Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A year in review...

Because it is the end of the year... and I have not updated in dayzzzzzz. I thought I would post our year update/Christmas letter.
If you are at any way connected to or have donated to the trust, you have already seen all the words on this post! I did, for fun and interest, add more pictures!
2013 has been a rough year for the Chastain’s. It has also been a great year. We have celebrated so many awesome and wonderful things this past 365 days… all the while carrying a load that, at times, seems too heavy.  We are lifted up, encouraged and comforted, not only by those who love and support us, but by our Heavenly Father, who knew not only this path He had chosen for us to walk… but who provides a way for us to walk it with grace and strength.                      

Let’s start the family updates from the youngest up, shall we? That starts us off with one feisty little booger, Ryder. Ryder is 2, turns three in January. He is the strangest, sweetest, most infuriating child I have ever had the privilege to parent. He is loud, hilarious, smart, strong and cuddly. He is also stubborn and has to do everything himself.  This year he has busted a front tooth clean away, leaving him with a nice hillbilly hole in the front of his mouth, and been on the receiving end of 7 stitches in 2 different locations on his face. He is rough and tumble, and all boy. He also is a lover and wants a hug about every 30 minutes. He stretches me as a parent. And I love him to pieces.

            Rigg turned four on June 19th. He is obsessed with transformers, mazes, puzzles and asking why. About everything. He started preschool in the fall and I have seen an enormous change in him. He is more curious, more imaginative… and now knows all his letters, can count to “furty” (30) and is sounding out words.  Rigg is a thoughtful child, he contemplates what he hears and sees and asks deep questions. He is learning about Jesus at his school, Trinity Lutheran School, and at his Bible study. I have been able to share the gospel with my son over and over this year. He asked me on the way to school one morning “how do you believe?” He also stretches me as a parent, but in a totally different way than his brother. He is sweet, thoughtful and energetic. I am blessed to love a son like him.

            I am spending my time juggling all the different aspects that come with being a stay at home mom and wife of a cancer patient. I have learned to take over the bills, the home and car maintenance, and the hospital and pharmacy runs. All the while still doing dishes, laundry, loving and disciplining two growing boys and trying to keep up with friends and family. I have an amazing support system. If I am in need of anything, I have too many people waiting in line to help. I am constantly overwhelmed by the sheer awesomeness of how much my little family is loved. We have been blessed this year to have been given the gift of house cleaning. For the whole spring and summer a sweet girl I went to high school with paid to have my house cleaned once a week. When she was no longer able to do so, 12 families pitched in and have finished off the year with once a week cleanings. BEST.GIFT.EVER.

I have taken a very small leadership role in my bible study, Bible Study Fellowship. I am a substitute discussion leader and an overall fill-in where they might need me. The boys also attend BSF and love it. It is such a joy taking the boys and watching them learn the same lesson I am for the week. Along with BSF, I also started a small Etsy shop this year. Etsy.com is a site where people who make items can place those wares online to sell. In my shop, Printed Joy, I am currently doing art prints and cards. (http://www.etsy.com/shop/printedjoy) God has blessed my little shop more than I expected! I am filling 1-4 orders a week since opening and having so much fun designing not only the art offered in my shop, but custom orders as well.  And, let’s not forget our family blog… which I am so bad about updating as often I used to.  (www.andyandcari.blogspot.com)  The blog has long been a baby of mine, I love to write and process all that God has done and is doing. It just seems lately my life is full with other time worthy things, and the poor blog falls by the wayside. I still try to keep updates on the Captain (Andy) as close to real time as possible.
Ah, the Captain….
            A year ago, on Thanksgiving 2012, Andy was in the ER getting news that his tumor had returned. He underwent his second brain surgery on November 26th 2012. Since that day we have hit the ground running, so to speak, dealing with all the things that come with battling cancer. Radiation was done in Bloomington, IN for the first 6 weeks of 2013. While Andy was getting himself to and from treatments, resting at a wonderful facility in Bloomington (Jill’s House) and working on healing, I was home with two boys… trying to live a normal life as a single parent for a month and a half. Since that time Andy has slowly, ever so slowly, declined physically and cognitively. All the chemo and drug trial treatments, all the medicine, all the side effects from radiation, chemo, and drugs… have left him weak, tired and worn. Andy has had a couple different hospital stays, some ER visits, and a few scary moments. He has battled with massive swelling, drastic drops in blood pressure, and blood clots in his lungs and legs. He spends a lot of time resting and sleeping. It is an ongoing discussion between me and his amazing oncologist… the struggle between letting him rest and trying to find a reprieve for the fatigue and discomfort. His energy level is low and he is only up and going a few hours a day. It has been a hard transition for me, picking up all that Andy once did. But God has been gracious and has provided all of our needs… even some of our wants!

            He still has 2-6 months of chemo treatments left, a number that will be determined by MRI’s and doctors as we get closer to that point. The drug trial drug he is on is supposed to stop the growth of the tumor, because of this he will be on it indefinitely.  We spend every other Thursday at the hospital, getting treatments, seeing doctors, waiting in hard chairs. It has been a life shift… But God is faithful and we do not feel abandoned. Nothing is wasted, and we know God is using this for a purpose. Our prayer is that in every aspect of our lives, that God would receive glory.       
            “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly was are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal weight of glory. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”       ~ 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ~
Andy, Cari, Rigg and Ryder


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Faithful, faithful,faithful.

The past week or so I have been ruminating over this past year of life. One tends to do that at the end of a year, and this year is no different. I have had a metric ton to think over, sort and sift through, but one main theme stands out; my God is overwhelmingly faithful.
So today I want to share with you how abundantly God has provided for my little family over the past year. Some of these stories I may have shared here, some I have not, but now is the time.
Late in 2012, about 2 months before the Captain's tumor was found, we decided to begin looking for a new church. It might be one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make. When we came to the decision, I literally felt grieved, like I had lost someone precious to me. It was crushing.  Also that year, I started my bible study (BSF) in a different location, different side of town, different church, different ladies... it was all new and slightly scary. Not long after, we discovered the tumor was back and growing. I will not lie, I was terrified. Here we were in a really hard and needy place, and we had just stepped away from the only outlet I had ever seen God care for us from. I had no idea how we were going to make it... how God would provide. It was a true act of faith on my part to trust Him... because I had no vision of how or from where provision would come.
At this point I took my questions and doubts to God... I prayed for a peaceful heart that would trust in His promises to provide... but I admitted I was nervous...
to which God responded...Game on.
About a week before Christmas (2012) I received a letter in the mail telling me that because we were so far behind on our mortgage our house was not only being foreclosed on, but had an auction date set for early January 2013. I was stunned. Here I am trying to take care of Andy, get things in order for this uncertain new road we were on... and I get this letter. I had NO.IDEA. Andy had always taken care of the bills, and with this massive tumor growing in his head for the past year, he dropped a ball or two... understandably. We had about 3 weeks to pay 15,167 and change or our home was gone.
I panicked. I fell to my knees and cried.
Then I got a call. A family, whom I had never met, had prayed about giving us a gift. When asked what we needed, the man they asked replied "Just pray about it and give whatever you come up with."
That family wrote a check for $15,000.
Some days, when I am standing at my sink full of dirty dishes, staring out my tiny kitchen window while the kids make a colossal mess at my feet, I start to cry... because it is all happening in my home, that some generous, loving family so graciously saved for me, and I am beyond thankful. I can never say enough about what they have done... or the encouragement and faith they build in me that day.
God is faithful.
In the same vein, a lot of money has never been a problem we were burdened with. And now with Andy ill, me taking care of the boys and no income coming our way for the first 6 months of the year, there was some concern as to how we would live. Well God began His thing. He rolled up his proverbial sleeves and started throwing money at us from everywhere. Gift cards, a trust set up in Andy's' name, a benefit dinner to fill up the trust, checks, food, and all other manner of provision.
And since that time, money has been the furthest thing from my mind. I have not worried how something would get paid, or if the house would be warm, if we could afford dinner... God has continually come through, Just last week I got a card in the mail with some $ and a note saying $350 had been credited to our gas account... so we would be warm for the winter and I cried. Because every time we have a need, God comes up with the cash. Amazing.
God is faithful.
This summer I received a call from the leader of my bible study group. They asked if I wanted to join leadership. I accepted in a very small role, but God not only gave me a score of new faithful ladies to walk alongside, He gave me unity, comfort and a feeling of belonging. He took the scariness of a new place and made it feel like home.
God is faithful.
I have picked up a lot more responsibility in my role as wife and mom over the past few months. My time is stretched thin some days. I fill many shoes and wear many hats as some would say... and I also drop many balls... and lose lots of sanity.
The sweet family of a girl I went to high school with, gave the gift of house cleaning once a week all through the spring and summer months. She not only gave me a clean house, but she gave me time. Time that I would have spent sweeping and scrubbing was instead spend wrestling with the boys, lounging with the Captain and having coffee with friends. She not only gave me a clean house, but the ease that comes with knowing your home is clean and others can come over whenever... When she was no longer able to continue, 12 amazing families pitched in to finish off the year. It has been just another small thing God has given to help encourage me and give me rest.
Also, BEST.GIFT.EVER! (outside of my Salvation)
God is faithful.
I know Andy and myself are always getting cards, texts, notes, emails, comments and hugs of comfort and encouragement. We are being told in many ways and with beautiful words how much we are loved, cared for and prayed over. It is the thing that gets me through most days... because being a mommy is hard. Being a good wife is difficult. Being a homemaker and caregiver and errand runner and chauffeur and medicine sorter is wearing. These words of edification and encouragement are like water for my soul. They heal and bring peace.
A couple weeks ago I went to the grocery store after bible study. The boys were hyped up on life and I was tired. We finally get in the store and they start running circles around the produce section with me whisper screaming at them to "stop! for the love of all that is holy, please, stop!" And just when I reached the point where they were defeating me and I started leaking and melting... a precious lady from my bible study walked over to say hi to the boys. They bounced around her and told her about their morning... about the store... about their whole little lives it seemed... and then she hugged me and told me I was doing a good job.
God sent Rhonda to the store to help me that day.
God is faithful.
These are just a few of the hundreds of things God has done to bless us and care for us over the past year. He is faithful to the point of awe. He provides.
So my response to God, who so long ago took my worries, my doubts and my fears and said "game on."
I say.
Well, played, Sir. Well played!

Friday, November 15, 2013

My superheroes

This year was the first year that Rigg wanted to wear a costume and "go get candy."
until VERY recently Rigg was extremely uninterested in anything dress-up, costume-y,  or otherwise not normal attire.
So when I asked him if he wanted to dress up for Halloween this year I was a bit surprised with his enthusiastic reply.
He said "YES! as long as I can be Iron Man and Ryder can be the Hulk."
OK, little one, I think I can make that happen.
So I became the mom of two superheroes.
The boys got the costumes two weeks before the big night... and Rigg has wanted to be Iron Man a lot... before Halloween and after.
So not only did the Iron Man and Hulk make and appearance for the Night of Candy... but have also run errands with me and been seen around the house "saving the world.
I love having little boys.. Ahem... I mean... superheroes.

Monday, November 11, 2013

So a long time ago (like the end of September) we finally celebrated Heaven Day!

So, you know how I posted about Caden's Heaven Day on Caden's Heaven Day?
Because I was, for once, timely.
But there were no pictures...
that was because we had yet to let the lanterns fly... and we had to wait for good weather to do so.
When that day did finally arrive... Rigg and Ryder were so excited!
We had been talking about Heaven Day for awhile, why we do it, what it means...
The night we were able to get together was great. The weather was perfect and all the lanterns took flight! I buy extras...because one sky lantern does not a celebration make!
So not only are we able to let one fly for our sweet Caden, but for friends who have lost loved ones recently too.
A gift we can give from afar!
Rigg and Ryder have spoken of the lanterns almost daily since. They love Heaven Day!
I love that God has allowed me to visually teach my boys about Heaven and about the Joy of eternal life.
I look forward to the day I can rejoice with Christ for all eternity!
And be with all my sweet babies... together!


Thursday, November 7, 2013

I took a trip to New York, the Captain took a trip to the ER

A couple of weeks ago I took a vacation... just me. No kids. No Captain.
It was great.
I went to visit my sweet, amazing friend Julie and her family in New York.
You might recall, if you have been reading this blog for awhile, that the last time I ventured into Julie's neck of the woods, a part of a New York mall ceiling fell on my head.
No such injuries occurred on this trip.
I was able to hang with Julie, Sherwin and their kiddos... and sleep in, and drink an obscene amount of coffee... and go shopping, and eat out and drink coffee... hot coffee. Go on long walks in the gorgeous New York fall weather! Have really good conversation about God and how I am processing my life...
Did I mention the coffee?
Her kiddos are the cutest... and I was there for Miss M's birthday!
It was a really great relaxing visit. A nice trip away from my joyful/stressful every day.
And I got to ride on a plane which always makes me feel grown up and like I am going on a big adventure....
I don't get out much.
When I got home the Captain was not feeling so hot... in fact.. he was feeling downright terrible.
So the very day I returned home I scheduled a doctor's appointment... which we didn't keep because Andy's condition was deteriorating so rapidly we opted for the ER instead.
Once in the ER the Captain became so lethargic and practically unresponsive that they had to help him into a wheel chair to get to triage... then they discovered that his blood pressure was low.
Way low.
like 77/43 and dropping fast.
So they quite quickly zoomed him into the big boy crash cart  room where many, many lovely people with much purpose attended to him.
After a few scary minutes, and two bags of rapidly administered fluid, he started to reach normal again. Because the cause for such a speedy drop in BP was not known, he was then admitted.
I took the advantage of his admission to speak about any and all symptoms/problems/inquiries involving the Captain's health. They ran test after test and found nothing... everything came back normal.
Which is such a HUGE blessing... but I would be lying if I said I was not disappointed. I really wanted an answer as to why he has been feeling SO terrible for so long.
I am aware that he has brain cancer... but somehow that was not a good enough answer for me...
However, that is the answer we left with... the nature of the beast is he wont feel well.
I was unhappy. I just feel like 4 hours of awake time/ up out of bed time during the day was on the low side of things... He always feels bad... no energy, out of breath, no color...
So when it was time to see the oncologist again, I brought it up again... she ordered a chest CT. turns out... the Captain has many small blood clots in his lungs.
A gift from his tumor.
The kind of evil tumor growing in the Captain's head produces blood clots in it's victims...
So now... we have an answer to why he is feeling so poorly... and the Captain has to shoot himself twice a day with blood thinner... another drug to add to the arsenal against this cancer.
We are thankful for answers, super thankful there is a plan and something we can do about it.
But sad and frustrated that the list of drugs and things just keep coming.
It's hard to be content in hard situations. I want to be, because that is what God wants me to be... content. But I fight against it... I struggle to be 100% OK with all the drugs, hospital stays, infusions, tumors, confusion, fatigue, lack of energy, lack of conversation... lack of Andy...
I want what I don't have.
But we all struggle with that, don't we. Wanting what we don't have... being content with what God has given us, when we desire more... or less... or different...
My prayer, along with a constant prayer for the Captains healing... is God's will be done, with the Captain, with how our lives look and are walked out...with my heart.
Which means, lately, I have been praying that God helps me be content with what He has given.
Philippians 4:11-13
Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
So I count my blessings and I strive to focus on Christ.
Because I may not know what my future holds, but I know who my God is.
and I know He can be trusted.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A bit about where we are

Sorry for the silence.
Life has been happening, and it is busy enough to blog about... but also busy enough that in my down time I don't want to think enough to process through a post.
So the blog... and my few readers suffer in silence.
Since my last post we have had an MRI.
I'll start this story about three or four weeks ago.
Andy has really been feeling poorly. He has been sleeping a lot. Not involving himself in much of anything. He has had trouble carrying on conversations, finding words... tracking what people are saying. I have seen a cognitive decline over the past few months. His energy is LOW. He complains of headaches and stomach pains almost daily.
So pretty much... just feeling terrible. It's been hard to watch the slow decline of his health. I find I am doing more myself, taking on more of the load. It's been pretty stressful.  I struggle to find the balance between wife and caretaker... of when to push him to do more...to try to motivate... and when to leave him be and let him rest.
So with all of that going on, both the Captain and I, along with other family and friends who have been witness to our lives over the past two months, thought there was some major tumor growth happening.
The morning of the MRI the Captain even said he fully expected bad news.
By the time the doc came in with the results, Andy was in the restroom. She waltzed right in and proclaimed that the MRI LOOKED GOOD!
I was stunned. Actually, I think I stared at her with my mouth agape for over a minute. She politely asked if I was expecting different news.
Uhhhh, yeah.
It was just amazing news. The swelling, that was so massive it was pushing the left hemisphere of his brain into his right hemisphere was almost all gone. The necrosis was healing itself and was almost gone... it really looked so much better. There is still a rim of tumor/necrosis in his tumor bed... but we are hoping the chemo and the trial drug he is on keeps regrowth at bay.
So we talked about how Andy was feeling. What drugs he was on, what we could change, tapper off of, get rid of... what we could be doing. 
So he has been tapering off a massive does of steroids the past two weeks... and adjusting other medications.
I have seen slight improvements. He is more active, not sleeping as much. Wanting to go out more, (he went to church the past two Sundays) doing more with the boys.
He is still complaining of headache and stomach pain. Still having trouble with memory and conversation... still very tired. But I keep reminding myself... he is still in the throws.... still taking chemo, still recovering from a couple months of some strong meds... he needs time to build strength.
I have struggled with this chapter of my life. This limbo of not knowing where the Captain's cancer is going, how long it will take... what to expect. I have had bad attitudes... hissy fits... moments of breakdown, feelings of being totally and completely overwhelmed. And at each instance God has granted me time to take a shaky breath and grab some perspective.
Some days I am just too close. I have been living too close to see the improvements... the good things... the glimpses God gives of "old Andy". I get so lost in the day... Making the boys breakfast, rushing Rigg to preschool, being a mommy, doing dishes, folding laundry... checking to make sure Andy took his meds... all his meds... at the proper time...I get so caught up in the "urgency of now" I forget to take a step back and see what God is doing.
Because He is still busy at work I my life... in my boy's... in the Captain's. He is doing something. He is stretching my faith... He is teaching me to loosen my grip and let go, again and again and again.
God has a plan, not just for Andy's cancer. He has a plan for this in-between time... this incredibly hard and trying season of my life has purpose. He is preparing me, teaching me....hopefully, despite my daily failures, using me to accomplish what only He can. He has the bigger picture. And I need the reminder, so often, that in Christ, nothing is wasted. God is/will be using this. All of my hard things. God has a purpose.
So as I struggle under the weight of being a mommy, taking care of a sick hubby, obedience in my heart attitude and my words and actions. As I try to live rightly and love my family... as I try to let go... If I can remember that God is building something with all of my life... building something I cannot see... building something glorious and wonderful so people will see Him... If I can remember that, it is easier to rest in Him, to press on with a joyful heart... not complain and be uber thankful for all that He has blessed me with. Because, really I have so much!
It's all about perspective...
And really, this life is so fleeting. when I think of how fast it can go... and how Heaven awaits, the load seems so light.
It will be over soon. And we will be with Christ and have rest and peace.
I can't wait!
This is a video that was passed along to me weeks ago. I have listened to this so often I might have worn YouTube out!
It is such a great reminder and such an encouragement to me.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Against all odds... I enjoyed the ocean

The Captain, the boys and I just got back from a trip. I say trip and not vacation... because we took the boys, which are still quite a bit of work... and work plus little to no real relaxation equals a trip and not a vacation.
We traveled by car to Hilton Head Island. Which is lovely... if you have never been... I highly recommend it. Blessed by the gift of a free place to stay for the week, and us with no previous engagements... made for an opportunity we couldn't have acquired on our own. It was super close to the beach so we were able to go at least once everyday... if not more. It was a bit cloudy and rainy.. but that didn't stop us. The boys loved playing in the sand and chasing the seagulls... so clouds and rain were of no consequence.
We did have a few obstacles in our way... Rigg and Ryder both had fevers for days. Rigg was so feverish and lethargic at one point I panicked (aided by a call to the physician on call back home) and took him to the ER... resulting in a very kind Dr. telling me he was sick... but had to other declarative symptoms... I would just have to watch him
He became right as rain the very next day.
Only for Ryder to fall victim to the ugly virus.
And then Ryder took it upon himself to up my stress level by bringing out his inner artist... and coloring on the wall... of a house owned by friends... who were kindly letting us stay for the week.
I think I still have a twitch.
The boys might have had a fever, but it did not stop them from playing  and enjoying the beach.
We were able to go with some close friends... which was a life saver for me.
With a husband who has very little energy, sick kids who seemed worse at night and needed lots of attention... having 2 extra sets of hands and two other kids for the boys to play with was such a blessing. Not to mention I love them like family and it was so fun to share memories...and 12 hour drives with them.

  Cristi and I have been friends since 8th grade, so it is fun to now share our families and kids with each other. I love that.

All too soon it was time to pack up and head home. They boys and I spent our last afternoon at the beach in hoodies and "real clothes" because of the drizzle. They built 900 sandcastles, or I should say Rigg built them... Ryder demolished them. They chased birds and looked for "treasure". I sat, watched them and soaked up the waves and the big, big, ocean for the last time. We said about 45 goodbyes to the waves, the ocean the sand and the birds... and then we went back to pack...
and then I got a fever
and didn't sleep.
But we got everything packed up and in the van.
The Captain was feeling well enough to help out with the drive back. Which was nice because I drove the whole way there... and with a fever driving for 12 hours by myself seemed daunting.
We got home, put the boys to bed and my parents and In-laws have saved the day(s) since.
I have had almost 2 whole days t recover from my vacation trip fever... whatever.
I am so glad we went. It was so much fun to show God's big, beautiful ocean to the boys for the first time. They loved it. I had a good time, despite life trying to get me down, and the last two days of resting have been really nice.
Maybe I should get sick more often.
Just kidding...kinda.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Caden's Heaven Day

5 years ago today my baby girl went to be with Jesus.
It was the most horrible experience I have ever lived through... watching her die.
But God has done amazing things through her brief life and her death. I can honestly say I am at peace with her being gone. That wasn't always the case. There were many months of heart wrenching grief... of tears, of trying to find balance and purpose in life again after she was gone. However, God has done so many good, awesome things since then... I have seen people turn back to Christ, I have seen others delve deeper into their faith, I have seen God work and bring peace and comfort not only to me and Andy... but to our families. I have seen others step out of their comfort zones to care for others... to care for me. I have seen the power of prayer come to life... I have seen God change my thinking.... mend my heart.
I struggled for a long time with how to address this day... the anniversary of a death.
I always felt sad celebrating her birthday after she was gone... it seemed wrong to celebrate when she wasn't here. I know that is a feeling and a decision that is very different for all families who have lost loved ones... but for me... it was too sad.
But as God healed my heart and gave me what I can only describe as a gift of a Heavenly perspective... The Captain and I decided we wanted to celebrate the day Caden cast off the burden of this life and ran into the loving arms of her Father.
We do it for us... but mostly we do it for our boys.
I want the boys to learn that, for a believer in Christ, death is not to be feared... it is not creepy or scary. For those who know Jesus, who have placed their faith in Him... death is a celebration. It is the day when they have finished the race and can finally rest in Jesus' arms. They are home.
And it is a beautiful thing.
I want my boys to have a good memory attached to their sister... not just the knowledge that she is dead.
So each year, on or as close to the day Caden went to Heaven, we send up floating lanterns. AS a way to honor her, thank God for her... but mostly to Thank God for sending His Son to die in our place, so we do not fear death.
This year our lanterns will be sent up a little late... The Captain, the boys and I are on vacation. We are dipping our toes in the ocean and feeling the sand underfoot. We are soaking up sun and family time.
And even though we are postponing  our lantern send-off... we are remembering our sweet, sweet girl.
Caden Joelle Chastain made me a mommy for the first time.
She taught me about selflessness, about love, about purpose... She brought joy and happiness and laughter into our home... and into our hearts.
And although we do not get to enjoy her sweet smile today... because of Jesus and all He has done we will get to for all eternity.