These words were a promise from God, impressed on my heart over and over again during one of the toughest seasons of my life, which I went through this past spring (June/July)….
The month of June was packed with many many challenges…it was a month filled with tears, anxiety, fear, anger, exhaustion, disappointment, questions…..many times I was asking “are you there Lord?, Are you listening?, Are you kidding me?, Why are you allowing this to happen? Really Lord!?”…. It was a time that Warren and I had to hold onto every promise we knew of from His word, every scripture….we held onto the words and promises in every hymn and praise song, which always seemed to play at the perfect time that we needed to hear it, or the lyrics would play in my heart and head just to help me hold on through another moment at times. There were times I had to just cry out and ask for the Lord to help me have enough faith to get through the next few minutes, but I also realized it was my choice to hold onto that faith…a choice to have a confident expectation that the Lord truly is all that He says He is, and can do all that He says He can do. A choice to believe either it’s all true…or none of it is true. And although every tough thing that has happened in the past few months is not resolved, YET, I am writing this to testify to the fact that, when it comes to God’s word, His promises, His character…. it is ALL true!
I went into the month of June signing on for a fitness challenge that I was going to take on, along with my “Unleash the Champion” family. It was a pretty extreme challenge headed up by Carter Hays, an incredible trainer who has trained many athletes, as well as some of the contestants from The Biggest Loser, bringing them to the finale as strong and as fit as they can be. He was creating the same scenario, an extreme challenge for extreme weight loss, for us to do just during the month of June. Some people went to train and stay with him in Nashville for the month, and others of us were going to do it as intensely as we could at home. We had to set high goals for ourselves. My extreme goal for the month was 15-20 pounds. We had our own private facebook page to check in on each other, encourage one another, as well as receive our instructions from Carter. He gave us the basic info, we had to do it all on our own from home….very specific food journals, and very extreme calorie burns. It took me over 8 hours and over 3 days just to look up and shop for, and figure out the food for the first week. I had it all set. My family was going to do all they could to help and support me, as they knew this was going to take a lot of my time for the next 30 days. I had to start 1 day late, as Weight Watchers asked me to do a speaking engagement on that Saturday. But Sunday, June 2, I was full on. I had never been at my gym on a Sunday, no classes available, so I did every machine I knew to burn big numbers. I put my Bodybugg on, burned more calories than I have ever burned in a day, and was in this challenge full throttle. June 3, Monday, I went to the gym, took 2 hours of tough classes (I told my gym about the challenge, and every instructor jacked up the classes for me to work the hardest I could work.)
June 3rd was my dad’s 79th birthday. I planned a birthday dinner, around the foods I could have, but my dad didn’t feel so well, and he decided to go to bed early, and asked me to postpone his birthday celebration to when he felt better. June 4th, I had completed 2 hours of classes, was on the elliptical to burn a little extra before going home, and one of the trainers came up to hand me the gym phone… by the look on her face, I knew it wasn’t good news.
It was my husband on the phone. He told me to hurry home, the ambulance was on it’s way, my mom had found my dad face down, up in his bedroom. I remember running out of the gym in tears, jumping into my car, calling my mother in law to start a prayer chain, and just pleading with God not to take my dad yet, I just wasn’t ready.
I followed the ambulance over to the hospital. After hours of being in the ER, they determined that he had ruptured his appendix. The infection was pretty bad, but engulfed itself. Lots of doctors together decided to treat with antibiotics, as it was too close to puncturing his bowels, etc.
The following week was spent in the hospital, almost around the clock. Dad was failing as his body tried to fight the infection. As I sat by his bedside, I prayed and wrote a lot. I tried to think of ways I could stay in the challenge, but I couldn’t leave his bedside to exercise. And there wasn’t room to exercise in his room, other than chair squats (which I did). I tried to take one class each morning, and prayed for God to just do a miracle. And in that first week He did. I lost 4.6 pounds!
Week two…more tough circumstances. I had a doctor’s appt. where they were watching something in my body. It was still there, so they had to do a blood test to test for cancer…and I wouldn’t find out the results until the following Tuesday or so. Week two my dad also got weaker and worse. I remember, along with pleading for his life and restored health, asking the Lord, “why now? Why during this challenge?” This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I had prepared so hard for it. All I could do was control the food completely, and choose not to take any elevators, just stairs, every time I went to, or left the hospital. I was there from morning until very late at night every day.
I realized halfway through the second week of June, that while I was living in the hospital, everything was coming due for my daughter Grace….final papers, high school finals, regents exams…she also had a big piano recital, dance recital, and was going to be singing at a wedding. While my dad was in ICU, I took a day to find a dress for her piano recital. Coming out of the dressing room, I slipped, and threw my left arm up in the air to catch myself. As I did, I felt a strange pain shoot from my shoulder down to my hand, and I remember thinking,” Ooh, that wasn’t good.” The next morning I woke up in excruciating pain. I couldn’t dress myself, I couldn’t move my arm at all, and couldn’t stop crying from the pain. I went to the doctor, and got an anti inflammatory. Thursday and Friday my husband had to dress me, the pain was worse. I ended up in Pro Health with an amazing sports doctor who told me that I had a big calcium deposit on my shoulder which burst into my arm.
He took a huge needle and put it into my shoulder, broke up more of the pieces, and filled my arm with cortisone. I had a little relief, and some great pain killers to take (which I had never taken before). The pain killers worked a little to sleep, but I slept sitting up, with a sling on my arm to hold my arm against my body. Just walking and swinging it a bit was so painful. I was told it could take months until I could get back to exercising like I was, and if the cortisone shots didn’t work, I might need surgery.
I remember reading all of the amazing posts from everyone in the challenge each and every day. The pictures of their transformations in just 2 weeks was astounding. I was so happy for them, and felt so sorry for myself. As I thought about having to quit, I decided to just keep praying for, and encouraging everyone in the challenge, and I remember writing to Carter, deciding that I guess I had to give up the challenge completely. I will never forget what he said… He said, “Wendy, you have been climbing a mountain and you are headed for the top. You have to stop and take shelter now, and that is ok. You have come too far. Are you going to turn around and retreat and run back down the mountain..or are you going to stop and take some shelter and then keep climbing to the top?” Those words were so powerful at that moment, and I also held onto what he has always asked each and every one of us…”don’t tell me what you can’t do….tell me what you CAN do!”
I knew that I had come too far to retreat. And I knew I had to take shelter for a while, as I could barely walk, let alone exercise. I could control the food completely, so I kept up with everything Carter told us to do. Week two and week three, I ate perfectly, but could not exercise. I didn’t weigh in, because I was afraid I would be up from the cortisone shots. I remember strapping my arm to my body, driving with one hand to the hospital, and just walking in the gloomy hallway stairwells, which no one else used. I remember just crying and praying on those steps, asking God to just get me through another day…this was all too much…..My dad was failing, my arm was in such pain, I could barely walk without pain, I was waiting for blood results which may or may not be cancer, (and we also had another huge wave of devastation hit us in another area which I can’t discuss here, but it is huge.) It was also the last month of school for my daughter, which was filled with important responsibilities.
With all of this going on, my husband and I could barely breathe, and we were barely together during this time, as he was working so much, and I was living at the hospital. We had all of our friends and family praying, we went to church and to prayer meetings on Tuesday nights. We prayed so hard together for all of this.
The timing of all of this was also really hard, because this entire year, we were looking forward to going away and celebrating the milestones of this past year. My son turned 21, my daughter turned 16, and July 22 would be our 25th wedding anniversary. We all agreed that instead of big parties, we wanted to go away together this summer. Our dream was to go to Italy. In the beginning of spring due to other unforeseen circumstances, that dream ended for now. However, my brother had been here months ago, and he and my husband went online one morning when the campsites in Yosemite went on sale. They sell out in minutes. You can’t even ask for a specific day. That morning, they had everything typed out and in order to hit “send”, as soon as the sale started, and they miraculously got a spot that morning, for 4 days in July.
My brother told me not to worry, if we couldn’t join him,(he lives in California), he was going to go anyway, but he knew that renting an RV and taking our family to a national park was one of the things on my “bucket list”, and he and my husband did this for me. That was months and months ago, way before I knew all this would be happening. But God was already orchestrating where we would be celebrating as a family.
We hadn’t bought our plane tickets yet, as I couldn’t see us being able to leave, but every time we prayed, every time we worshipped in church, every time we were at a prayer service, every time I walked and prayed in those dark stairwells at the hospital, the Lord kept telling me in my heart, “you WILL praise me at the top of that mountain.” I would picture myself at the top of a mountain, with my hands both lifted high, just praising Him as if all this was over, as if every prayer was answered. The songs that got me through included, “if faith could move the mountains, let the mountains move”….
“If faith can move the mountains, let the mountains move
We come with expectation, waiting here for you
I’m waiting here for you..
Your the Lord of all creation, and still you know my heart
The author of salvation, you’ve loved us from the start
Waiting here for you..With our hands, lifted high in praise
And it’s you we adore, singing Alleluia.
You are everything you promised, your faithfulness is true
And we’re desperate for your presence, all we need is you.
Waiting here for You
With our hands lifted high in praise
And it’s You we adore
Every time I sang this song, I pictured myself at the top of a mountain, with my hands lifted high in praise, singing these lyrics. (even though my arm was in a sling, strapped to my body in excruciating pain, not able to move..with doctors/trainers telling me that it could be months before I get my range of motion back.) And over and over again, at my darkest moments during these months, the Lord kept telling me that I was going to praise him at the top of the mountain. Trust Him.
So, here we were in June, bombarded with all these things happening. In the third week of June, my Dad started to respond to the antibiotics, and he started to get a bit better. When the hospital couldn’t do anything more, they moved him to a rehab center. He miraculously got into an outstanding rehab center that very few people know about, as it is brand new. It would take me too long to explain how that whole “God-incidence happened, but it did, and it was another miracle that I could hold onto, as it strengthened my faith to hold on and trust. My sister came from Vermont and my brother was coming in from California to help me, as I could no longer do it on my own. My mom told me to take the trip with my family while my dad was in rehab. My sister would stay and help.
At the end of the third week, and second set of cortisone shots, I began to move my arm a bit. As we went into the 4th week of the weight loss challenge, we knew that this was going to be the toughest week. The amount of food was brought down to a minimal amount of calories, and those who were in the challenge were going to work out as hard as they could this week. That Monday, I went to the gym in the morning to see if I could do the treadmill. One major change in my heart, and especially in my mind that came about with this injury, is that I have gone from saying, “I have to work out” to “I GET to work out”. I can’t believe how much I missed being able to move, all the things that I took for granted when my body could do everything. I kept holding onto what Carter says, “don’t tell me what you can’t do, tell me what you can do.” It was such a gift to be able to walk on a treadmill. Then I tried the elliptical using one arm, and then the stairclimber. I did 20 minutes on each, and it was really hard. I pushed myself a bit, but was careful not to injure my arm more. I wasn’t able to lift even a 3 pound weight with my left arm, my husband still had to help me get dressed, but that first day, I was just so happy to be back at the gym. I told myself that for this final week, I would come and do as much as I could on these 3 machines, and my husband and I would walk after dinner 4-5 miles, finding the best hills in our town to make it harder. I put my arm in a sling the first few days, then took it off as it healed. On Wednesday of that week, I called for my blood test results, and they said that the numbers were fine, there is nothing to worry about. A HUGE weight felt as if it had been lifted off of my shoulders, as my mind had gone into many dark places waiting for the results of something possibly being cancerous.
The last 48 hours of the challenge consisted of a fast. Nothing to eat, just drinking water, clear liquids for 24 or 48 hours, whatever you could do. I had never done this before. I prayed a lot during this last week, asking the Lord to just miraculously burn more calories in me than I could ever do myself, I knew He could, as I wasn’t going to be able to do this in my own strength.
If you have read my stories before, you know that I hold onto the promise, “I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me”, and I was asking Him to give me His miraculous strength to finish strong, even in the midst of all that had happened this past month. My brother came in that Friday, and the challenge was ending on Sunday. I picked him up from the airport, and told him that I was in the last part of the fast for the first day. He told me that he was going to help me make it through both days. I wasn’t sure I could. At that point, I was starting to let myself off the hook and be satisfied with 24 hours. But then Carter sent out a message to all of us about finishing strong…
“What you do today during this challenge can completely validate this month for you and catapult you through tomorrow, or diminish every drop of sweat, sacrifice, and tear you’ve shed.FINISH is more than being “done”!!! it is what you’ll remember as a breakthrough time, or a breakdown time. What happen on days 1-28 are held hostage or set free by what you do today… and takes you through tomorrow like a runaway train… (then he added this scripture)..
2 Timothy 4:7 (NIV)
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
….I knew after reading his post that I had to finish this strong, even after not being able to do everything I had planned I would.
Saturday morning, I went to WW and weighed in, I was down another 7.4 pounds, which brought me to 12 for the challenge…but, I still had 1 day to go. Saturday was really tough to get through. I was so hungry, I spent a lot of time praying and journaling. That night, at around 10 pm, my brother said, “grab your sneakers, we are going for one last push.” We went for a long walk. We stopped down by the water, where they were showing an outdoor movie night of “Rocky”. We watched a little bit to get inspired…watched Rocky slurp down those raw eggs, and then we were off to finish what I started. We took a long walk, and when I hit the pillow late that night, I thanked God for being able to do this challenge, in the midst of one of the toughest months of my life, even though it turned out very differently than I had thought. I was thankful for the 12 pounds for the month, and was excited to take measurements and a final weigh in in the morning before church.
Sunday morning I came down, grabbed the tape measure, took my measurements, and then subtracted them each from the ones I took on June 1st. My body measurements went down over 11 ½ inches! Then I got on the scale….and had to look again. I lost 15 pounds! 15!….All I could say was…..ONLY GOD! ONLY GOD could have pulled out that miraculous number, because I didn’t reach enough total burns each day for that to happen. What a gift. What a blessing. What a miracle.
I went to church that morning, just thanking and praising him for this incredible miracle in the midst of one of the toughest months of my life, and as I sang and praised him, he reminded me again, “Wendy, I know things are really tough, but trust me, you WILL praise me at the top of the mountain. You are going to Yosemite, and you will praise me there.”
I wasn’t sure how I was going to climb yet, or even how I was going to pack my suitcase and carry it, and at that point, the idea of being able to raise my left arm above my head was just a dream. And the doctor said it could be weeks, maybe months till I could just raise it above my head without pain. But I was trusting God…the God who makes all things possible, the one who works ALL things together for my good. The God who just pulled out a miraculous 15 pound weight loss in a month with a major injury, incredible stress, and some other really scary and awful circumstances in our family… beyond our control.
We continued to hold onto the fact that nothing takes Him by surprise, He is the author and perfecter of time and of our faith. Even in the midst of the darkest times, He promises to work all things together for the good of those who love him…and we love Him.
Friends and family came together at home to take care of my parents so that we could fly to California to share our vacation with my brother’s family. I don’t think I took anything for granted on this trip, and I asked the Lord to just orchestrate every single moment, and not let us miss one God-incident. I kept a journal, starting on the plane, and on the top of one of the pages I wrote, “Lord, surround the RV with your angels of protection. Let this be a time together where we share your love and say–ONLY GOD!!..at the end of each day. Orchestrate it all, and all the conversations.”
It was already surreal to all be on the airplane taking off. We were really going. Dad was doing better in rehab. A few weeks ago, we were calling a code alert in the hospital, thinking he was about to die, and now he was in rehab starting to walk again. My mom was breathing better and on less medications for the first time in a long time, My arm was no longer in a sling, and I could dress myself and even pack my suitcase (slowly) on my own. I had just lost 15 pounds in 30 days, in the middle of one of the toughest months of my life. There were still a few other very very serious and tough situations that were still needing an act of God, but we knew (and know) He is working on it.
The trip was filled with the most incredible gifts. His timing and His presence was unmistakable. Everyone, including the kids kept pointing it all out. It was beyond extraordinary. When we arrived in Yosemite on Sunday, we rode bikes over to book our grand tour we wanted to take on Monday. The woman said, “this never happens, but we are sold out.” Instead of having my usual disappointed reaction to this fact, as it was not going with “my plan”, I said out loud, “ok, God must want us to go the next day, is that available?” The lady looked at me a little strangely, and then said, “wow, this rarely happens, but we are almost sold out on that one also. But we do have 7 spots.” I said to Warren, in front of the woman, I can’t wait to point out to the kids that God must have some reason for this timing.”
Knowing we would be on our own now the next day, we asked where the greatest hike would be, where we could see waterfalls… and she said if our kids were older and could handle it, we should go and hike Nevada and Dakota falls. She said it was a tough hike, but so beautiful, and the waterfalls were much bigger than the Yosemite falls. So, that was our plan for the next day.
We got up that morning, excited for the hike. We started the climb, and I got to climb and share some great faith stories with my niece and nephew, something my brother had asked me to do months ago…and now this ended up being the perfect time. We climbed and shared and took pictures at different points, and after each picture, they walked with me and asked me to continue the stories. It was beautiful.
When we reached the bottom of the first falls, it was breathtaking! The majesty surrounding us can’t even be put into words, and even our pictures don’t do it justice. As I walked this part with my husband, we just stood there and said, “this is our moment. This is where we are going to praise Him.” We took a “self” picture and then stood there and praised Him and prayed and placed the rest of our heavy concerns into His capable and loving and mighty and powerful hands. I said those lyrics, If Faith can move a mountain, let the mountains move…. I climbed a little higher, with the falls behind me and threw my hands up in the air for Warren to take a picture. But this wasn’t over yet…
The kids didn’t want to climb any further, so Warren stayed with them and they took in the majesty for a while and talked there, while my brother and I decided to climb to the very top of the falls.
The rest of this climb was treacherous. Sometimes I had to climb over huge rocks and have him pull my right arm, and trust that he could pull me up, as my left arm was weak, and hurt a bit. But, it was working, and pulling. There were steps carved into the steep rocks, and my brother lead the way and just told me to follow in his footsteps. As I climbed, this whole fitness journey flashed through my head. I realized I never could have done this climb even a year ago. I was strong and fit enough to do this now. As the steps got steeper, and it was tougher to breathe, I just quoted scripture with every step, one word for each step….”I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, He works all things together for good for those who love Him, He who is in me is greater than He who is in the world, with God All things are possible….etc. etc.”
There was a point where there was a metal banister along the wall to make sure you didn’t fall off the cliff, when I reached the very top of that, the very top of the falls, tears began to stream down my face behind my sunglasses, I was just overcome with emotion, and my brother just said, “let it out Wen, say all that you have to say!”
I shared all the things God gave me, and just said them out loud to him at the top of that waterfall. The water rushed over that cliff, and his promises, and songs just rushed out of me. It was astounding, exhilarating… and my brother and I just pointed out that only a week or 2 ago, we were in the hospital, cleaning up so many tough messes with my dad, experiencing some of the worst moments you can in a hospital… and here we both were, at the top of this waterfall just thanking God for what He has done. We took in the breathtaking scenery, took some great pictures to try to capture what was going on, and prayed for those things, still unanswered at this time. Again, placing it all into the same hands that created everything surrounding us at this moment. It was overwhelming.
It was a day I will never ever forget. God promised me that I would praise Him at the top of the mountain, in the midst of the darkest days, in the midst of excruciating pain and disappointment, at the times I was crying my hardest, and in the dark stairwells of a hospital…not only did he fulfill this incredible promise, but….take a breath here…. He orchestrated THIS promised moment, all to occur…. on the EXACT day of our 25th wedding anniversary!! ( remember how we hit “send” on the computer months ago to win a spot in a lottery where you can’t request a date, remember how the grand tour was sold out?, etc. etc.)
That continues to take my breath away when I think of His timing. Months and months ago, before all of this happened, before this tough month of June even happened, it was placed on my brother’s heart to try for a random spot and a random time in Yosemite,(which was closed out in minutes), yet we got a spot, for 4 days, which happened to fall on my 25th wedding anniversary. Then a tour that rarely sells out, sells out, so that we can’t go, because God knew that He wanted to fulfill His promise to me on the actual date of this momentous occasion. So…..for the rest of my life, we can glorify Him and tell this incredible story about a God who’s promises are YES and AMEN!.. And who is clearly the author and perfecter of time. Nothing takes Him by surprise, even if it takes us by surprise.
I couldn’t have planned this story if I tried, and it is only part of all that happened during this trip, I would need a few more hours and a few more blogs to tell you about the rest, because just as I asked Him, every night we all said, “Only God could have done that today!”….Just as He promises…He did ABUNDANTLY MORE than I could have ever asked or imagined!
During the darkest moments these past few months, all we could do was pray, hold onto promises, ask for his peace that passes all understanding, especially when we felt alone, abandoned, forgotten…scared, anxious, defeated. As the Psalmist says, “there may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning.” We are still walking through some tough stuff, but He is faithful. He has never ever left us before, even in the midst of the toughest times, so we know we don’t have to walk through it alone.
As we continue to pray for all of our concerns, we are brought back to that place, standing at the waterfall, surrounded the most beautiful scenes of nature just shouting out His majesty…we remember that He brought us there together on our actual 25th wedding anniversary, fulfilling a promise He gave us over and over again in the midst of so much heartache… that we would praise Him at the top of the mountain. We praised Him for all He has done, for what He is doing and for what He will do. And we live this day in faith…a confident expectation that He is all He says He is and will do all that He says He will do. He is the yes, and we are the amen!
I pray that this story encourages you today and strengthens your faith, no matter what you are going through, feeling or facing. He is faithful, He loves you so much, and He will never let you go.