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My Fortress and My God in Whom I Trust

Posted by Deneen Holder on 7th Jul 2018

Psalm 91:1,2 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress. My God in whom I trust.”

When my two oldest children were younger, Psalm 91 was the first full Bible chapter that they memorized. So, once we started making wood signs in 2014, I requested a sign with the first two verses from that Psalm. I was taking to heart what God said in Deuteronomy 11:18-20, "Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the door frames of your houses, and on your gates..." I want to keep God’s word at the forefront of my mind, so that I don’t get distracted by the stresses of life and forget how powerful it is to encourage my heart. The last few weeks have found me spending in inordinate amount of time recuperating on my couch, with a great view of this sign on my gallery wall. God,s word is especially precious to me, I think, when circumstances are tough. (Warning: extra long post below.)

2018 ushered in a rough season for our family. We made a quick trip to Winnipeg over Spring break when we got word that a much loved family member had just been diagnosed with breast cancer that had spread extensively. We arrived and returned home just before she began 18 rounds of chemo. While we were there we also visited with my aunt who has been in the hospital since early January, and is still struggling every day with significant health challenges and pain. We returned home to find out that our close friend and church pastor had been diagnosed with a cancerous tumour in his tear duct - seven years after his first battle with cancer. We watched him deal with the rapid growth of the tumour that pushed against his eye and caused incredible pain and pressure in his head. Then, he endured an 8 hour surgery on April 17th that resulted in the loss of his eye and skin grafts from one arm and one leg, followed by a long and painful recovery. 

In the midst of all this pain in our extended family and friend circle, we began to experience some health challenges in our immediate family, as well. Our second son, Caiden tripped over a tree root at Stillwood camp in early April. I felt pretty certain that it must be only a sprain when I heard that he had continued to play Gaga Ball with his friends for another 3 hours after he hurt it. Around the same time our youngest son started randomly falling asleep in the middle of the day in the car, one day on the couch etc. On Easter Sunday, Sharaya remarked on his complexion and Curtis and I looked at him and were both immediately concerned. I had noticed, and been somewhat troubled by the dark circles under his eyes, but this was even more troubling. His complexion looked almost greyish. We decided that we needed to get him checked out by our family dr at his first available opening. Our doctor ran some blood work that day and discovered that Brennan was anemic. He called us at home and gave us the name of an iron supplement that he wanted us to put him on, and then told us to take him back for more blood work in a few weeks, to make sure it was helping. We did so, and I made a follow up appointment for him, Caiden (who was still limping and complaining about pain in his foot), and for myself because I thought I might be anemic, too. 

On May 9th, Our doctor looked at Brennan’s blood work and was concerned because his hemoglobin levels were still at 103 and his platelets were low, too. He gave Brennan and I requisitions for blood work, and one to Caiden for an x-ray. Since our Doctor’s Clinic is not far from Peace Arch hospital, we went straight there so that we could get everything done at once. While I was literally running between the imaging room and the lab, I got a phone call from my oldest son, Ashton. He was in a great deal of pain and had called to tell me that he thought he had broken his foot and that he needed me to pick him up because he couldn’t walk home. I really could hardly believe all these things were happening at once! I called a friend, who picked up Ashton for me and drove him home, and called my parents who came to wait with my boys at Peace Arch for Caiden’s x-ray. Then, I drove home, picked up Ashton and took him to Surrey Memorial. While we were waiting for his x-ray, I checked out my ehealth app and found that my blood test results had already been processed and I had a high TSH number - hypothyroidism...that’s why I felt like I was running on empty. 

Shortly after, I noticed that I had a voice message. I listened to it; it was from my doctor. He was letting me know that the liver enzyme tests he had run on Brennan had come back astronomically high, and he wanted us to take him straight to Emergency. At this point, I cried. Right in the middle of a hospital waiting room. I couldn’t hold the tears back. I texted a friend to come and wait with Ashton. Curtis and Sharaya picked the boys up from my parents, and we met up at home. At some point, I found out that Caiden and Ashton both had a broken foot, but it wasn’t for another day or two that I found out they had both broken the exact same bone in their right foot, approximately one month apart. I tell you, I felt like the worst parent in the world when I heard that Caiden’s foot had been broken for an entire month before I took him in to see a doctor!  After a bit of deliberation about which hospital to go to, Curtis and I took Brennan into Surrey Memorial. We missed Ashton, who arrived home with our friend, Melissa (and pizza) shortly after we left. We were fast tracked, I felt, as we seemed to bypass the lineup in the standing-room-only waiting room in the pediatrics department. Although that was nice, my uneasiness grew as the concern over Brennan’s blood work results was obvious. There was nothing overly concerning in the doctors’ physical exam and assessment of Brennan, but the lead pediatrician ordered a lot more blood tests, and an ultrasound of his liver for the next day. So, back we went. His liver and his spleen were both enlarged and his blood work was starting to point in the direction of an autoimmune disease. We were told that we were being referred to three specialists at Children’s Hospital in Vancouver; a hematologist a gastroenterologist and a rheumatologist. 

The next couple of weeks were full of trips to Vancouver, more and more blood tests, examinations by Specialists, a bone marrow biopsy and, finally, a two-night hospital stay and a liver biopsy. (That one was rough!) The teams of doctors were trying to figure out if it was a blood disease that was affecting his liver, a liver disease that was affecting his blood, or an underlying Lupus-like autoimmune disease that was affecting both. We had a few highlights to break up the stress of these situations-Sharaya got her drivers license after several delays, and we were all able to attend our oldest son, Ashton’s high school graduation. 

A few days after the final liver biopsy test, we were called with the news that Brennan has Autoimmune Hepatitis. His own immune system is attacking his liver. The diagnosis, although hard to hear, did bring a sense of peace with it - we finally knew what was wrong, and a plan was being implemented to treat it, and hopefully bring it into remission in a few years’ time. I wish I could say that this was the end of the stress, but unfortunately it wasn’t.Our friend got news that the cancer wasn’t only contained in his eye region but had indeed spread to his lymph nodes. So, while he had known all along he would be receiving radiation treatment, he was now facing chemo therapy along with it. Simultaneously. Our hearts are so burdened by this news and, as of today, the treatments are extremely hard on his body. We dearly love him, his wife and his four boys, as well as his extended family. He is still in the battle, so please pray for him. 

A few weeks ago, Brennan had a fever and a cold, and had to miss his last day of class. So, while he was recuperating in bed, I decided to get started on a huge list of things that needed my attention, after our busy few weeks of hospital visits. The first thing I decided to do was brush our dogs, who were beginning to look quite neglected. I sat on the stair, second from the bottom, and brushed and stripped their coats over the tile floor in the entry way, as I usually do. I must have been sitting in an awkward position while I continuously held them still and brushed because when I finally stood up, I herniated a disc in my lower back! I made my way back upstairs, but I was soon completely immobilized. When Curtis got home from work and found that, even with his help, I couldn’t make it to the bathroom and back without unimaginable pain, he called 911. Sharaya arrived home from her job just in time to see me carried down to the ambulance. My oldest son, who really is the kind of guy you want around in a crisis, jumped in the ambulance and spent a long night sitting beside my stretcher in an Emergency room hallway. I was finally discharged at 6am, after I had been given enough morphine to allow me to walk carefully to the bathroom on my own with a walker. Curtis picked us up, and slept on the couch beside me until about 10 am.

Sharaya and her friend, Victoria, were planning to go out to celebrate Sharaya’s birthday with a few other friends, since it was her day off. Victoria, sweetheart that she is, made us all breakfast. At the same time, Sharaya started experiencing pain in her abdomen. Curtis and Ashton had just left to take our laser engraver in to be fixed, and so I suggested that perhaps Victoria should take Sharaya to a nearby walk-in Clinic. The Dr wasn’t sure what might be wrong, and she was ordering some tests. While she was taking her blood pressure, Sharaya fainted. Now, those of us who know her well, weren’t terribly surprised or alarmed when we heard. If I had been there, I probably would have told the doctor not to worry about it. (If you get a chance, you should definitely ask her to tell you the story about the time she tried to donate blood! Haha) Anyway, the doctor was concerned and called an ambulance to take her to the Langley hospital. As it turned out, it was exactly where she needed to be because her appendix needed to come out.

I painfully made my way to the hospital the next day so that I could be with her while she waited for her laparoscopic surgery. I really couldn’t sit, so I climbed into her bed with her. It was such a crazy experience. We were both in a great deal of pain, and the previous weeks had been so stressful, but the only thing to do really, at this point, was laugh. We tried not to, because it hurt to laugh, but the situation was so ludicrous, we couldn’t not laugh.

So, now we are all home again, and in recovery mode. Sharaya has healed enough to go back to her camp job. I’m three weeks into an estimated 6 week recovery period. We are still waiting to see an orthopedic surgeon to find out if Caiden needs surgery on his foot. Brennan’s treatment seems successful so far, and Ashton’s foot has healed.
As I lie here on my couch, I picture myself resting in the shadow of the Almighty. God has been so near to us in this season. In spite of the difficulty and the pain, He has encouraged my heart through the unexpected time spent together, through the messages, phone calls and prayers of our friends, and meals lovingly prepared and delivered by our church family and community. He truly is my fortress and my God in whom I trust. 

Psalm 91:1-2 He who dwells in the secret place of the most high - wood sign