Sunday, October 22, 2017

Journey to Her Heavenly Home

I shared in my last post that October is a rough month for our family. Now that I think about it, rough is actually putting it mildly. October is difficult. It is heartbreaking. It is absolutely gut-wrenching. As I write this, we are just days away from the one-year mark of Paige going to be with Jesus. One year. 12 months. 365 days. 8,760 hours. Over 500,000 minutes. Over 31 million seconds. And I have missed, mourned, and longed for that girl with everything I have every single one of those seconds.

Boyce and I have heard on more than one occasion that it doesn't seem like it's been that long. Trust me--it's been that long. To our hurting family, it feels like it's been a whole lot longer. I get it. People around us have moved on. Life must go on, yet we find ourselves struggling as we try to move forward without feeling like we are leaving a precious piece of ourselves behind. Figuring out this still-new way of doing life without Paige is a very slow, painful process.

As much as I've tried to avoid it--by staying busy and go-go-going nonstop--October just won't let us be. Memories of our last month with Paige overwhelm me day and night. Just last week I awoke from a dream sobbing--full-on sobbing--because in that dream I relived every second of Paige leaving us. Every second.

Over the last few years, I've shared how our family's faith and trust in God has carried us through good times and bad. That has not changed. He is always good. He is always faithful. We prayed for Paige's healing over and over and over again. She received it--not in the way we were hoping, but she received it nonetheless. A while back our pastor talked about three kinds of healing: immediate, gradual, and ultimate. While my head and my prayers always steered toward gradual, my baby girl received her ultimate healing when she went to be with Jesus. She is free from the shackles of cancer. She is whole. She is rejoicing.

I've talked a few times about those last days with Paige--but I've never put them in writing. Until now. It's time. It's time to share how I know that I know that I know Jesus came for my beautiful girl in the wee hours of October 24, 2016.

Our last hospital stay was a true roller coaster ride. There were at least 3 times from admission in late September until the day our girl journeyed home that we were told to 'be ready.' That the leukemia was starting to gallop out of control. And it showed. Paige slept more than she was awake, wanting nothing more than her mom and dad right where she could see them when she did open her eyes. The pain--oh, the pain. It hit every part of her body with such force that her usual regimen for pain management wouldn't touch it. There would be a few rough, scary days--and then my girl would perk up, ready for pancakes and maybe a visit or two from family. Then down she would go again. The back and forth was so hard on her. Hard on her parents. Hard on everyone who loved her.

There were tears. So many tears. Tears in the eyes of doctors and nurses as they delivered more and more bad news while doing everything in their power to keep Paige comfortable. Tears in the eyes of a grandmother whose heart was breaking seeing her granddaughter suffer. Tears in the eyes of a brother who said over and over that if Paige left us on his birthday, he would never celebrate it again. Tears in the eyes of a father who realized the only thing he could do--the most important thing he could do--was to be there. And then there was Paige. The most heartbreaking of all the tears shed were those in the eyes of my 16-year-old daughter telling me she didn't want to die. That she wasn't ready. That she knew where she would go, but there were still so many things she wanted to do.

One particularly rough day, Paige awoke so confused she didn't know me. She didn't recognize me--the person who had been by her every minute for more than two years. She didn't recognize her mom. There was fear and panic in eyes that were usually filled with joy and some kind of mischief. Her brain was able to 'defog' after a few minutes, but the damage was done. Paige knew things were getting worse. The confusion became more frequent. Nurse schedules were adjusted to provide consistency with the hope of making things a bit easier on our girl. I cannot say enough about Amber and Emily, our nurses the last few days. Those ladies were patient, loving, and took incredible care of Paige (and her parents) as our girl was becoming less and less connected to her earthly home.

Just a day before she left us, Paige woke up particularly agitated. It took many gentle assurances to get her settled down. Convinced someone was trying to take her away, she kept pointing up and saying, "No. No. No! I'm not going yet. I'm not going with that man!" Paige was adamant in her protests as she drifted back to sleep while the rest of us looked at each other in amazement at what she had said. My girl slept a lot that Saturday. A whole lot. That night she awoke crying out in pain and with still more confusion. As I held her with likely the tightest hug ever, she said, "Mom, I can't do this anymore. It's too hard."

God surely spoke through me that night as I told my daughter that she didn't have to do this anymore. That we knew how hard she had fought. How very much she was loved. That I was sure that the man who came for her was Jesus--and that when He came back, it was okay for her to go with Him. He would take away her pain. He would take away her disease. She would be whole in Heaven. I held her tightly and told her I loved her. Paige's reply: "I love you too, Mom." Those were the last words I would hear my daughter speak to me.

The next 24 hours or so felt like an eternity as medications were administered to keep Paige comfortable. That was our only goal at that point--to keep her free from pain and suffering as she made the journey to her Heavenly home. Our TCH family members were in and out of her room that day, many of them simply looking at Paige with tears in their eyes, unable to say much of anything. They loved her too. Boyce and I held her hands, stroked her beautiful, curly hair, and told that girl over and over and over again that we loved her. That we would always love her. That even though our time together on Earth was coming to an end, we would all be together again one day.

We didn't leave her side.  We couldn't. We had to soak up every single second we had left with our precious Paige. I kept my eyes on her the whole time, watching her chest slowly rise and fall. Paige's oncologist came to visit late that night, and in her typical fashion managed to make us laugh about something I can't even recall now. Yes, we were actually able to laugh at something in the midst of the most heartbreaking time of our lives. She stood up to leave, assuring us she would check in the next morning (which was just hours away at that point). Boyce and I went to hug her, and for the first time in about 24 hours nobody was holding on to Paige's hands. I turned around, and my girl had quietly left. So completely at peace-- and so very much just like her to wait until I wasn't watching. In the blink of an eye, Paige left behind her broken body and stepped into Heaven, forever healed.


Paige, my's been a year for us, but probably more like a second or two for you. Thank you for the privilege of being your mom. Thank you for putting up with my fierce love for you. Thank you for helping me find joy on the hardest of days. Thank you for living out your faith in a way that just made you shine Jesus' love all over the place--even in your sassiest moments. I love you, sweet girl. Always. See you in a little bit.

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

Friday, October 6, 2017

Pancakes, Beads, and Precious Time

October is a rough, rough month for our family. Once upon a time, it simply meant Jeremy would spend the better part of the month telling us what he wanted for his birthday, which is on the 30th. These days it's a little different--make that a lot different. October is the last month we had our sweet girl on this earth. October 2016 changed us forever. It has now been almost one year since Paige left us, yet sometimes it feels like yesterday. Today I find myself thinking about those last days we had with her. Today I find myself thinking about pancakes, beads, and precious, precious time.

Pancakes. As Paige's health was rapidly declining, so was her appetite. There were really no foods that sounded good to her--except pancakes. Chocolate chocolate chip pancakes, to be exact. Chocolate pancakes loaded with chocolate chips. And whipped cream. So much whipped cream--and I'm not talking about the little dollop they put on the stack at the restaurant. I'm talking a can of Reddi-Wip. Paige was very particular about it--it had to be the "real stuff," not the "low fat junk Mom likes." Each pancake had to be cut into bites that would then be 'decorated' with their own helpings of whipped cream. I'm not sure how many cans we went through, but I do know it became a 'thing' for us to make trips back and forth to the family room refrigerator for Paige's Reddi-Wip.  Even on those yucky days, that sass was still front and center--but that was fine with me. I loved seeing her spunk re-emerge, even though the times were getting fewer and farther between. I loved seeing her cover those pancake bites with whipped cream and thoroughly enjoy food she actually felt like eating. I loved doing what we could to make her happy. Whatever that girl wanted, we would find a way to make it happen. It just so happened that those pancakes hit the spot every single time--24 of those last 28 days we were there. That's a lot of pancakes.

Beads. Beads of Courage is a national arts-in-medicine program that helps children who are coping with a serious illness tell their stories and have an amazing visual representation of those journeys.  TCH was just beginning the Beads of Courage program last year after Paige's last relapse. In fact, they were in the process of training staff and hadn't yet received all of the different types of beads they planned on giving out. Every bead is part of a child's story. Every. Single. One. There's one for every dose of chemotherapy, whether by pill or infusion. One for every poke, including IVs, blood draws, and accessing the port. One for every overnight hospital stay, every biopsy, every transfusion, every scan--everything. There are even special "EnCOURAGEment" beads for bigger milestones as well as special accomplishments related to the journey. It's truly an amazing program.

We were surprised and honored when some very special people approached us about awarding Paige with all the beads she had earned up to that point. The problem was, I hadn't kept up with all of that--not in one specific place, anyway. There was so much the girl had experienced through 2 1/2 years of diagnosis, treatment, relapse, transplant, and yet another relapse. Just trying to estimate the number of times she'd had some form of chemo was in itself a daunting task (almost 600), and we wanted to make sure Paige got every single bead she'd earned. Boyce and I spent the better part of a weekend going through all of the treatment 'road maps' and calendars and clinic paperwork we had in our possession. We knew there were things we'd overlooked and were beyond grateful when one of our incredible inpatient doctors spent a Sunday afternoon combing through anything and everything she could to help complete our counts of Paige's many, many courageous moments over the last few years. The result: over 70 feet of beads--beads representing hope, perseverance, and bravery in the face of unfathomable adversity. Close to (if not slightly more than) 2,000 beads telling the story of one amazing young lady. 2,000 beads. That's a lot of beads--and a lot of courage.

Precious Time. From that final hospital admission on September 26th, we knew time with Paige was getting short. Much too short. Some days were good. There was laughter and sass and endless episodes of Tim Allen shows. Some days were really bad. On those days all we could do was hold that girl close and tell her how very much we loved her. I would have done that for the rest of my days if it meant Paige would one day regain her health. This was my baby girl, after all. A giant piece of my heart and my world.  Every day we were given with that girl was precious. Every day. Every hour. Every moment. Paige Madison Lejeune blessed my life for 16 years, 2 months, and 13 days. I will always be grateful for every precious second I had with the bravest person I have ever known. 


Paige taught me more through her cancer battles than she ever fully realized. I think she did the same for a whole lot of people. What a special, special young lady. I am forever proud to be her mom.

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

Friday, September 29, 2017

Weathering the Storms

*Foreword: This post is just a bit different, as I go back and forth between the recent storm that hit our area and the storm of childhood cancer that hit our family. Both call for strength. Both call for help from others. Both call for continued hope. 

Just over a month ago, the Texas Gulf Coast was pounded by Hurricane Harvey. While our area was spared some of the strong winds, we received rain. And more rain. And still more rain. What began as a 'typical' storm threat quickly became a major flooding event as we found ourselves on the 'dirty' side of Harvey.

As longtime residents of Southeast Texas, we've seen our share of storms. We know to prepare. We know to 'hunker down' or evacuate if needed. We pay attention to forecasts and usually make it through unscathed.

Harvey was different. It rained. And it rained. And it rained some more. We watched as water covered the street and then the sidewalk before making its way up the yard. In the 16 years we've lived in this house, I don't know that water has ever made it past the sidewalk. For several hours it looked as though we might even end up with some in the house. A panic came across me like nothing I've felt in a long time.

You see, once upon a time, I wasn't super concerned with our 'stuff' when storms came our way. I always felt like though it would be hard, things could be replaced. It's people that are irreplaceable. As long as our family was together, that's what mattered. We evacuated (along with just about everyone else in our area) when Hurricane Rita was a threat. We 'hunkered down' at my mom's through Hurricane Ike, again leaving our house. I had my husband. I had my kids. We were good.

Then Paige left us, and I discovered there really was stuff that could never be replaced. Things she made. Things of hers. As the water got closer to the house and we realized it really could end up coming in, I frantically begin putting as many things in bins as I could. I'd already packed a couple of small storage bins when we cleaned out her room in November--but there were many things I hadn't yet had the energy to go through. Things that needed more time before revisiting. Thanks to Harvey, I had to deal with those things right then and there. Jewelry. T-shirt quilts and pillows. A plaster mold of her hand they made for us the night she passed away. And I was a mess. I don't know if it was PTSD or what--but that added to grief plus the stress of the unknowns with the storm--and it was a full-blown meltdown for this momma. I think realizing there were some things I really can't replace just served as another reminder my baby isn't here.

I spent a lot of time crying over the course of the days we were stranded inside. A whole lot. We are in the middle of a very tough couple of months--and knowing I might lose all I physically had left of Paige broke me. It simply broke me. When I thought I couldn't break any more--that my heart had already shattered as much as it could--I broke. Now, I'm just praying that God will start putting some of those pieces back together. I know He will. He's amazing like that. How else can I explain the fact that I can get up every day and be a (mostly) functioning member of society? But God. He is with us through the calm and through the storm. Every kind of storm.

Our first cancer storm--known as T-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia--came ashore January 2014. We saw it as a challenge--but one we could get through as long as we were together. The second one hit in September 2015, and it was stronger than the first one. It would take much more to weather it, but again--we had faith we would make it to the other side. Together. Then came that third and final storm in July 2016. The one that hit with such a vengeance that recovery efforts for this one would be for three of us, not four. And it was devastating.

Harvey did his best to cause widespread devastation--and it was heartbreaking. We stayed safe and dry. For that we are so very thankful. We very well could have found ourselves losing everything we had. My heart truly goes out to everyone who was affected by this unprecedented storm. To those who suffered great losses, I am so very sorry. I will continue to pray for God to give you strength and to equip you with everything you need as you take this detour you never saw coming. It will be difficult, but He will provide. He will sustain you.

I can only guess that sounds cliché coming from someone whose home was spared. The thing is--our family has also been traveling a road we never saw coming. A path very different from anything we ever imagined. We didn't lose our home, but we lost a giant part of our home and a huge piece of our hearts when Paige went to be with Jesus. The days can be long and difficult. They can test us in ways we never thought possible. But no matter how tough those days can be, we always make it through. God has been with us the entire journey. He provides calm in the storms. He guides our steps. He gives us hope. He helps us weather the storms.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Missing the Birthday Girl

My Sweet, Sweet Paige...

Seventeen years ago today you made me a mom for the first time. You brought more joy, love, and spunk into our family than we ever thought possible. Your independent nature challenged us. Your courage and determination strengthened us. Your unabiding faith inspired us.

Today marks the first birthday you'll spend in Heaven. The first birthday I won't kiss your forehead. The first birthday I won't hear your laughter. The first birthday I won't marvel at that incredible, infectious smile in person. I miss you, girlie. So. Very. Much.

As we navigate this first birthday without you here, I will remind myself (all day if need be) that you are now healed and whole. You are in Paradise--in the presence of Jesus. Enjoy that Heavenly celebration, my love. I'll see you in a little bit.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Rough (and As of Yet Unnamed) Season

We are smack-dab in the middle of a southeast Texas summer. That means heat and humidity so oppressive it's difficult to be outside for long periods of time. It's also hurricane season, which is basically half a year of keeping our eyes on the Gulf of Mexico. We are encouraged to stock up on necessities and to have plans in place when strong storms head our way. Here's the kicker: We know they are coming, and we can do something about it. We can escape sweltering heat by seeking out air-conditioned bliss. Hurricanes are either 'ridden out' in our homes or a reason to hit the road for safer territory. We know these things are coming and can have plans for the minor (and sometimes not-so-minor) inconveniences they cause. This is not the case for the season our family is entering. The next few months have the makings of a very rough time ahead as we muddle our way through memories of the last few months we spent with our sweet Paige.

July. The month of her last relapse. Boyce and I have different triggers, but we fight these incredibly bad moments where we relive the devastating news we never dreamed we would hear. August. We reached Paige's 16th birthday. It's a milestone for all teens, but for our girl--it was so much more. It would be the last birthday she would celebrate here on Earth. September and October. Paige put on such a brave front, but the disease was progressing and zapping her energy. Quality time became more important than ever before. We played games and watched movies--and even got her out of the house on occasion. It was about making the most of every minute we had together. It was about finding joy and hope in the midst of the storm that was raging all around us.

She's been gone nine months. Nine months. Since Paige left, it feels like I'm living in a very strange time warp. I'm here in the day-to-day 'busy-ness' of life, taking care of Jeremy and Boyce and everything else I need to do. However, when I'm in my 'Paige Zone' (which happens quite often), it's like time has slowed to a crawl--or has stopped altogether. What's crazy to me is how those versions of myself--the busy, present one and the always-in-a-fog one--overlap and somehow occur simultaneously. What I do know is that my heart still seems to break a little more every day without that girl here.

It's been a difficult, heart-wrenching nine months reaching the firsts without Paige here. The first Thanksgiving. The first Christmas. Mother's Day. Father's Day. As each one neared, our hearts seemed to get heavier and heavier.  Paige always made special days even more special--it might have been through a unique or silly gift, a handmade card, or even a day of baking her favorite treats. Had it not been for Jeremy, I may have spent many of the firsts simply summoning the strength to get out of bed. Of course, that wouldn't have been fair to him--and it certainly would not have allowed God to keep doing the work He is doing in our lives. Each and every time we hit one of those terrible patches of the road, God gives us the strength we need to keep going. Every. Single. Time.

If you've followed our journey for any length of time, you know we are firm believers in the power of prayer and the sovereignty of Almighty God. If you are so led, please pray for our family as we continue to move forward one step at a time. Not a day goes by that one of us isn't experiencing some kind of struggle with losing Paige. As we head into this rough season, I cling to the hope of God's promises. I know He has a purpose for my time here, just as there was a purpose for the time He gave my sweet girl. Through the struggles and challenges of life, He is always good. He is always faithful. Always.

Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.   Lamentations 3:22-23

Friday, June 23, 2017

Finding Our Footing

Tomorrow marks eight months since Paige took her final breaths on this earth and went to be with Jesus. Eight months since I held her hand and kissed her face. Eight months without a huge piece of my heart. I still can't fathom this new way of doing life around here. It doesn't make sense. It hurts like crazy--for our whole family. Much of the time it takes everything I have to just stay upright and (try to) keep moving forward.

I've long known the importance of taking things one day, one moment at a time--though it seems I was much better at it when Paige was here. She kept me on my toes with all her crazy reactions and issues, but at the same time she grounded me. When it gets really tough, I remind myself how truly blessed I was to have had that incredible young lady with me for 16 years. God had a purpose for her time here, and He has a purpose for mine--so I've got to keep going. I fully trust Him to guide each and every one of my steps. Make no mistake, though--this unimaginable journey has changed our family forever. It hasn't gotten easier, and I'm not sure it ever really will. It isn't anything we can just 'get over' or 'leave behind.' From what I can tell so far, Paige's absence is something we will learn to live with as we go on living. I miss my daughter, and I will miss her every single day until I see her again. It's unbelievably difficult to find my footing these days--but I'm working on it. We all are.

The grief process is unpredictable, to say the least. There will be a few mostly-good days, and then--WHAM. It hits me. Or Boyce. Or Jeremy. On any given day, at least one of us is really, really missing Paige, and the others do what we can to lift the spirits of or simply just support the one hurting. It's a rough road to travel. Some days we can walk it pretty steadily. Other days it feels like one stumbling block after another. Today has been a pretty good day, so I thought I'd share what the Lejeunes are up to as of late.

Jeremy. Where do I start? This young man is pretty incredible, to say the least. Despite dealing with the devastating loss of his sister (whom he adored, by the way), Jeremy not only kept his grades up--he ended the school year qualifying for National Junior Honor Society. The outpouring of love and support from teachers, friends, and his whole school in general helped him stay connected and focused on even the toughest of days.

Jeremy has also rediscovered how to have fun hanging out with friends. From short get-togethers to weekend sleepovers, it makes my heart happy to hear that boy laughing again. He has already spent one week at summer camp and has two more coming up. These opportunities give him a time for fellowship with new friends as well as a chance to grow in his relationship with Jesus.

The rocky road of grief hits Jeremy the hardest when he returns home after he's been with friends a few days. It's like a jolt back to our hard new reality as he once again adjusts to the fact he's now the only kiddo under our roof. Several times he has quietly spent a day or two in very close proximity to me, and that's okay. Whatever I can do to get him back on the road moving forward, I'll do. We have stressed to Jeremy we want him to have a happy life. That moving ahead doesn't mean we love his sister any less. It just means we are working to continue on the path God has laid out for us.

Boyce. This man is my rock here on Earth. He has said before how strong he thinks I am, but I don't think he realizes how incredibly strong he is. Talking me out of sudden, overwhelming panic attacks. Giving me a shoulder to cry (actually, sob) on. Being the main breadwinner and encouraging me in my part-time role at church. Continuing to work with Jeremy on his bowling skills. Teaching our son what a man does to take care of his family. These are but a few of the ways I've seen my husband demonstrate the strength God is giving him as we travel this road.

Does Boyce have bad days? Absolutely. The waves of grief hit him just as hard as they do me. Paige was his baby girl, and it's extremely difficult letting go of the hopes and dreams he once had for her. All kinds of things bring on those tough moments. It might be a show on television we all watched together. It could be a song on the radio that brings certain memories to mind. It could be a glance at her picture on the wall. It could be anything, and it could be nothing at all. No matter the trigger, it still hurts--yet he pushes through. For Jeremy. For me. For himself. Boyce knows God is with us in the midst of all this pain, so he does his part in moving our family forward the best way he knows how.

Amy. Then there's me. Some days I think I'm getting used to the terrain of this road. Other days, I come very close to tumbling down a rocky incline. I ache for Paige. I long for my girl.  Her absence is deafening sometimes. Yes, she's healed. Yes, she's received the gift of eternal life. I am thankful for that. I rejoice in it. I know I will be reunited with her when Jesus calls me home. For the time being, it would be oh-so-amazing to get through an entire day without feeling like I've been punched in the gut.

Song lyrics really, really get me. A song about God's will had me crouched down on the floor. Another one mentioned holding the hand of a loved one as she was headed home--whew. Tears, tears, and more tears. Words are powerful enough, but set some of them to music and I'm just done. Nights haven't gotten easier for me either. I have to keep the television on with low sound. The combination of light and noise makes it harder for my mind to keep going back to the night Paige left. Grief doesn't go away when the sun goes down. If anything, it becomes more present.

Daytime is better. I get outside when I can and just take in the beauty of God's creation. I've also ventured back into the workforce--on a part-time basis, but it's a start. About five months ago, I began serving alongside the amazing ladies on the Pastoral Care team at our church. We pray together, laugh together, and even cry together. They are an incredible support system and have held my hand through many hard days. I have learned so much from them, and I can only hope they are able to learn something from me. I love these ladies dearly and am so thankful for each one of them.

Remembering Paige. Knowing Paige is still loved and remembered gets me through the toughest days.  Her memory was honored at a benefit her school put on for other children fighting cancer. Her fighting spirit was celebrated by a friend as he completed a grueling run across Italy. Our sweet girl's inner and outer beauty was recognized by friends who had a star named after her. Our church held a blood drive honoring her memory that resulted in enough blood donations to help 90 people--what a blessing! A research grant in Paige's name will soon be a reality thanks to the fundraising efforts of a fellow cancer mom and her team. These things make my heart so incredibly happy and serve as a reminder that Paige is still making a difference. That I can make a difference and continue to shine her light. And I will. That you can count on.


If I've learned anything, it's that it's okay to stumble as I navigate this new road. The path may be rocky--but under that shaky top layer is a strong foundation. God is here to guide my steps, and His mercies are new every single day. I may stumble, but He will be there to pick me back up. He will never let go.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.   Isaiah 41:10

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Heartbreak, Healing, and a Whole Lot of Hope

Warning: Real, raw emotion ahead. Proceed with caution (and maybe a tissue or two).

Tomorrow marks half a year since Paige left us to be with Jesus. Half a year. 6 months since I last held my baby girl's hand. 26 weeks since I kissed her forehead. 182 days since I stroked her head and prayed over her. 4,368 hours since I watched my daughter take her last breaths on this earth. The rest of the world goes on as usual, and I'm left trying to convince my mind and my heart that this isn't just a bad dream. That this really happened. I'm wrestling with feelings of heartbreak. I'm searching for healing. I'm holding on to every bit of hope I can find.

Heartbreak. That feeling of longing for my daughter is with me every single day. I find myself thinking about how Paige might have reacted to something one of us said--likely with her trademark eye roll. I can almost hear her in the back seat singing--often very silly--as she usually did on car rides. I sit in her 'spot' on the sofa and am transported back to the many times we were right there. Together. Joined at the hip, as she said so often. I long to see her driving her dream car. To see her getting ready for her last year of high school. I just long to see her--period.

There is an ache words can't fully explain. An ache only truly understood by those who have lost a child and found themselves in this place--a place no one wants to be. I wipe away tears as I look at pictures of my girl before cancer attacked her body not once, not twice--but three times. She was happy. She was healthy. She was here. I look at pictures of Paige over the course of her battles with leukemia and wipe away more tears. Long hair to no hair to amazing ringlets of curls.
A body fighting cancer and the excruciating toll its treatment and effects took on her. Still, she found joy. Still, she had faith. Still, she was here. This new leg of the journey without Paige is so very difficult. Trying to figure out how to move forward as three--when in our hearts there are still four--is hard to fathom. Still, we look for the joy just like Paige did. Still, we stand firm on faith just like she did. We so badly want that girl here--sass and all, but these days we are working to trust that God's purpose for her life was fulfilled in the 16 years He gave us with her. It's not easy to do, but we were never promised life would be without trouble. We are, however, promised peace in Jesus. In fact, He tells us in John 16:33, " Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." Jesus said it. I believe it.

By no means do I fully comprehend any part of this new way of life. My world shattered into a million pieces when Paige left us, and I battle that brokenness on a daily basis. My heart is broken without that girl here. Our family is broken, always missing the one piece of amazingness that was Paige. We try to repair the cracks, but we will never be fully restored on this earth. In the meantime, we hold things together as best we can and look for anything that might resemble healing.

Healing. There are days that are mostly good. There are days that are most definitely not good. And that's okay. If I've learned anything along the way, it's that there is absolutely, positively, no set timeline for 'getting over' a loss like this. I had to tell my daughter I'd see her "in a little bit" and watched her cross over into Heaven. I carried that girl inside of me for nine months. She clasped my fingers as she took her first steps. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine my baby would have to take on the childhood cancer monster. Not only did she take it on, she fought it with unmatched courage and determination. She fought to the finish. Moving forward--not moving on--after something like that is done not one day a time, not even an hour at a time. It is quite literally one moment at a time.

Unlike 'normal' illnesses that can be resolved with a prescription from the doctor, this type of healing calls for a different approach. A different recipe, if you will, that involves everyone. This type of healing requires prayer, grace, and patience. It relies on others reaching out--even if just to check in. It is the willingness to listen to stories about our sweet girl and an understanding that our lives are really and truly forever changed.

We talked with Paige many times about making sure good things would come out of her struggles. Boyce and I are committed to finding ways to keep our beautiful girl's light shining. We want to help make a difference. For her legacy. For the kiddos still fighting. For those yet to fight. I truly believe it will be an important part of the healing process for our family. Recently I was asked to speak at a golf tournament fundraiser for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. It was my first planned speaking event since Paige left us, and I had spent the week before racking my brain for the right words. I may have been close to making myself crazy over the whole thing when I came to my senses and realized it wasn't my brain that needed to control the speaking--it was my heart. From there, everything fell into place. Not only did I talk about her cancer battles and the need to raise money for research, I was able to give the audience a glimpse at the fight, spirit, and sassiness that was my daughter. Without breaking down. Without worrying I'd leave something out. I spoke straight from my heart, and I hope everyone there that day left a little more inspired to make a difference. I know I did.

I cannot count the number of times Boyce and I have been told how strong we are. While that is a very sweet and appreciated sentiment, I can assure you we are not strong. I am not strong--not on my own, that's for certain. Any semblance of strength I have is a total God thing. He gives me strength when it feels like my knees are buckling and I can't take one more step down this path. He gives me peace when grief tries to spiral into overwhelming anxiety and chaos. He hears my prayers every night as I ask Him to heal my heart. It's a long road--but God isn't going anywhere. He's got this healing thing in His mighty hands. I just have to find a way to be patient with the process.

A Whole Lot of Hope. It seems only fitting I wrap this up with Romans 12:12, "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." Hope is all around. It's in the promise of meeting my Savior someday. It's in the thought of being reunited with my sweet girl (and my Nanny and Papaw) in Heaven. It's in a beautiful sunrise or sunset. It's in my son's laugh or a hand squeeze from my husband. It's in continuing to seek out the joy in each and every day we are given on this earth. My friends, hope is very real because of Jesus' saving grace. For that, I am incredibly grateful.

"We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure..."  Hebrews 6:19