Collateral Beauty- Movie Review

I don't know if you can call it a review nor do I pretend I can write one, but I will try to write one nonetheless. It won't be your typical review because I'm not a movie critic and because it will be very personal.
There are two reasons I feel I need to write this:
1) As soon as I left the movie theater I knew critics would be giving the movie grief. I just felt it in my gut and I was right.
2) The movie is a true gem for us, the hurting. 

Spoiler alert: This is a review for those who've watched the movie.

The movie's trailer is very deceptive, and it was the first critique the movie receives. The trailer shows us Will Smith's character, Howard, suffering from losing his child and being visited by an anthropomorphic personification of death, love, and time and engaging him in conversations. This is and is not the what really happens in the movie. Critics called this a marketing strategy to deceive moviegoers to see this movie. Why is this an issue? I don't know. Yes, it was a marketing scheme, but it in no way robbed the audience from a surprise that was gratifyingly to watch. 

It turns out the so called death, love, and time are not "angels" but actors paid by Howard's cowokers to deceive him into thinking he is truly speaking to death, love, and time. It was actually refreshing for me, because the former idea of the movie has been done before. This time around, we get to see the actors prepare for confronting Howard with the help from his coworkers, who happen to be his closest friends, and we get to see how the actors feel from the experience.

Death, played by the wonderful Helen Mirren, is delightful to watch because she is so excited about the part and Howard's reaction to their encounter. Critics attacked this for causing humor in situations that should be more sullen. This might be true sometimes, but the movie was dealing with a two-years-have-passed situation where some moving on should have happened. Dealing with death shouldn't always be dark; after all, it is a natural part of life for all. It doesn't cause any humorous reaction in Howard, but it jolts him out of his stuck state of mind.

Each of Howard's friends are respectively paired with one of the actors with one currently dying of cancer, one with her biological clock ticking, and one losing the love of his daughter after divorcing her mother for cheating. The critics called this cheesy and a far fetch. How was this far fetched? My own cancer story has deeply touched many around me even if they are not personally dealing with cancer. My writings on living each day to the fullest, being grateful for all that you give for granted, and find peace in a despairing situation strike a chord with everyone that reads them. Just because you are not dealing with a life changing situation, where everyone can see your pain, doesn't mean you are not struggling or hurting. The struggle to love well, use time wisely and not waste it, and the fear of death is universal. It was great to see these secondary characters' struggle and pain acknowledged.

The critics also jumped on the moral wagon of the wrong these so called friends where doing to Howard by making him look demented before a business board to take away from him the power of decision making. Howard's decisions have brought everyone around him to the brink of losing everything they've worked for all their life. Honestly, these coworkers should have never had to go to such lengths to take the power of decision making from him. Howard is the first to admit that and admit he was not in the right state of mind. My husband still consults me in the decision making in our house, but the power is always his. I am not in the right state of mind. Giving decision making power to someone in a bad state of mind is irresponsible and damaging to the hurting. We want to be treated like a normal person, but our helpers in this hurting time must set boundaries. This is the first recommendation psychiatrists give to help people with clinical depression or with mental health issues. 
I am not dealing with either, like Howard clearly is, but cancer has a very powerful blurring tool to reality.

Now let's tackle the big issues critics had with the movie. The movie gave no answers or any sort of enlightenment so Howard can come back to the land of the living. I actually found this refreshing. The woman that leads a group of beareved parents Howard joins says it clearly "There is no way to fix it. There is now way to make the death of child right." That is the main problem with those who try to help the hurting; they try to fix you. I have the tons of emails of people sending me links to the miracle pill or miracle fruit or miracle diet I should be taking to get cured. When I cry from the despair of the ongoing cancer treatment, surgeries that mutilate my body and take away any trace of my womanhood, and the permanent new me I need to learn to embrace, people around me jump to give me their platitudes. 
"We are all dying","You are lucky to be alive", "Don't cry, everything will be alright." "I am convinced you are already cured." "Now you can stop being afraid of death because you are in remission." And the ones that truly turn my stomach: "God gives His toughest battles to His strongest warriors" or "You are such a strong warrior." I am sorry, but I will scream in caps now. NO!!! I AM NOT STRONG OR A WARRIOR. I HAVE NO CHOICE! And the really irking "Everything happens for a reason." NO! WE WERE NOT CHOSEN AND THERE IS NO REASON FOR THIS PAIN!!! These things happen because we live in a fallen, broken world and it's part of life. It just sucks, but we try to keep living. I've said this before but I'll say it again: If you don't personally know what it's like limit yourself to say: "I am very sorry", "At what time can I come to your house to do your laundry, or your cleaning, or your cooking, or do your grocery shopping, or babysit your children", and "I love you." The typical "I am here for you" and "Call me if you need anything" does nothing. Don't say it, be there. And the hurting will never call for help; we don't even know what we need.

The hurting learn to take your platitudes and reply with a "Thank you", even if you don't know you are making our cross more heavy. You see, we know you mean well, but your good intention comes from a place of selfishness. You are in pain because you se me in pain. The sooner I feel better, the sooner you'll feel better, so you want to speed that process. You don't know what it's like to cry with those who cry, to be there through the tears and pain without saying anything and really, truly being there.

Howard's second encounter with death was truly beautiful. You can see he has tried. He has tried to not fear death and see it as natural. He has researched and tried to see death from the different points of views of religions and cultures. The critics said the movie's cheesiness makes you want to vomit. The only time I regurgitated was when Howard shares the ugliest platitude he has been given that is way too common: "God saw the most beautiful rose in the garden, and He had to pick it up for Himself." It makes me want to vomit that people actually say these things, and I'm glad the movie addressed them. Death says nothing. What was there to say? Time and love do say something to him around the lines of "Stop wasting the gift of time" and "You cannot live without love." This only made Howard angrier, but it caused something in him because he once again reaches out to the grieving group. 

Where is the collateral beauty? For some, like me, it's pretty obvious. For others, it's a mystery. I can still see the collateral beauty of Kara Tippets two years after her passing. You see in the movie a parent seeing that beauty, being that beauty. You find purpose in your pain, not because that was the reason for it, but because humans are resilient and surprising. You find that beauty in the connections and the compassion you never knew how to harness before.

Death does say something, but not to Howard but to Howard's friend dying of cancer wishing, like me, to live to see his son grow up. She says "Some things never truly die." This could be a platitude if it's given by the wrong person or to the wrong person or in the wrong time. I know it in my walk with Kara. I know it in my sweet Kinsley, my four year old cancer buddy that was called home a week ago. That is the main thing Kinsley's parents have been sharing: the little ways and things that makes them know and feel Kinsley is still with them. They're never truly gone. We carry them in our hearts. 

The final critique was the movie's two plot twists. The first one is very plausible given Howard's state of mind and it added to the story, though I'll admit it was not necessary. The second one I'll admit was a far fetch and unnecessary to the story, but it didn't make the movie tank. Cancer has taught me not to sweat the small things. Maybe critics can learn a lesson in that.

From someone living in a hard place, I can vouch for this movie. It was truly beautiful. There's no fixing pain and grief. Grieving is ok. At the end, all we can do, which Howard does, is go through the stages of grief, hopefully reaching the last step. We don't find answers to life and love and why. We live.

Will Smith, Helen Mirren, and Kate Winslet where a delight to watch. Critics got this one wrong. Just check most forums.

Images from Warner Bros.


The Power of Prayer

We had the infamous talk.
Not because it is necessary, but because the "what if" is always looming.
"What are you going to do if I die tomorrow?" I asked my husband.
He sighs. He hates those questions and hates that we've been put in situations that warrant those questions often these past year.
I go to bed with the question hanging over my head, but not in too much distress.

The morning of the surgery I am crying my eyes out.
I go into the OR in deep despair that is discernible in my countenance.
Everyone around me thinks it's because I'm scared. It is not.
No one makes a question and they even try to ignore my red eyes and shivering body and pretend all is good. But I went into that surgery without a single thought for myself.
You see, that morning, just minutes after I was admitted to the hospital, I read that Kinsley was dying.
We had been praying for a miracle from the Mayo Clinic. Kinsley traveled there January second. They said there was nothing else they could do. She seemed fine on her pictures traveling to Rochester. How was it that the doctors were giving her only hours left to live that morning?
"I knew it! I knew she would have a good Christmas, but that was all we were going to get," my mind raced. "Til the very end... I will believe and pray to the very end." That is what I had promised of her and of me, to believe God could do a miracle until His answer was no with one of not breathing anymore. I thought I could stay true to my promise and believe, but I was heart broken. I couldn't pray for a miracle anymore. I just writhed in pain knowing she was taking her last breaths. This was the state I entered surgery. She was the last thing in my mind before I went to sleep.

I woke up three hours later in excruciating physical pain. I couldn't speak, so I started banging my finger monitor thingy against the bed. My face again said it all for the nurse asked me if I was in pain, to which I nodded. I would then dose off after the nurse administered pain killers, and would wake up to bang the bed once more a few minutes later. This went on for various hours. They informed me they had given me plenty of pain killers that would soon have an effect and asked if they could transfer me to the room. They asked if pain was the only issue at the moment. Only issue? Let me see if I can convey the severity of my pain and only issue.

I told the nurses that a cotton belt like the ones they use on postpartum women after c-sections always helped my pain after my own c-sections. They told me a belt was waiting for me in my room. I begged all the way for them to make haste. The poor nurse trying to put the belt on me was shaking from all my pleading. "Please, get it on me. Please, tighter. Please, hurry. Please, please!" I really thought the belt would ease the pain. It did nothing. I asked for more pain killers. The doctor informed me I had already been administered three vials of morphine. They gave a fourth shot of undiluted morphine. Nothing. My pleading just continued and intensified. I didn't scream because they warned me that screaming would fill me with gas making me hurt more and longer. It was now 3 p.m. and the pleading continued with my pain not diminishing one bit. I didn't think of Kinsley in all that time. I don't think I thought anything at all. Pain was all-consuming. Pain was the only issue, but pain was all there was. The doctor gave me Fentanyl, which is supposed to be 4 times stronger than morphine. He explained that if that didn't work, he would have to give me an epidural. I wanted the epidural right away, but he said we had to wait. When an hour had passed and my pain had not subsided, I begged for the epidural. The doctor was on a personal errand and would not return for the next four hours. I was in totally agony. Such was the agony, I didn't feel a thing when he put the needle in my spine. I just kept pleading and pleading. That finally worked and I found release around 8 p.m.

Pleading. My mind, finally free to reappear, made me think of that word: pleading. "Why had I not pleaded more for Kinsley? Why did I stop begging with all my heart before the only One Who could do something? My mind went back to Giana. When she was going to have her surgery, her dad posted on Facebook asking for prayers. I remember how nonchalant my prayer was. "Please may the surgery be successful and help speed up Giana's recovery." That was it. We, his dad included, didn't even fear the surgery could be fatal; it was routine. Could I have interceded for her better? And Kinsley? I stopped rubbing everyone's faces on her dire situation in search for prayers. I should have been a more inconvenient beggar. I should have begged for more knees bent in supplication for her. My husband was the only one to ask of my tears before the surgery. When I told him the tears were for Kinsley he became exasperated with me and I became irritated with him. I should have given him more credit. I should have known he was in distress for me and had only room for that pain in his heart at the moment. His Facebook page too had requests for prayer. When he came into the recovery room and saw me open my eyes he said "Now I can breathe." This was the same remark my mom made when I came back from my second trip to the OR and color had returned to my lips and I was no longer tightening my teeth from so much pain. She too posted prayer requests in her social networks.

At 12:05 a.m. of January 6 Kinsley gave her last breath. She was six months shy of turning 5. I know the severity of my pain was closely linked to the entirety of the brokenness in my heart in anticipation to that moment. I have no idea how her parents kept breathing past that hour. I was having a hard time doing so, and I never met her. I couldn't stand the thought that I was still breathing, even if I can't yet cry victory, and she wasn't. My smiling cancer companion was no longer in this world. Before surgery I thought how I wish I could change places with her, that it be her having surgery with more to do to try and save her, even if I had to give her my chance to be saved from wretched cancer.

But the power of prayer perhaps is not in the answered prayer, but in how it makes us one. Wasn't that what Jesus prayed for us? My heart had to understand taking her was Your will, as it was when You took Giana. So, so many prayed for both. So many hearts were one for both. I have mothers and strangers write to me saying they pray for me as if praying for themselves. I believe them. I believe they hurt with me deeply when they pray for me. Prayer is that powerful. It bounds us to Your will, but places us in Your hands. Was there a better place for us to be? Is there a better place for Kinsley and Giana now than on Your hands? Prayer made me one with Giana and Kinsley. My girls know those names perfectly for they prayed with me and heard me pray for them every night. They saw me cry out in tears to the Lord for their lives like I prayed for them and myself. They prayed for them. I talk about them and think about them constantly. I am happy I carry them.

Ephesians 1
18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,
19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength
20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms

John 17
15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.
21 that all of them may be one,Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one
23 I in them and you in me, so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Ephesians 6
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

Psalm 141
2 May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.

Romans 12
12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Romans 8
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

Matthew 6
9   This, then, is how you should pray:
     Our Father in heaven,
     hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
     your will be done,
     on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
     as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.

Please, be one with me in praying for Kinsley's family. Oh how my heart has hurt for Giana's parents this Christmas without their beloved and the memory of the accident that claimed her. How my heart hurts for the emptiness Kinsley's parents have been left with. Oh, that the wicked may depart and they could come back to us instead! But they know not anymore of suffering, despair, brokenhearted, deceit, and horrid pain. It is us who grieve and still know the tremendous pain we are left with. Pray God consoles us all. Let prayer answer Jesus´ prayer for us. Kinsley is survived by her mother Matelin, her Father Aaron, her big brother Jasiah, and her little sister Taytum, and many relatives and friends who love her dearly. I love her dearly. She is forever a part of me, engraved in my mind and heart. Pray for a cure, pray for peace, pray for rest. 
Thank you, Lord, for having formed Kinsley in her mother's womb so perfectly. Thank you for the smiles she shared with all who met her. Thank you that theirs is Your Kingdom. Thank you for your Son Who gives us hope to see each other one day in a better place with no more pain. Amen. 

Team Kinsley forever!


Of Loss and Pain

My almost four year old little girl asks me if she is holding my good arm or my bad arm.
She has learned to look at my chest where it's flat to check the answer to this question. 
She draws with her finger on top of my shirt the scar she knows is beneath iand says "This arm, the one with the line."
I tell her I will be getting a new line on the other side pretty soon. 
She jumps and says "Will you have two bad arms?"
"No, baby. The other arm will be fine."

Sleep time is the worst time of the day for me. The lymphedema in my arm limits my sleeping positions making it almost impossible to find a comfortable position. The neuropathy in my legs product of the aggressive chemo is also more present in bed. Most nights I sleep in one of the girls' cribs to make sure they don't wake up their dad. I don't mind the ache from sleeping in the confinement of such small space because the pain is the same anyway. Pain wakes me up at least twice and most of the time more each night.

This week I've bathed 3 to 5 times daily seeking desperately for the soothing release from the hot water on my body. I've been short-tempered due to all the pain and discomfort, and I am specially impatient with my girls. I can see clearly how their misbehavior is a cry for attention, my attention, and I haven't given it to them. People look at me and see how well I am doing. They don't realize I'm not the same. I'm just a remnant of my former self. I need to mourn my old self and learn to accept this new self. It is sometimes discouraging when the thought that all this loss could have been for nothing creeps into my mind. 

Chemo sent me into early menopause, so I've been experiencing hot flashes for the past month. At least it won't be something new after they remove my ovaries and uterus. Menopause sucks big time. The hot flashes makes me want to rip my skin off. It comes accompanied by an immediate migrane that makes me want to throw up. I told my mom she'll come to me for menopause advice and for the first time I'll tell her: "You'll understand me when you get it." I would recover ovarian function in two years, but I'll be taking my ovaries out January 5th. 

I don't want this post to be about complaining. Life is a little more normal and easygoing than it has been the rest of the year. It just hurts people only get to see my strong face and not know of the brokenness beneath. 

I loved how David could bear his brokenness to God.

Psalm 22:1-6, 9-11, 14-15, 17, 19, 22-24, 26-27 
My God! My God! Why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far from delivering me— from my groaning words? My God, I cry out to you throughout the day, but you do not answer; and throughout the night, but I have no rest. You are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. Our ancestors trusted in you; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried out to you and escaped; they trusted in you and were not put to shame. But as for me, I am only a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by people. Yet, you are the one who took me from the womb, and kept me safe on my mother’s breasts. I was dependent on you from birth; from my mother’s womb you have been my God. Do not be so distant from me, for trouble is at hand; indeed, there is no deliverer. I am poured out like water; all my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax, melting within me. My strength is dried up like broken pottery; my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth, and you have brought me down to the dust of death. I can count all my bones. They look at me; they stare at me. But as for you, Lord, do not be far away from me; My Strength, come quickly to help me. I will declare your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation, I will praise you, saying, “All who fear the Lord, praise him! For he does not despise nor detest the afflicted person; he does not hide his face from him, but he hears him when he cries out to him.” The afflicted will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise him, “May you live forever!” All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord; all the families of the nations will bow in submission to the Lord. 

Don't hide your brokenness or deny it before God and others. There is beauty in sharing our brokenness, companionship in knowing we are not alone. This is not how I feel about my life or my main daily thoughts, but they are part of my life. They are part of my talks with the girls. They are part of my daily struggles. They are a part of God's will in my daily walk. They are a new part of me: the loss of my body parts, the loss of my fertility, the loss of the ability to breastfeed and procreate, the loss of the capacity to extend my family, the loss of dreams and hopes, the loss of the promise of tomorrow (none of us really have but live as we do), the loss of a good night sleep, the loss of my youth (chemo aged my body ten years or more). 

So what is the purpose at looking at all the pain and loss? For one, it shows you how much you use to take for granted and how much you've always had to be grateful for. It shows you how much your are capable to endure and the beauty of being alive many don't appreciate. It shows you the preciousness of God telling you His mercies are new each day and how now you are able to see those mercies more clearly. It gives you the opportunity to truly test your faith and know if you and your family will praise God come what may, the opportunity to know joy when faced with many trials most don't understand, the opportunity to experience true peace when you trust in God wholeheartedly, the opportunity to be refined by fire and come out stronger and shinier with a mind for the eternal, the opportunity to see and  know who will really be there for you and truly love you, the opportunity to find love in the least expected people and even strangers, the opportunity to touch other lives and leave a legacy. 

Loss is hard. I hope I didn't sugarcoat that. Don't come to a person in pain and tell him not to feel this or that way. Acknowledge pain and be willing to cry with them. That is the best thing you can do: cry and just be there, with no words of what to do. Only those in pain really know and can advice one another. Those who don't know pain usually come with platitudes that do more harm than help: "Don't cry, trust God." "This too shall pass." "You are not going to die because God is able." "Don't let pain defeat you." "If you stop thinking about the pain, you'll feel better." "The Lord is in control." Goodness, they might be true, but don't help one bit and actually annoy the person hurting. Talking of loss is good. It gives the one losing an outlet, and the one beside an idea of what is going on. The only thing you should say is "I'm sorry", "I'm here for you" (and actually being there), and "I love you." 

If hurting was a sin Jesus would not have felt afflicted before being crucified. 
If talking of affliction was wrong David would have not written that Psalm. 
Don't let anyone deny you your pain; God doesn't. 
Don't feel alone in loss or make anyone feel alone for being in pain. 
Remember the end of that pain, like the psalmist did, is to praise God. 


Would you change anything?

Apparenty movie watching has had deep impact in me these past days. 
I actually don't watch much tv and can't stand watching new movies right now, but loved this one.
I am sorry that once again I must give a spoiler alert on one of my posts, but this one needs to get out of my head in written form. 

Spoiler alert. If you haven't watched the movie Arrival and don't wish to know the end, walk away. 

I must say i never knew a trailer could be so misleading. The trailer makes you think the movie is about an alien arrival and the search for the reason of their coming before responding with hostile action. Are they here peacefully? Should people try nuking them even though they haven't made any action that merits that? I love these kinds of movies, the intriguing, intellectual kind. But this one had a component that hit me real hard with the two things I've struggled with this year: the loss of a child and cancer. The movie starts with Amy Adams' character remembering joyful times with her daughter and later remembering the untimely death of this child in her early teens to cancer. 
I really think the trailer should give a hint to this because a parent who lost a child and wanted to go to watch an alien movie to blow some steam will walk out of this movie seriously troubled. 
After these opening scenes, she tells of the day "they" arrived, making individual matters go to the backseat. She is a linguist specialist and is summoned by the military to meet the aliens in an attempt to try to communicate and understand the reason of their arrival. 
Throughout the process of learning their language, she keeps having flashbacks of her daughter and their moments shared together. 
In her final encounter with the aliens, she has mastered their language and makes an astonishing question: Who is that child? 
You realize until this point that she is not having flashbacks but flasforwards. The alien explains that mastering their language gives a person the ability to see the future. 
This is a shocking revelation. Amy's character knows that if she has a child she will lose her to cancer. She keeps having flashforwards and learns that when she reveals to her husband that she knew all along thier daughter would get cancer and she decided to have her anyways, he leaves her. 
At the end of the movie she poses a question: If you knew, would you change anything? 

I couldn't stop crying thinking how I'd feel if I were in her shoes. How would I be able to enjoy a moment with my daughter knowing she wouldn't be with me for long? I would cry every time I see her. There is a scene where Amy's charcter tells her daughter she is unstoppable. The girl smiles, says "I'm unstoppable?", and hugs her mom. I would literally break down. 
I was watching the videos Kinsley's mom had been posting of their time in Disney. Kinsely had the time of her life. Her smile goes from ear to ear. I don't know how her parents do it. How do they enjoy time with their little girl with the knowledge this is probably the last time she'll feel well? I can't even write that without starting to cry. 
Yesterday I was telling a friend I don't live my life as if cancer is gonna come back and claim my life. I live as though I am completely cured. If I live this way and cancer does come back, I would have lived my time left much better than if had lived in fear and hopelessness.
I admire Kinsley's parents deeply. 
In a sense, it is better to know time is ticking and we need to make the best of our little time here.
A conscientious sense of our mortality shows us the nonsense of our time usage. All that time amassing money and possessions instead of amassing great relationships, moments and memories, love and laughter.

But instead we live in the era of information to use that precious knowledge to continue our selfish ways. Nowadays, a parent can know before hand if their child will be born with a birth defect or down syndrome. Instead of using that knowledge to prepare for this child, they choose abortion. 

What about my personal story? 
I have breast cancer caused by my genes. My cancer is hereditary. There is a 50% chance either one of my daughters got the gene from me, and if they did it gives them an 85% chance of breast cancer and 40% chance of ovarian cancer. If I had had knowledge of this gene in my body before having children, the doctor would have suggested I get my embryos screened for the gene to avoid passing this malignancy unto another generation. You could think there is nothing wrong with that, but would those children be Emmalee and Kaylee? Would I risk changing that in my past and not have them specifically? Those toes and fingers, eyes and smiles, voices and personalities?

The movie hit me hard when I remembered something I said when I learned how dispiriting my diagnosis was: I wish I had not become a mom. I said this thinking how awful it would be to orphan my girls so young and how I had always wished they didn't grow in a broken home. I take that back. If I hadn't become a mom they wouldn't be here. Those toes and fingers, eyes and smiles, voices and personalities that drive me so crazy wouldn't be here. 

I don't know if I could do what Kinsley's parents do knowing what's to come. 
And in my case, I don't want to go. 
And I remember One Who prayed like me not to have to take this cup but let His Father's will be done knowing what this will was.
Have you heard the story of the One Who knew and didn't change anything?

Matthew 16

21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Jesus knew He would die for our sins. He also knew that through His death He would become the lamb of God to clean the sins of whoever believes He is the Son of God and offers forgiveness of sins for us to spend eternity with Him in Heaven. 
I wouldn't change getting cancer if that has allowed me to tell His message to more people. 
We avoid heartache because our concerns are merely human concerns. 
Most of us are not willing to accept that heartache is part of our journey.
There is heartache even in the good marriages.
There is heartache in parenthood. 
There is heartache in compassion and opening our hearts to those around us in need.
It is heartache that makes me pray for Kinsley each day and makes those who read my blog pray for me.
And all that heartache only has purpose if you bring Him glory.

All we have is today anyways; live it right.
Would you change something? 
I would tell you to change yourself today and live for what is worth living.

Check out these gorgeous little ladies I wouldn't change one hair of or one day spent with them.


The House of Mourning

I went on a date with the hubs Sunday night to watch Doctor Strange. I am a huge Marvel fan, and an even bigger Benedict Cumberbatch fan, so I was really excited about the merge of both. I was not expecting to leave the movie theater with a lesson on life and death. I mean, it's a Marvel movie, for crying out loud. Most people will overlook the lesson or not grasp it completely, but my current situation makes me more attune with these themes.
Today I am specially sensitive to these topics. Today I found out the little four year old girl I've been desperately praying for, Kinsley, is probably not going to survive her liver cancer. The third and last chemotherapy had no effect on her tumor, and she can no longer receive radiotherapy.
I had not cried for her thoroughly until I was in the radiation machine getting my fifth session. I remembered her mom posting how scared Kinsley felt all alone in the radiation machine that she needed to be sedated. This time around, her cancer had spread to her lungs and sedation was not an option. She was so brave learning to stay still alone in there at such a young age. I should know, I am aware of how Emmalee would act having to be left alone and immobile in such a position and place. Radiation greatly reduced her tumor between her lung and heart making her heart rate and breathing normal again allowing her to sleep. This will allow her to make a make-a-wish trip feeling strong and healthy. She will recover from the side effects of her treatment before her tumors overtake her health and later her life.
I tried not to move during my session while the tears made my eyes itch and my breathing became uneven. I sobbed soft "please Jesus, in your name, please" as I prayed for her cancer cells to just die. It happens. Cancer cells have figure out a way to outlive cellular expiration, but there have been cases where the cell just autodestroys. Doctors can't explain those cases. I thought of writing to her parents asking if they could do immunotherapy. Then I thought of my own cancer and how everyone keeps suggesting treatments like I haven't researched everything possible I can do. These parents most definitely have researched everything they can do to try to save their baby girl.
"Why? She is just 4."
I couldn't help it. I questioned.
I recently learned from my study of the book of Job that Job questioned God and even after that God affirms that Job did not sin.
I found it strange finding my mind going back to Doctor Strange. (Ha! strange, Strange)
Spoiler alert! Don't keep reading if you haven't watched the movie and don't wish to know anything that happens.

Here is Team Kinsley's photo. 
The Ancient One has taught Doctor Strange many lessons on the multiverse, astral projection, teleportation, opening portals, using the force and what-not. He reads a whole library on mysticism that would be hard to understand for pretty much everyone. At the end, the Ancient One explains the arrogant and brilliant Doctor Strange he has yet to learn the most important and simplest lesson of them all:
"It is not about you."

Life on this Earth is not about us.
What does that mean?
I don't know.
It probably means something different to all of us.
I do know one thing: it is true.
And she ties it with the reality that is everyone's inevitable end: we all die.
And somehow, she asserts this is what gives meaning to life.
I'll come back to this.

Everyone likes to think of destiny when thinking of finding their spouse or making that dream trip.
However the truth is we are destined to die.
Not only are we destined to die, but the day has been set.
The Bible says our days are numbered.
How can death give us meaning?
And how can we make this inevitable event a part of our life?
This brings me to the book of Ecclesiastes:

Ecclesiastes 7
2 It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting; for that is the end of all men, and the living will lay it to his heart.
3 Sorrow is better than laughter, for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.
4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider this: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him.

I often wondered about this passage.
How can it be better to be in the house of mourning? 
We have been thoroughly studying the gospel of John in our home church,
I've read the words "Whatever you ask in my name you will receive" many times. 
My father-in-law reminds us that verse has second part "if we ask according to His will."
I pulled a Gideon on God. 
I came to my room and asked God to prove Himself to me, prove that verse is true and we shall receive what we ask in His name.
I prayed, asked, begged with all my heart "In Jesus' name, give Kinsley a miracle. Make this last chemo work."
How could this not be in His will?
I thanked Him because it seemed He had answered. 
And now it turns out He hadn't. 
Only radiotherapy worked and thus only her tumors on the left shrunk while the tumors on the right side grew. Now she has reached the permitted amount of radiotherapy and has been sent home to live peacefully until her tumors grow again. 
Why? How is this better than the house of mirth?

I go to the only answer I have for everything that happens; I give thanks. 
Gratitude and peace are not exempt from tears. 
I think of Giana and Bailey, who are forever with me and a part of my heart. 
They wouldn't be had they not been called home. 
They changed me. Their lives changed mine forever. 
Thousand miles apart and never having met, two girls changed my life for the better. 
They make me appreciate each day, pray with passion, remember them with joy, stay in awe of how they were able to touch my life and the repercussions they will have on those that surround me, on how I view and treat my daughters and my husband.
I was in their house of mourning and took them with me forever. 
I think of my own journey. 
It astounds me that so many women are praying for me passionately never having met me and how many are touched by my story transforming their own, making us one. 
That is the way death has meaning. 
It joins us. 
It is part of all of us. 

My favorite verses from John this time around were these:

John 17
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one,Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

It makes me sick to my stomach how this is not true amongst my brothers and sisters in Christ.
I'm sick of seeing the division between us.
These are from Great Commission Church, these are from Impacto Church. 
These are from Hernan, and these are from Home church.
These celebrate Halloween, these are against tattoos and dating. 
Ugh, it's revolting. 
I want to see unity in the body of Christ. 
I love that Christ has merged my heart with Giana and her dad, Bailey, and now Kinsley and her aunt and the many ladies in my Mundane Faithfulness Community. 
There is so much mourning in that community I sometimes can't bare it. 
My pain is but drop in some of their never ending oceans. 
My heart breaks so many times praying for these women I will probably never meet. 
Yet God has joined us because of our pain and suffering. 
He has made us part of each other because our suffering has opened our hearts to so much compassion. 
I am grateful Kinsley is feeling better and will have a nice Thanksgiving and Christmas. 
I will pray for her and believe for her the same way I have decided to pray and believe for myself: I will pray and beg and cry out to the Lord for healing and a miracle and believe He is able and will answer until the day comes when or if He says no and calls us home. 
I am so glad her life can have so much meaning and worldwide impact even though she is just four. 
Our days were numbered. 
Some have less days and are leaving a greater footprint on this earth than some who live to old age. 
Some had purpose and gave God glory with their little numbers than others did in a whole lifetime. 
What are my numbered days on earth compared to eternity?
I leave you with this poem;

I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chattered all the way,
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say
I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And not a word said she;
But oh, the things I learned from her
When Sorrow walked with me!
Robert Browning Hamilton


Dear Emmalee and Kaylee

Dear Emmalee,

Oh my sweet girl, you are growing up so fast. I know I probably say this in every one of these letters, but it is so true. You are such a cute, eloquent young lady already. You say things like "that's incredible", "Mission accomplished" when you picked your toys, and "That is fabulous" when you do a craft with mommy. You are so funny. You makes us laugh so hard with your wit and logic. I love seeing the big sister you have become to Kaylee. You still fight and most of your discipline has to do with you punching your sister, but it has gotten better. You now play with each other most of the time, and just fight from time to time. It used to be the other way around. You are still struggling quite a bit with understanding that "no is no." You usually try to negotiate a yes, cry until you get your way, or repeat your request incessantly. Unfortunately for you, mommy is feeling much better and will not give in to any of that. Also unfortunately, you inherited my stubborness and you are taking a while to understand "no is no." Mommy is doing her best to be patient. I am not always loving or patient when I discipline you. I always say this to you as promptly as I can, but I will say it here again; "I am sorry for those times." I really try hard not to let the fact that you are my firstborn be a reason to "use you as practice guinea pig." I pray, try, read, seek advice, and all I can to do right by you. But mommy is learning, so I thank you for your love for me even with my many shortcomings.
Lately we've been having a sort of romance. You can't see me without giving me a hug. I mean every time you see me: when I come out of the bathroom, when we cross paths after lunch, when you come out of your bath, every time you see me! You just want to spend the day with me snuggling. And it feels wonderful. Every time you hug me, you bury your face in my chest, or my neck, or my face and I feel this undescribable, warm feeling spreading to my entire body giving me goosebumps. I love that you do this even after I've lost my temper with you. Your love is so unconditional and pure. You hug me this way even after I have disciplined you and you are still crying from your sore hiney. I know this romance won't last forever, but I am so grateful I get to share this love with you. I get to experience your tenderness and sweetness like no one else will.
Last night we were watching Disney's The Good Dinosaur together. I can see how much your logic and undestanding has developed. You kept asking where was Arlo's father and why he was always crying when he thought of his dad. I couldn't bare explaining to you what death is again. I tried when Alee died. I cried in secret praying you don't have to know what it's like to grow without a parent, especially without a mom. I found comfort that if you did, you would have so much love around you. This are hard things to talk about, but I have shared a wonderful love and romance with you that has filled these days with much more joy than I could have ever imagined. Mommy is doing much better thanks to you. You are so willing to caress my head and my legs when I am not feeling well. You are helpful with your sister, and you have grown inmensely in obedience. I love you, my crazy girl. I love waking up to you calling out for me. I love working out with you each morning doing our kids aerobics. I love teaching you new things and watching how smart and beautiful you are growing.
Love, mom.

Dear Kaylee,

Oh my lovely girl, how do you stretch my heart to new extents for so much love to fit? I have a feeling you will be my little singer, even with your low tone voice. I actually love that your voice is so distinct from most girls your age, and I feel it will give you a very unique singing voice as well. Regardless of your singing voice, you enjoy it and you do it unbashfully, and I love you for it. You wake up to mommy asking you if you want to take a bath, to which you jump joyfully and instantly. You always ask for bubbles, but you are more understanding when mommy daily says no. You and your sister have a new obsession: Paw Patrol. You want to watch it everyday, all day long. Mommy has to make sure you don't and have some play time. You learned recently how to pedal but are still struggling with steering. You love to jump the rope and follow your sister around. You also love to play alone. This is something only you do, as your sister never played this independently. I tell your sister that I try not to have her as guinea pig, but you two are so different you are also a guinea pig. Sorry. I love to see your make believe games at such a young age. You grab your toys and talk to them (in whatever language you are using) and make them interact with each other. It truly amazes me. Your main struggle is not screaming your bloody, shrill "no" when you don't get your way. You have also benefited of mommy's improving health and the fact that she is diligently giving you discipline for each of those ignominous "no!" Instead, mommy is teaching you to say "thank you." When your bath is over and you feel like yelling that "no" when mommy says it's time to get out, mommy tells you to say "thank you" for the lovely bath. You are slowly learning and are slowly becoming more complacent. You had a harder time saying "sorry" when mommy told you to apologize for any wrongdoings. Instead, you used to give us this clenched-fist stand, cold grimace, and "you are dead to me" glance that left us feeling dumbfounded. I am happy to say that look of yours is now a rare occasion. It used to be the other way around. You still have a disproportionate preference to mommy that leaves daddy feeling left out. This is specially hard on him at nights when he tries to comfort you and you keep crying "mommy." You compensate him with the big smile, hug, and the loud "daddy" you give him when he comes home (If you are not entranced watching Paw Patrol). You laugh the most with him. You have these games where he drums over you and you laugh and keep requesting "otta vez" (again). You are in the age where you are not as cuddly as you use to (and your sister went through this stage), but you like to have me close.  You still come over to grab my hand to take me close to where you are playing, at least where you can see me. That is enough for you. You love taking bike rides and walks with mommy and Emmalee to visit the neighbor's dog Mila. You aren't a social flower like your sister, but you are learning how to befriend others. I love watching you with your friend Romina, Anne Marie, and Andres. We are learning numbers, colors, and shapes. You have such an amazing spatial intelligence. You are great with puzzles. You have the patience to try things on your own. You are truly a wonder and beauty. I am so happy you where God's completion to our family. I still feel you would have been the most loving, cuddly big sister. Who knows? Maybe God still has that instored for you. I truly hope I can continue to watch you grow and learn, and keep loving you more each day. Thank you for filling my days with love and laughter.
Love, mommy.


Understanding Suffering

The image is still fresh in my mind. 
The young boy has fairer skin than his father and light blond hair like his uncle Ditto when he was a baby. He looks like a mini Rodolfo. His sisters can't stop touching mommy's belly. 
He would be due this November. 
I would be preparing the baby shower. It would be a Teddy-moonlight theme. I would already have all the decorations done. 
We would worry of what now seems like the "little things": a place to live, money to sustain ourselves, stable jobs, will the girls go to school?, will I be able to stay and homeschool?, can five live in a single room?, will we ever sleep again?, how do we manage with three kids under 3?

We would seriously lose sleep over these worries, yet thinking about it makes my heart jump. 
I have a hard time letting this image go. I am not grateful this isn't my reality. The heart understands not what it wants. 

I have been stripped naked from pride. 
I have never been vain with my looks. The few physical things I liked about myself were my perfect eyebrows and my low-maintenance, shinny, long hair. I still have my perfect profile nose. 
I do pride myself of a beautiful singing voice. I've been unable to sing for a month now from the damage from chemo, and the radiotherapy will further hurt my lungs and throat. 
I pride myself of a sharp mind. Well, my brain cannot even tolerate to focus enough to watch a movie, let alone read anything. Don't ask me anything; my answer is always "I don't know." 
I pride myself of having a "biblical worldview" on family, not desiring treasures from this world, but desiring to fill my quiver with as many arrows as I could for His Kingdom. I feel the same disapppointment in myself I felt when I couldn't bring Emmalee through natural birth, limiting the number of children I could have. Now none of it matters. Nothing I pride myself in matters with God's plans for me and how He wishes to use me. 

A friend recently asked if I thought God has prepared me to walk such a hard road. My answer was yes. When asked why, I. was surprised that I had a reason for that answer. Several months before my cancer my heart was in true angst for the Syrians. The Syrians are constantly on my mind and prayers. My husband would find me hiding in the bathroom crying my heart out from reading the chemical attacks on August 2013, the drowning children and mothers trying to flee to Europe, the homeless chidren facing a harsh winter to closed borders, the little girls being sold as "wives". I recently wrote on Facebook that my hard was nothing compared to the hard of millions. Some think I say this to be strong, but I really mean it. I can talk about the Syrians for hours and I choke back tears thinking about them right now. I also prayed in tears many nights for Giana's life. I feel a knot in my throat just thinking about her. So why did this prepare me for my hard? 

One thing people want to know is "Do you still believe and trust in God?" I find this question odd. I understand that many people turn from God if they're faced with such hard, but this people that claimed to "believe" in God did so in world where such hard already happened; it was just not happening to them personally. Was He not God when others' little children die of cancer? Was He not God when babies had to be dug out from colapsed buildings due to war while losing their parents to the explosion? Can we see such pain in the world and not make it our own? Is that why you can claim to believe in God as long as it is not happening to you? And if does happen to you you'll curse God, but you didn't curse Him before when it happened to others! I think I would prefer an atheist who denies God because he sees suffering in the world, than a "christian" who would deny God because he is suffering. 

We were promised suffering. 

John 16:33
33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

I guess I was prepared because I suffered with others' sufferings. I had cried many miscarriages before my own. I have cried babies lost to SIDS, accidents, cancer. Suffering is not new to me. If anything, it's strange when it's my own. I am so grateful it is me walking this hard and not a loved one, my suffering seems mild. The only time cancer truly makes my heart angst is when I think of the pain my girls and family would suffer from losing me.

Suffering has such a beautiful promise for our faith.

Raomans 5:3-5
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

James 1:12
12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

How can we, then, believe in a God that allows such sufferings, and in His sovereignty, even brings them about in our own lives? I recently answered this question to my brother with another question. Do we really believe what we claim we have believed? Do you really believe that Jesus came to earth to die for you so that you may go to Heaven and be with Him when you die? Because personally my answer is yes, I understand my suffering is temporal. What is eternity compared to this life in this earth? Have I not been promised a new body in a new world? Has my Lord not promised to have a home waiting for me that He has personally prepared? Did He not say He Himself would dry the tears from my eyes and there would be no more pain? I believe. I believe my Sammy is already there waiting for when we meet. I believe my suffering, even if it would end in the least desirable outcome, is and would shape my family's life and faith forever as it has mine. If anyhting, suffering just makes me feel closer to Christ.

1 Peter 4:12-13
12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
1 Peter 4:19

19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

And so I praised God for ridding me of pride and self-righteousness. 
I praise Him for having my baby safe and sound with Him.
I beg Him to give me a grateful heart for what was not.
And I pray this suffering makes me a woman of faith, which has my heart desire since I was twelve.