the music plays on…

From: April

Not everyone may know the path God has sent me on over that past 10 years. So for those who don’t know, or even if you do, I would like to share some of it.

I say “some” because there isn’t enough gigabytes to process every detail. But I will elaborate as much as I can. This is a blog and not a book, so if you want more dirt, buy my book. When I write it… some day.

In college, God brought someone into my life who, prior to that time, would have been an unlikely candidate in the race for my heart, to put it lightly, but not because of their looks. Because of their background.

His name was Bubba.

In some previous blogs, we shared about poles that we carry, that we are sometimes raised to carry. Bubba was raised around drugs and broken family. Dysfunction was an understatement. And like me who was raised carrying a pole, Bubba was raised carrying something else. Addiction. So when I met Bubba, my pole grew from 10ft to 20ft.

I knew nothing about that life.

I’m not going to say I was scared of him. But my comfort zone was invaded. I didn’t even want to talk to him.

I look back and remember how unworthy he must have felt around us, and it makes me so sad and ashamed. He was hurting with a pain we couldn’t fathom in our perfect little lives. The only way he was taught to deal or cope was with drugs. Drugs that he was introduced to at 13 years old. By the time I met him, and he decided to get clean, he had 6 years of experience.

As some time passed and I got to know Bubba better and learn of the history that lead him to where he was, my discomfort changed to deep sympathy. I tried envisioning myself as a little kid at the gym with my teammates and my perfectly structured life, all while a little Bubba was living a nightmare. My heart to this day can’t bear it. I felt tremendous guilt because it just made me wonder, “Why me, why was I chosen to live this life, while other kids lived in hell?”  Yet Bubba was such a joyful guy. He was truly thankful to be alive. He had every reason to give up on life. But he worshiped the Lord unlike any of us had ever seen. He thanked God for life all the time. I never did.

Not yet, anyway.

About 4 years after meeting that scary dude Bubba, we were married. In our opposite worlds, we somehow found common ground in hobbies and humor. I felt truly honored to get to be Mrs. Monroe and marry the dude I held off with a pole for so long. We embraced opportunities to work with the teenagers at church. When Bubba spoke you could hear a pin drop. He was captivating to listen to. Probably because he had no filter, and his lack of cooth was amazing.

But sometimes, when we drown ourselves in ministry and surround ourselves in all the amazing things in our lives, we neglect the unsolved. We make a choice in our hearts to change something but we don’t seek resolve.  A tree is beautiful when it’s in bloom. The fruit is bright and vibrant and full of life. But when winter comes, the roots are all that remain. And if it doesn’t continue to soak in the water and sunlight, it will die for good.

We cannot simply decide in our hearts and minds to change something. Yes, that is the most important step, but it’s only the first.

Change always requires action. We have to nurture that decision. Water it, give it light. Or else, it will go back to its roots and lose everything.

Some people like to have a life verse. I decided a long time ago what mine would be. It can be found in John 15.

“I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in Me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from Me you can do nothing”.

Not long before the birth of our first child, Bubba relapsed following a knee surgery. I had been noticing odd behaviors such as, late nights “working”, or the inability to hold a conversation without falling asleep. I thought I must just be that boring. (you can laugh, it was a joke).

These were red flags that I didn’t know to look for, and didn’t know to be concerned about.

Soon money would disappear every week for one lie after another. I was left on more than one occasion in the middle of a grocery store with Raegan in the cart, trying to pay for groceries while my card would decline, and nothing else to pay with. I would have to leave the cart full of groceries there while I would tell them “let me call my bank”. But I knew it wasn’t a bank issue. I’ve never felt more humiliation than that. It was a constant choice whether I would get gas for the car that week or buy groceries. If I was quick enough, I could maybe accomplish both, but that was rare.

This continued for months until it spiraled out of control and to the point where I packed myself and Raegan up and got in the car to leave Bubba for good.

A personal heart check made me decide to try and fix this with him. Not for me, but for him.

After almost a year of in-patient rehab in a facility 2 hours away, where we only saw him every other week and I lived with my parents, he came home appearing to be a new man ready to take on the world. For a while I kept up being his cheerleader. I believed he could change the world. But he didn’t believe that for himself. Soon I would start to see those red flags again. The ones I didn’t know before but now knew very well.

Soon we would have kid #2. Once again, things were looking up but we were heavy into NOT talking about things. It was exhausting to talk about things. Because it was the same conversation over and over with no resolve. So we just….didn’t. And all APPEARED well. This is very dangerous.

My support for him was not helping. My encouragement to him was not helping. Slowly I slipped out of his grip. Bitterness and defeat settled into my heart. And I started to “check-out” of our marriage. I let other people come in and take over my attention and my heart.

To the outside we looked like the perfect pair. We even believed it ourselves. But the inside was a battle zone. By inside, I don’t mean inside our home, I mean internally. We were both fighting our own wars but never fought them together. And I was fighting wars I didn’t realize were being fought.

“I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in Me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from Me you can do nothing”.

Then something rocked our worlds. Not just mine or Bubba’s. But anyone who knew us.

I learned I had cancer. Triple Negative Breast Cancer

Stage 3. And very aggressive. The mortality rate higher than any other breast cancer.

I could repeat every word the surgeon said to me that day.

If you’ve ever experienced every negative emotion at once, it’s enough to bring you to your knees. Or worse for some.

Could the timing be any worse? God, what are you doing? Trying to kill us one at a time? Or all at once?

There has to be a reason for this.

So as my family and I tried to make sense of the hurricane destroying our lives, I clinged to God’s promise that after the rain comes a rainbow. I never once doubted that He had a plan in this. But the “not knowing” part of that plan….. is terrifying.

We continued on with each day like usual. Except some days included 5 to 6 hours of chemotherapy. The days that followed each treatment were horrible. Picture the flu but add pain in all your bones too. I remember camping out on a pallet by the toilet at night. It was senseless to try to sleep in bed when I was up so frequently hovering over the toilet.

At the same time, Bubba would attempt to detox once again. He, too thought that maybe this was our queue to get our act together. As if there weren’t any other queues along the way.

So while I was in the floor hovering over a toilet, he was also in agony from detoxing.

We had some very close friends who brought food to us and would just hang out and love on us both.

I will never forget every one of our ministers spending hours and hours and days and days at our home sitting with him through his detox. He had become violent, not to us, but to himself. Punching walls, breaking furniture. So the kids and I moved temporarily to my parents.

Unfortunately, things were too far gone. Not too far for God, but in our weakest hours, we were not strong enough to bring ourselves out of it. Not together that is. The desire to fix anything was gone. It seemed impossible. My heart was no longer his. And he knew it. It looked as if joy had been robbed from us. This addiction had destroyed us both inside and out. He began to find contentment in people he met at Narcotic Meetings, but ultimately, these “friends” became new “contacts”. And they only made him not feel guilty about hurting everyone he knew. He didn’t need to feel guilty around them, because they too were ripping hearts out of their loved ones.

A small light peered through our dark tunnel when I finished treatment. I finished 6 months of chemo in May and in July I finished my last of 45 rounds of radiation.

On that next Sunday, we talked on the phone for a while. It was ironically the most clear and normal conversation we had had in I don’t know how long. He sounded like himself. Bubba was talking to me, not the other guy. When I hung up, I thought “hmm, that was almost pleasant”. But it was odd.

The next morning, at about 4:30am, I received a call from someone whose voice sounded important.

This man arrived at my parent’s house around 5am.

He informed me, as I stood there, in my PJ’s and bandana on my head, that Bubba had been killed a few hours prior. He hit a tree while he was under the influence of about 5 substances. He was going almost 90mph around a curve which had no embankment.

Another blow. I couldn’t stand up….

“I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in Me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from Me you can do nothing”.

The funeral had about 550 people in attendance. Standing room only. We had to cut off the receiving line because we were almost an hour past the scheduled service time.

He never knew the impact he left on the lives he touched.

One of Bubba’s “contacts” came that day and received Christ. I spent hours on the phone telling him of the hope we can have Jesus. And that he doesn’t have to continue on this path.

The days, months and years that followed consisted of many setbacks, and a whole lot of loose ends on Bubba’s end to tie up. He owed money to people. These people would show up at my house. Things were stolen out of our shed in exchange for the money he owed. Things I never knew about.

I was days from losing our home. It was in active foreclosure. But the Lord provided me the means to bring it out of foreclosure so that my family didn’t have to endure anymore change.

As my health continued to improve, so did life. Because God sent me people long before we lost Bubba who would be my joy in those dark times. People who encouraged me and who were there for me along the way, who kept me smiling: my kids, my family, and my church family. We learned quickly the preciousness of family and how important it is to pray together and for each other.

He set me up with a circle of friends who are out of this world. Who still stand by me today.

Even in all of that, I still felt like it could be worse.

At the time of my diagnosis, I learned of 3 other women around my age with Triple Negative Breast Cancer. Two were close to our area and the other not far.

Out of the 4 of us, I am the only one left.

I’m sure there are many others, but these women were friends of friends. They didn’t know me and I didn’t know them, but we were connected. They too had families.

For Bubba and I, it’s almost as if one of us had to die. It was either him or me. God chose to take Bubba from this world. He chose to leave me in it. It could have easily been the other way. The world my kids would have grown up in is unknown. I don’t know what would have transpired after that. But I believe that God did.

“I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in Me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from Me you can do nothing”.

During this season in my life, I designed my own cancer ribbon. Instead of the regular pink one, I customized it a bit…

A guitar shape, for two reasons. One, because I play the guitar, and second, because the music plays on. No matter what life hands you, the music plays on. So we must find a way to play along. We must find joy in all circumstances, trusting God in every second.

There is a reason and a plan in every step we take. Some of those steps are on track with God’s blueprint for us. Some (a lot) are not on track. In fact, some of us are on an airplane when we should be at the train station. But the good news is, He can use our wrong turns and our epic fails to reroute our GPS. But we must look to Him always in the lost times and in the found ones.

If we are driving some place using our GPS and make a wrong turn, it always reroutes. You may have to make 9 u-turns before you get it right, but you will get there. Maybe later than expected, maybe when you are out of gas with the kids whining that they are hungry, but you will get there.

God will never ever leave your side. He never left mine.

In my most alone times, I was never alone. I can honestly say I felt peace in all of it.

I have friends that would almost be angry with the calmness in which I was handling certain situations surrounding Bubba, and they would tell me how dumb I was being. But the Lord told me in His own way not to worry. That no matter the outcome(s), He had this. It’s that “peace that surpasses all understanding” that Paul talks about in Philippians 4.

 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

A little over a year ago, we learned that my oldest child, 8 years old at the time,  had type 1 diabetes. Another hurdle. We sat in the endocrinology office observing other families also learning for the first time that their child also has this life sentence. That day Raegan and I noticed we were the only ones not flipping out. In fact, we embraced it and ran with it.

We already knew who was writing this into our story.

I am in no way perfect. I have many questions for God when I get there. I have many struggles, some of which I have carried my whole life, like Bubba. And some answers I will not know this side of Heaven.

But God doesn’t want us to focus on our unanswered questions or the reasons why we or our children have certain struggles or are put through awful tragedies. He wants us to focus on Him. He is the peacemaker, and the giver and sustainer of life. In Him, we can find joy in the middle of the manure.

If I can exhibit nothing else in this life to people, I want to exhibit the one thing we are commanded to do… Love.

Because from love will flow the joy, hope, grace, and peace that God wants us to have.

Remember God loved us first. From that love came everything else.

Whatever you are going through it’s on purpose. The story doesn’t end here. Stay with it and persevere. What you will gain cannot be bought. The fruit you will bear will never dry up. And the joy you can experience through it all is out there, if you will just walk through the manure to get it. The music plays on…

“I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in Me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from Me you can do nothing”.

–John 15:5

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2 thoughts on “the music plays on…

  1. April words cannot express my feelings right now after reading your story so eloquently expressed. Even though we lived this story right along side of you it is still hard for me to read your journey and not cry. A mother hurts when her child hurts and believe me this mamma was hurting for you during that time of your life. I know you remember the night I saw you when you list all your hair and I looked at you in disbelief and said “WHY MY DAUGHTER “. and you said ..”WHY NOT ME”. I had never felt so helpless. I see now why God has allowed you to go through this journey. You have made such an impact on those around you and have been such an inspiration to those who might be going through trials of their own. I pray for you every day and ask God to not let your tragedies and trials go in vane. I am so incredibly proud of you I cannot even express it. I love you so much and I pray that your reward will be great and that God brings you Joy unending. I fear to say what’s next. Ha!!! But I know that God is going to do something AMAZING in your life. I love you so much. Mom

    Liked by 1 person

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