior to her sickness...examples, watchmen, advocates. As I scanned the congregation I was taken back by the realization that I was standing before a legion of broken hearts.  Granted, we have all buried loved ones.  But then there is that spouse, parent, grandparent, sibling, or friend that leaves a permanent emptiness in our heart....a vacant room with neatly folded memories, familiar aroma and undisturbed bed, perpetually tucked and unslept.  So, I do not presume to have borne a greater loss than any other. However, every parent knows that losing a child is the dread fear... as ancient as Eden.  It is the nightmare that wakes us to watch for that soft rise and fall beneath Ninja turtle blankets or to send a pointless text just for the comfort of a response.  It's bone deep...third degree, like your home is burning down all around you, cauterizing bloodlines, consuming your future and leaving no plan or dream unscorched. The story of Abraham and Isaac points to even God's acknowledgement that the loss of a child is the pinnacle of human fear and pain.  However, He didn't provide the "ram in the thicket" to take Whit's place. The nightmare came true.

Now the mystery... how is it that I am at peace with God? Not only at peace, but on more firm a foundation than ever? Did I forgive Him? Can I forgive God?  I'm not sure that's a question that makes sense as if, in His perfect love, He could require forgiveness.  Or, is there a subconscious mechanism at work that recognizes I must be at peace with God if I am to "go to where she is", as King David lamented?  Frankly, I don't think the answer has anything to do with "I".
   I recall a piece about how Dennis the menace once got a cookie from Mrs. Wilson and mentioned to his buddy, Joey, that he must have been especially good to receive such a reward. Joey smartly responded, "Mrs. Wilson gave you the cookie because she is good." God gifted me something I neither earned nor deserved. He gave because He is good. I didn't ask for it. My prayer was for healing. Asking for peace would have seemed like...well, a lack of faith--to some. I'm not sure I even wanted it as anger can be an effective, yet costly, alternative fuel. But I thank Him with all that I am for that gift of peace.  I know what it is to not feel the presence of God. And I know what it is for Him to draw close.  But peace is only a description of a state of being. What is the source of that peace? Throughout my life I've witnessed this phenomenon through the living testimonies of Christians who transformed sorrow into resolve...despair into determination. I'm not suggesting folks who are not Christians have not found ways to deal with loss. But as mentioned before, we Christians must find purpose in our loss and  peace with our God, as well.
Without exception, all answers relating to our relationship with God are found in the Bible...a source within itself from which countless streams flow.  Someone once wrote that 95% of what God wants to say to us is already written down.  However, that would leave 5% to revelation in some form. But, even in that, we will find a trail leading back to the Source.

 The "Love Chapter" in Corinthians ends with the words, "these things remain: faith, hope and love". Therein lies my answer, the wellspring of my peace!  Paul's letter to the  Colossians describes "the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven". God gave me hope that morning when Whit's doctor gave us the hopeless news. For the first time in my life, my heart made a genuine turn toward Heaven. I think Whitney's already had.

Looking back, I am surprised how small a role the promise of  Heaven and the threat of Hell played in the story of my adult Christian life.  The "New Testament" of my faith was influenced almost purely by the Gospel, the idea that our lives do have an ultimate purpose, and that love, good and justice will ultimately prevail. Once I believed, I followed.  It was as simple and as complex as that. Anyway, if God did not deliver on the Heaven part, I'd be none the wiser. I've been working shiftwork for 35 years so eternal rest with a snooze button set for every 10,000 years sounds not too shabby sometimes. But we can live through the prime of our Christian lives without extending much thought past social security.   Maybe we too closely relate it to death...or to the possibility of Hell. Maybe we are busy building our own little version of heaven...easy enough in a prosperous society.. But maybe part of it is that we find it hard to visualize Heaven beyond pearly gates, streets of gold, and  angelic harps leading us into long hymnal sessions. Actually, almost all hymns--which I love--are about getting to Heaven.

George Bernard Shaw wrote, “Heaven, as conventionally conceived, is a place so inane, so dull, so useless, so miserable that nobody has ever ventured to describe a whole day in heaven, though plenty of people have described a day at the seaside.” It's that "conventional" part that qualifies his statement as worthy of quotation. I've seen many a preacher's fireball fizzle after about 10 minutes of a sermon on Heaven. Just as this post may be fizzling in its effort to offer anything new on the matter.

 Anticipating Heaven can be like booking a cruise far in advance. I recall my first cruise just a few years ago. Understand that I get seasick watching the Bubble Guppies. So, actually paying to suffer at sea for four days never made my top ten list of places to go on vacation.  Nevertheless, I must admit that I was pretty excited when a group of friends asked if we wanted to book a cruise set for the following Spring. I guess a cruise, not on my top ten list, had kinda made its way onto my bucket list. Plus I was smuggling enough dramamine to be the El Chapo of Castaway Cay.  But after a couple of weeks, thrilling daydreams of embracing Mickey--as he would surely recognize me from our brief encounter 40 years ago--and not sea-barfing on his mouseketux began to wane. However, months later as the date neared for our bon voyage, that excitement began to rumble again like an awakening appetite...from which I gained 11 pounds.

 Sometimes I think it is only the very young and the very old who genuinely get excited about Heaven. As children, visions of Heaven and Hell play vividly in the Genesis of our faith.  I actually recall being just as terrified of Heaven after seeing drawings in Bible tracts depicting millions of eager onlookers watching every detail of life stories play out on a massive drive-in movie screen. I'm not sure what thought was more distressing, folks I would be spending "forever" with eye-feasting upon me playing air guitar in my H.R. Puff'n Stuff underwear or the eternity it would take to watch everyone's life roll by in black and white. I recall wondering if they would skip the sleeping parts so as to save time. Bible tracts, as intended, can leave quite an impression on a young mind.

But back to the "faith, hope and love". I get the "faith" part. I have faith that Jesus is the Son of God, He died for my sins and was resurrected on the third day. I walk by faith but that faith is rooted in an event from the past. I get the "love" part . We love each other and we love God. We operate in love as it is kind of a now thing.  But what about hope?  It was significant enough for God to inspire Paul to place it in category with faith and love. But we can treat hope and faith like a combo...the fries with our burger, respectively. After all, "I have faith that you will be healed" has a lot more beef than "I hope you are healed". We might not back up for the fries, but we'll risk a U-turn if the burger ain't in the bag.  Well, I have circled around for McD's fries.  On a side note, this combo does not have a shake...but that's another story.
If  faith is rooted in an event from the past, and love is in the now, then hope extends to us from the future. Not the concept of future as being any point in time after this moment, but try to consider the future as an event, as well. And that hope takes on a greater significance if we consider it as important as love and faith as it relates to our spiritual and psychological well being. After all, it is the source of our love and a life line for our soul. Hebrews 6 calls it an anchor for our soul. And all anchors have lines attached. However, there is one at the end of the Georgetown Jetties that didn't have one. My bad. I just tossed it out there. It had more hang time than  Micheal Jordan. Enough so everyone within laughing distance could see it. But it sunk so fast...

What God really gave me was the realization that when my faith--at times so frayed with life's nicks and cuts it is barely able to secure my ascent-- is braided through and around love and this hope that is a heavenly lifeline anchored in God, looking down looses its perilous fear and looking up reignites a childlike awe and  expectation. It becomes somewhat like Solomon's "three strand cord that is not easily broken". This heavenly hope is invincible. While all other hope is vulnerable, no one can take this hope from you or damage it in any way. It is a gift to us. It is ours to give up.  I've come to realize that the joy many Christians display so soon after the loss of a loved one comes from that renewed hope and love for Heaven as God reveals a glimpse of His gift for them. And a glimpse it all it takes of such a splendor.

 But that treasure is there to be discovered without going through the pain and loss. As mentioned in the previous post from Corinthians, “ no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no human mind has conceived the things God has prepared for those who love him".   Now, I still haven't offered anything beyond Shaw's "conventional conception". But consider the next verses,

 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.
   The first application of these verses would point to the mystery of God's preparation of grace and forgiveness through His Son, Jesus Christ.  But thankfully, His Word leaves some things to our interpretation and imagination. Consider the let down if we discovered that Paul's thorn in the side--an inspiration for countless sermons relating our own spiritual weaknesses--actually resulted  from a tumble in the briars.  I'm not gnostically suggesting that Heaven is anything other than what the Bible says it is. I'm just saying it is much, much more. I would like to believe that God, in His infinite wisdom, knew that each of us would have a unique, personal vision of what our Heaven would be... just as unique and personal as each of our relationships are with Him. You are not a "congregation" to Christ. The Bible tells us Christ has gone to prepare a place for us...for me.  So, naturally, the Bible offers limited explanation for something not yet fully prepared. And, while those efforts may well include the construction of your own personal mansion with all kinds of gold plated stuff, I trust the real preparations are going on all around us toward insuring our loved ones are there. That is our Heaven. My God, that is my Heaven!

But without the Spirit of God living in us we can not get beyond the "conventional concept" of heaven and realize the present significance of genuine eternal hope.  I like that quote about 95% of God's revelation for you is already written down. But as for the other 5%, we must test the spirits--as the Bible warns--where things are "revealed" to us by anything other than His Word.  Everyone loves a mystery. And  here His Words invite us to seek, to discover your mystery of spiritual revelation about the things He has prepared for you...grace, forgiveness, and a new home without vacant rooms.   If we look around the smoldering embers of what used to be our life, God will reveal that shiny picture frame in the ashes--somehow unscathed by the flames--that ignites within us that hope that restores our knowledge in Christ that we have not lost, and that we can grasp the scope and power of the Resurrection that defines our faith, and say out loud, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"!

  Whitney is my glimpse of Heaven.  Now, I consider Heaven everyday...every time I think of her.  Know that my Savior, Jesus Christ, is my first and foremost...but I'm sure He will be ok with Whitney doing the introductions.  God did not provide the ram in the thicket. But He did provide the Lamb on the cross. What a Mystery, indeed!

Friday, January 29, 2016

The "missing" part is slowly coming in like a rising tide that washes away the day's sandcastles.  Each new event that does not include her, regardless of how small, inevitably elbows into that crowded sphere of our consciousness made up of memories and experience. No one wants to be forgotten.  No one wants to forget.  That's why we take thousands of pictures and videos of our loved many that we would never have time to revisit them.  Even so,  by the time we do have time to sit down and reflect months or years later, changes have taken place that make it impossible to recapture our universe as it was that perfect moment,  for our universe it constantly changing. That is the basic nature of time.  I realize I'm sounding like Matthew  McConaughey in a Lincoln commercial.  I get that way sometimes.  But our lives are made up of a long series of "moments" organized, ordered and recorded in our memories.  We are only in any given moment for...a moment.  We have a large canvas portrait of Whitney in our family room. It was a gift from two special friends of Whitney's...of ours.  She's there with her beautiful, bald head and a smile that captures her spirit and the essence of what made her so doggone lovable. When that rising tide threatens to wash away, I focus on that portrait and try to be in that moment with her. I may have to force the smile at first, but her smile takes away all the effort.
It's how I see I want to remember her when she was mine.  We visit briefly...just long enough to resist the tide--a tide that will inevitably return again and again.  But we can't live there. Whitney, and others who have had life cut short, have taught us to love life to it fullest regardless of our situation. We have things to look forward to. We are at our most miserable and love life least when we feel we have nothing to look forward to. It can be a vacation, a date, retirement, or something as simple as a  bag of popcorn and a good movie.  However, we must bear in mind that  whatever it is we look forward to and however far into the future we try to peep, the same inevitable, granite wall arises on the horizon.  But, that's ok.  Whitney's life and faith testified that we don't need fear or recoil from that end to our moments here as we are.
Where she is--where we can be--there are no moments, no need for pictures or videos to remind us of what a wonderful day it was.  We will exist in a perfect day.
 Whitney, in one of her letters to Taylor, said  "If there is any way that I can communicate with you from heaven, I will." I always wondered if heaven may exist all around us...not in a far away galaxy or hiding behind Jupiter. Scientists tell us that, possibly, most of what makes up our universe is virtually undetectable and other dimensions may exist on other planes undetectable to us, as well. So, I have no issue in believing that our loved ones are with God and His presence is everywhere.
 Here I go with another Matthew McConaughey reference.  He was in a movie last year named "Interstellar".  It had a lot to do with time travel and the idea that the only thing that could pass between two instances in time was gravity.  It was how he communicated with his daughter in the past...or in the future of his past...something like that.  Now, I'm sure that God, in His infinite wisdom, keeps a close account of messages from the "other side".  But I would like to think that at those times when we are in His presence--focused in meditation or raptured in praise--and that overwhelming and unexplainable sense of joy flushes through our heart, that same joy is overflowing from our loved ones into us. Perhaps the joy of God's presence, too grand to contain in any dimension or universe, is their way of communicating with us.  I can't think of a more urgent and magnificent message to send.  I can't back that up with scripture, but I find comfort in the possibility.

I'm writing this primarily to those of you who have lost loved ones.  And I know that there are many who may not have the comfort of knowing for sure that their loved ones were "good to go".  I include myself in that group as I have many friends who have passed over the years.  2 Peter chapter 3 tells us  "God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance".  God's Will is that our loved ones are in heaven. His Will raised the mountains and carved the canyons that hold the oceans. His Will brought His Son to the cross to take the blame for our sins. We see firsthand the mass and power of God's creative hand as we marvel at the universe and its vastness in a clear night sky.  I firmly believe that we can apply that same marvel to the vastness of  God's mercy, grace and love.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

My wife, my constant, my axis...she was the foundation of Whitney's faith and fight. Ramona demonstrated the driving force that was the core of Whit's counter attack against a disease that tried to rob her of everything.  That driving force is a mother's love...not just an emotion, but a tangible , measurable, observable, umbilical that is as powerful and as gentle as gravity.   As they say, "man, I'm glad I'm a man", but I envy that connection and what a wonder it must be to have life woven from a mother's own flesh and blood.  I believe the only man that could ever understand that bond would be Jesus Christ.  Consider facebook...a perfect example.  Overwhelmingly, it is the proud mothers who fill the pages with pictures and videos and praises for their children and grandchildren.  It was a mother's love that gave Whitney the will to fight in spite of the pain and discouragement of the darkest days.  It was that same force that kept Ramona on her feet through months of emotional, physical, and spiritual "trauma"...I don't think that is too exaggerated a word to use. I could fill pages with stories of her love and commitment. 
When Whitney was at her lowest, when her pain was the worst, when her arms ached most to hold her children, when Ramona's despair was at its greatest,  I asked myself the hardest question.  If I could have caught a glimpse of our future years ago  when I left a Christmas play practice with the nervous intentions of calling the "leading lady" and asking her out for a date, would I still have asked?    You can't tell this from where you are but I am pausing for about 5 minutes to consider............the answer is always "yes'",  and always will be. 

This was a facebook post I shared a few days ago that most of you have already read.

"Ramona is finally back on her feet. Just two days after the funeral, her back went out so badly she was bedridden for 5 days. She's still not 100%. I actually thought she had slipped a disc. I figured my Golden GIrls  needed a rest and I could handle this. So, I took the week off to "fill her shoes". Don't babies know they should lie motionless when we are changing a poopy diaper? There should be some rules of engagement here. Luke loves to play in the commode. If I could just get him to sit on it. He is a human octopus. Is it really necessary to fold all those towels? So, Taylor's school lunch sandwich has to be cut in what shape? And trim the edges off? Hey, my mama made me eat the edges! Must I sweep before I mop? Does not the dirt get caught up in the mop anyway? Do I have to make Taylor brush her teeth? I mean, she's gonna get new ones. Did I mention Luke is a human octopus? And why can't he wear pajamas all day? Paper plates rock! Had Ramona Cannon Hardee's friends not come to my rescue by day five, I may have stowed away on the next banana boat out of Charleston harbor. But, seriously, she felt it was so unfair to have to lay up for days. But I asked her, what else could have possibly made you get the rest your body so desperately needed after a year of holding our family together? God works in mysterious ways. And, hey fellas, appreciate your ladies."



Tuesday, January 26, 2016

One of the hardest things to watch was Whit's face when she asked when the IV would be hooked up. It was her first evening home from the hospital and she had been unable to eat solid food since Christmas.  We told her there were no plans to hook up an IV unless she requested it.  The reasons for this are complicated and difficult to discuss.  What it boiled down to was that it would prolong what could be an agonizing death.  My God... my daughter was going to starve to death in front of our eyes.  The Bible tells us that God will not place any more on us than we can bear, and I knew that we could not bear to see her waste away.  God bless those who have had to endure their loved ones in that condition. We couldn't let Taylor witness that, but we did not want to send Whitney to the hospice house or hospital unless we had to. Thankfully, that would not be the case. The immediate issue was liver failure. But what we did not expect was the advancement of the lung tumors.  Her breathing became rapid and laborious even with oxygen. It was a relief for the nurses to explain that she was not in any pain. Patrick was making sure of that.
Patrick was changing out her oxygen to use a full mask when her breathing suddenly stopped. It was 9:02 pm. I was standing by his side but had turned away in happened that suddenly.  Ramona and Ryan were there, as were many family members and close friends. I thank them all for being there...we needed them. Somehow, I believe her Spirit had left long before.
For me to actually believe that is a giant step from where my heart was years ago. I am reluctant to share that I was agnostic for about 16 years. I went to church with my family on Sunday mornings but I had lost touch with the faith of my youth. College had a lot to do with it as I was exposed to other religions, philosophy, and all the other -osophies and -ologies.  I would be 44  years old before I re-committed my life to God. But it was a necessary part of my walk because I think I would have become lukewarm if I had not fully committed to God with my heart, mind and soul.  Even in the times I thought I would slip into atheism, I never lost my genuine love for Christ and desire to be a Christian. I know that will not make sense to lots of folks.
Ironically, my anchor through all those years was a healing that I received on the night I got saved. A healing which was eluding my  daughter. It was undeniable...almost scary.  I could not with my best efforts explain it away. It was a gift God knew I needed to keep me when my faith would fail. I hold those who accept God totally by faith in the highest regard.
This is an important fact. Healing did not elude Whitney.  As I have written about earlier, the awful pain and the bout with vomiting blood she suffered in the early days of her diagnosis inexplicably left her days before she began chemo. She had taken herself off the pain meds as they were making her nauseous and unable to hold anything down. The pain, that had grown progressively worse for months, went away. Due to the effects of chemo, she would be tired and anemic in the months to follow but Whitney took absolutely no pain medication--except maybe a Tylenol-- until August when we had to return home from vacation.  Those pain free months allowed her to witness, write, fish, eat, conquer Clingman's dome, enjoy her family, and see Luke take his first steps. It was a miracle that I still can not explain--but miracles, by their nature, defy natural explanation.  These events could be easily overlooked in the chaos of it all as we were looking for the "big" miracle.
As her father, the "big" miracle would have been her total healing.  As a member of the human race, the big miracle would have been a cure. I still pray for a cure... as does everyone reading this, I'm sure. Whitney's story is but one of thousands.  Our story as her caregivers does not even touch the pain and sacrifice of the legion of caregivers out there. God bless the caregivers. And God help those who have no one to give that care.
I'm a firm believer in God's power to heal. But a cure would bypass the "complications" that can accompany  healing. For one, a relationship with Christ that is hinged on miracles is a shaky one.  If one is healed and another is not, we begin to question even more.  Was that one not worthy?  Was there sin?  Did we not do something right?  I can only speak to Whit's situation.  EVERYONE DID EVERYTHING RIGHT. God worked through your prayer. Your prayers healed Whitney in ways you could never know. Your prayers healed my family. Your prayers healed me.
  I've got a lot going on today so some of my ideas are scattered, etc...   Thank you for reading. This is not something I would have ever dreamed of doing had Whitney not started it...but it helps a lot.     

Sunday, January 24, 2016

   In the weeks prior to Whitney's  death--wow, that's sobering to type those words, "Whitney's death"-- we had attempted to set a date to have Luke dedicated at our church. However, Whit's deteriorating condition and our work schedules made that difficult.  So, on Saturday we had a short bedside service with our Pastor Chris and his wife, Sister Karen.  There were several family members present, as well.
 I remember when we dedicated Whitney. In effect, we were giving our daughter back to if she was not His anyway. It's a pretty big deal to dedicate your child to God's His service.  It's not just a tradition, it's a solemn offering of the most precious thing in your life. And when that child grows up and surrenders their soul to God,  it becomes a covenant and we must be prepared for the conditions of that covenant whether they bring joy or sorrow...or both. But we take comfort in knowing the eternal results of that covenant. It was important to Whit and Patrick to dedicate Luke. It was necessary.   It was one of the last things Whitney would be fully aware of,  for just a few hours later her condition would worsen considerably.

During the night, her pain level would increase and a general discomfort set in.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, Patrick stayed in close communication with the nurses and doctors as we tried to maintain a delicate and dangerous balance between controlling Whit's pain and hastening her death.  He honored the vow "in sickness and in health" to the fullest extent possible. He was there to help attend to her every need. And some of those needs were very personal...very difficult. And I reserve the word "very" unless it is very necessary.  I usually took the night shift as I wanted Ramona and Patrick well rested for Whitney's and the children's daily needs.   It was a long night. Her pain leveled off at about 2 a.m. but I was fudging on the morphine to achieve that...waiting  50 minutes instead of an hour between doses.
 Some minutes later, I noticed Whit's hands folded as she was in whispering prayer. I wanted to lean in and listen but felt I would be intruding on a private conversation.  It was more like a quiet discussion with the only person who really mattered at that time...her Savior. I am careful to assign significance to dreams, but, at that moment I recalled a brief dream I had years ago. It seemed to last only seconds.  I was standing before a mighty and blinding light. I somehow knew it was the  essence of God.  My wife, my children, my job, all things passed before me in a blurring moment. But none of them mattered...only the light mattered.  Absolutely nothing else mattered. I know how that sounds but I think it is a glimpse into the power of the presence of God.  Whitney was about to enter that presence. If you can wrap your head around that--if you can wrap your heart around that--your emotions spin around like the wheel of fortune. But if we can manage to take ourselves out of the equation and truly believe what we profess we hold to be true, then there is joy.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Early afternoon of the day Whit was to come home, a dear friend called to share a message from a group of young ladies.  They felt led to organize  a human prayer chain around our home  to pray for Whitney.  They insisted that no one would attempt to come in the house or intrude in any way. I'll have to admit that I was worried about how that might be a little much for Whit if she was still in her delicate condition, but how could anyone turn away what might be a defining act of love and faith.   So, I called back and suggested we do it the next evening when Whit would be settled in better. Early the next afternoon, a few friends began to show up, as did a couple of local news vans.  The news crews--insisting they were not there to intrude in any way--asked me if I wanted to say anything. I responded that I'd just like to thank everyone for all that they had done for Whit.  I walked inside and mentioned my intentions to Patrick and asked if he'd like to say anything.  Patrick can be reserved so I was a little surprised when he replied, "Sure". When the guy finished interviewing Patrick, I just looked at him and said, "I can't touch that, brother." He nodded in agreement.
I don't think they aired the whole statement by Patrick, but it touched on the essence of Whit's message and why it resonated with so many people...even people who did not have faith.  Whitney wanted everyone to share two things with her--faith and  a love of life.
By 5 pm, our yard was full of friends, relatives and lots of folks I'd never met before.  Nevertheless,  every face was somehow familiar.  They came with singular purpose...totally selfless.  They were here for her. Nothing in a Godless theory of evolution could explain why so many would give so much... never expecting anything in return that would contribute to their survival or advantage.  It was an act of love--an act of God.
No one there will ever forget that night. We opened the window and the door as the cool evening air carried  prayers,  songs, and  praise into the front room where Whitney was. She was able to see everyone as they passed by the front window and in the premier moment of  this wonderful, terrible journey, she lifted her feeble hand in praise as she whispered along with "How Great is Our God".  I walked outside and briefly  embraced everyone as they marched around the house. I kinda lost my starting place and probably hugged a few folks twice.  But my efforts seemed incomplete, half-measure...substituted, sorta like my trying to finish Whit's story on this blog.  I asked Ramona what she thought about letting folks walk through.  The nurse agreed it would be alright if everyone sanitized their hands as they came in.  So, we asked Whitney.  She immediately nodded her head as if it was preordained. What followed was pure excellence in full measure.  It was my miracle.  I've never been so proud in my life.  Not just of Whitney, but of everyone there and everyone who was praying where they were.  It was especially powerful to witness  young people and children who held her hand and heard her weak voice tell them to stay the course.  That's got to have an impact.  Whitney glowed for hours after the event. Spiritually, her sails were full.  It was that night she started answering our questions about her well being with, "I'm good to go".   My deepest gratitude to everyone who participated that night..whether you were there or prayed from where you were.

 One of my best friends, so impacted by the event, felt compelled to  return the next few mornings to walk around the house and pray. I usually did not even know he was there.  His wife and daughter came one morning and Whit's dog alerted me to their presence. She was following them around the house barking all along.  When they finished, I asked them if the dog was praying with them. They laughingly replied she was until she started running down the road. I told them, "Of course,  she's Pentecostal".

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The last weeks.
 I believe we spent at least one night in every room of the cancer unit at Trident Hospital since September.  The good days became less and less frequent as Autumn set in,  as if her body was synchronized to the seasons.  During December she would ask for her phone on several occasions but lacked the strength or presence of mind to write like she wanted to.  I believe she was waiting for some good news to kick off another round writing.  The first round of chemo back in the Spring had been like a sledge hammer on her tumors. However, successive attempts to control the tumors had proven lacking.  We traveled to Charlotte to consult with  a specialist about immunotherapy. It is a promising new field in cancer fighting drugs that takes the brakes off the body's own immune system. There was one recently approved drug--of which she took one dose--and several phase 1 and 2 drugs she could try.  But we knew time was the enemy.  We read of new and exciting new cancer therapies almost every week, but the trick is to stay alive long enough to try them.  Whit's cancer was so aggressive it would never allow her that precious time.  She has posted on facebook that the only thing she wanted for Christmas was time.  But the painful irony would be that on Christmas eve her hourglass would shatter...all the sand running out at once.  I was working nightshift and my wife called at 5 am. Whitney was in such severe pain they could not get her into the Patrick's truck.  They called EMS as I immediately left work for home.  Thirty minutes later I would be jumping into the back of the ambulance as Patrick followed us on the 20 minute ride to Georgetown.  The ride was excruciating for her. When we arrived they took her back and performed an x-ray. They suspected a perforation of some sort in her abdomen, but the x-ray did not support that theory. However, a later CT scan revealed that something was, in fact, leaking into her abdominal area.  So, it was another hour long ambulance ride to Trident for surgery.  We were blessed to have a  very good surgeon --even for the night before Christmas.  Whitney's oncologist had requested him.  He explained that Whit  had a fist sized tumor literally explode on her duodenum. It is a short segment of bowel between the stomach and the small intestine.  The tumor was actually dead and was empty.  This was probably due to it outgrowing it's blood supply.  He observed smaller tumors on her liver but none appeared to be significant....for lack of a better word.  The next ten days would be very challenging as she still had to finish radiation treatment for her 4 brain tumors.  Standing and walking was extremely painful.  I thought I had witnessed the maximum pain a human could endure without losing consciousness.  I had not.  Whitney later said that  the pain was so bad  she was sure her heart would stop.  Ever increasingly,  our goal, which was to see her cured, was re-negotiated  backwards to mere pain management. Cancer does not negotiate. It sets the terms--physically, that is.  On a spiritual level, Whitney set the rules. She never lost control of her situation.  I'm not making her out to be some kind of "miss-siah", but her faith never failed.  It was like her faith was some sort of basic element out of the periodic table that could not be reduced.  No one who knew her could not be affected by that faith.
After about 10 days it became apparent that the healing process was not taking shape as we had hoped. We thought that, with the largest tumor out of the way, the smaller tumors would give us time to get rolling on the immunotherapy.  But, inside the liver, the tumors were advancing at an alarming rate.  We would take her home for what would be her final week of life.  Patrick, her husband, was an amazing caregiver.  Whitney actually became terrified of the pain coming back at the level it had the previous weekend.  Patrick assured her that that would not happen.  He rode home with her in the ambulance and never left her side.  Patrick was constantly talking with nurses and doctors to make sure we administered the proper amount of pain medicine.  It was a delicate and dangerous balance between controlling her pain and contributing to her death.  But, once again, cancer had to settle for Whitney's fragile body. It could not take her soul.  A group of prayer warriors would help make sure of that the day after she got home....

Getting late. I'll continue soon. Thanks, Stacy

Friday, January 15, 2016

I'm sharing this in response to several messages from friends who are having trouble with Whit's passing as it relates to their faith, I love them dearly.
My family and I have received so many encouraging messages and comments that it is a bit a very good way. But, speaking for myself, I must confess that I have been bitter. I have been angry. The live oak in my front yard bears a few heel marks from the times when I could not make Whit's pain go away. For weeks I couldn't even listen to Christian radio as I lacked the will or desire to praise God. I felt neither blessed nor highly favored. I lost my "song". I feared that if I lost Whitney, I could never really sing a song of praise again. And, if I did, I would have to "fake it" so my brothers and sisters in Christ would not worry about me, I even strongly considered resigning my position as a church board member as I felt I was losing my compassion, During the worst times, the only way to maintain your ability to function as a caregiver is to somehow "unplug" your compassion for your loved one...not react to the awful pain they are feeling, or find the strength to turn them in their bed to avoid bedsores knowing it is you who is inflicting the pain. If you aren't careful, you can become indifferent to everyone's pain.
But something happened the morning Dr. Saylors came in to give us the dreaded news. At the worst possible moment of all the "worst possible moments", God gave me peace...not a little, but total. It is said that we can find peace as Christians. But I say that peace seeks us out--His peace finds us. We only have to let it in. And I know it's real for even in her pain, even in her last hours, throughout the visitation and funeral... I had that peace. What was most remarkable was that after the funeral, as we sat around the living room, Ryan and Patrick walked in discussing how they experienced that same overwhelming sense of peace as Whit was laid to rest.
I am blessed and highly favored. I held my beautiful daughter for over 28 years. Many parents have never known the wonder of holding their unborn children. I was able to say goodbye to my daughter--to drink her in for a full year. Many never had a chance to say goodbye to their loved ones who were taken too quickly. I have no regrets. Many have lost loved ones before making things right. I have two beautiful grandchildren who are part of who she was. And, most importantly, I know she is in heaven. If you are a Christian, tell your loved ones often that you are --to quote Whitney-- "Good to go". If you are not a Christian, consider listening to what your heart tells you when you all other noises are silent.
So, there you have it---I ain't "all that". But, I think it's okay to get angry with God. He's a big guy. Just never allow yourself to become indifferent to God. So, if you see me singing a song of praise, I ain't faking it. I got my song back. And you guys have everything to do with that.
I hope this helped someone out there as much as so many out there have helped me.
Thanks, Stacy Hardee
Too sleepy to proofread.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Our family would like to thank you all for your constant prayers, love and support for Whitney over the last year. Not only did you share in the light of her faith and courage, but you shared the burden of her darkest days.  So many times when she would retire to her room--our best efforts at lifting her up having crumbled under the weight of our own heavy hearts-she would pick up her phone or laptop and almost instantly be elevated by your messages, responses and phone calls. Whitney touched so many lives only because you allowed her into your hearts.  You didn't join her on her journey so much as allowing her to join each of you on your own personal, unique journey as we all face life's battles.  You were her army. An army of God that appeared out of the bleak horizon and carried her  when she could not carry herself.  Now she has finished her tour. Not without injury or scars, but with a final victory nonetheless. Now we turn our hearts back to the battleground that we so easily forget is raging. Not only to comfort others in need, but to take new ground in faith and courage. We have all gained ground.  We have all grown by the light of her love for Christ--a love light that only radiated more and more... even in the last hours.

Try not to question or doubt  why Whitney was not healed in this life.  Our faith and whether we believe in God's power can not rest on her shoulders. Only Christ could carry that burden.  Whitney's purpose may have been just to confirm in our hearts what we already know to be true.  Only by faith can we embrace the miracle of Christ and the power of His blood.  And only by letting our light shine can we  realize the  fullness of the joy of sharing that miracle. Thank you, Stacy Hardee