Time Out for Remembrance: Celebrating My Husband’s Life

Labor Day weekend this year marked the fourth anniversary of my husband’s plight with a brain tumor.

In 2007, Devin was attempting to get back in shape and beginning to run again. He had been an athlete in high school, mainly with basketball and soccer. He ran a lot and continued to stay in shape for a while, but when he started working in careers mostly behind desks or driving around in cars, his activity level dropped and he became a bit out of shape and wanted to remedy that.

At the time, we were coming up on our 10th wedding anniversary, and I knew that he occasionally had headaches. Looking back over the years, I could see where they were increasing in frequency and in pain levels. It seemed like he was getting headaches more often and they seemed to be more severe, like what I would say would be almost migraines. (I very infrequently have headaches – I don’t even remember having one until my late 20’s. I experience mild ones when I’m tired, or because of hormones, a cold, or caffeine withdrawal. They’re not usually anything I take medicine for, but if so, a couple ibuprofen always take care of it.) So I couldn’t empathize with Devin very well. I would tell him to take some ibuprofen and expected him to be fine. Whenever the ibuprofen didn’t help, I thought it was a bit weird, but despite continued pain sometimes, he would usually always keep chugging through life. He’s very driven and sometimes bordering on “workaholism”. Things have to get very severe to make this guy slow down!

Anyway, as he was beginning to run again, he started with a headache that wouldn’t go away. No over-the-counter medicine was helping. It lasted for quite a few days, maybe even a couple of weeks. Then it started increasing intensity. He quit running and he quit drinking caffeine in an attempt to get the pain to stop. Nothing was working. Over Labor Day weekend in ’07, my mom and sister were going to go shopping at some outlet malls and invited us to go along. (Alexis was almost 3 and Jasmine was 16 months old at the time.) I love to shop, so I told Devin that the girls and I were going and he could come if he wanted. I could tell he wanted to go – after all he didn’t have anything else going on that day and he wanted to spend time with us. But at the same time he was hesitant. He seemed a bit tired and he was in pain, and light was beginning to bother him. It was a sunny day. Despite that, he ended up going with us, with his sunglasses in tow, and reclining the car seat to snooze as we drove – the outlets were 60-90 minutes away for us.

We shopped around a bit and went home, all the while Devin was telling me his head was throbbing and getting worse. I put the kids to bed and was puttering around the house doing dishes and picking up toys before I was going to sit down and relax before bed. Devin was laying on the couch and called me in to say that his head was hurting so bad that he needed to either call an ambulance or get to an ER. He was holding his head and told me to feel it – I could see and feel that it was literally pulsating. I went and called the ER of the small hospital where we would go, just to see if they could help him if we went in. My friend Laura was working that night and answered the phone. I was so relieved to be talking to her and not a stranger! She said if the headache was that severe, to go ahead and bring him in.

I called my parents and told them what was going on and that we would be dropping the girls off to spend the rest of the night with them on our way to the hospital. The ER wasn’t that busy, but it still took forever! Devin’s head was throbbing tremendously in the ER waiting room – both inside and outside. He kept wanting me to go ask the triage nurses how much longer it would be. Knowing what we know now, we think that the tumor was rupturing during this time.

The ER doctor wasn’t much help, quite frankly. I mean, he relieved the pain by giving Devin injections of muscle relaxers and pain killers, but he wasn’t taking it as seriously as he should have and was just spewing advice about migraines and telling Devin to get an appointment to see his regular doctor.

A few days later, Devin saw his doctor. This was the second visit – Devin had seen him shortly before the ER visit, where he was also assuming along the lines of migraines. I don’t think anyone really thinks they’ll find a brain tumor. But with this being the second visit, he began to take Devin’s case a little more seriously and ordered an MRI.

It just so happened that the next few weeks were going to be very busy traveling for our family. Devin was going to be a speaker at a newspaper conference in State College, PA, about a six hour drive to the east. Then he was going to drive straight from there to St. Louis, MO to attend a good friend’s wedding. The girls and I were going on a vacation with my family to the Outer Banks, NC for a week – leaving the day Devin was driving from PA to MO. Then we’d be home for 5 days and then Devin and I were going to Myrtle Beach, SC for a long weekend business conference. Whew!

So, the MRI was scheduled for the Monday when he got back from MO and the girls and I were in NC, first thing in the morning. By late morning, they called Devin at work and told him to get to one of the hospitals that was in the town where he was working – the ER would be expecting him. He went over, not really knowing what was up, but knowing it must be serious if they were telling him to get to the ER. (The pain had greatly subsided since the prior ER visit with the throbbing and pulsating.) He was in that hospital until about midnight that night, having MRI after MRI done with different contrasts and dyes being injected. He had called me before all that began to let me know what was happening. At that point, though, I’m not sure how much he knew or if he was just “shielding” me from the exact severity of the situation. He told me they had seen something on the original MRI and needed to check it again. He told me to go ahead and stay in NC and enjoy the vacation.

As the week passed and we talked everyday, I came to find out that he had a brain tumor. It was a dermoid cyst type of tumor, which was not cancerous, thank God! Typically, dermoid cysts are found on ovaries, but they have been found in various parts of people’s bodies, both males and females. They are the result of something going wrong during a fetus’ development in the mother’s womb. Usually they begin because a cell or group of cells are misplaced from where they are supposed to be, but they continue to develop anyway. For example, dermoid cysts have been known to have bazaar things inside them, like teeth, hair, nerves, eye balls, bones, etc. Devin’s tumor was the size of a baseball, between his skull and brain – smashing his brain actually. His was primarily a really big hair ball (blond hair!), that was surrounded by a mayonnaise-like substance and was contained in a sac-type thing. Evidently, a hair cell got stuck under his skull when he was developing and it continued to grow on the inside of his head and the mayo-substance was a natural reaction from the body in guarding against the irritation of the hair. In Devin’s case, his tumor ruptured, so there was mayo-substance all over his brain and through the optic nerves for the eye. They had to do surgery to remove everything. If any material was left, there is a possibility of the tumor re-developing. They considered going up through his nose, but it was too messy and a vein was in the way. So a craniotomy was scheduled a few weeks later, after our travels were done, just days before his 30th birthday. We were warned that the rupturing of a tumor in or on the brain can cause seizures or strokes, but since it didn’t happen at the time of rupture, he was probably okay until they could do surgery. It wasn’t an emergency.

We got through the surgery and recovery. However, since the surgery, his left eye is damaged. The surgeon was very aggressive and rough with scraping the optic eye nerves, trying to get all the mayo-material out. His left pupil stays dilated larger than normal, the eye ball will only move from the center to the outside but not center to inside (toward the nose), and the eye lid will only open half-way. He still suffers with regular headaches and wears prescription sunglasses during the day every day. Since the nerve function has not returned in four years, the prognosis seems like this is how his eye will remain, unless God chooses to intervene with a miracle.

Although Devin has handled all this with a lot of grace, I have seen his suffering and the social and mental anguish this has caused him. His self-confidence has waned. He is self-conscience, especially when meeting someone new for the first time and wearing sunglasses inside or at night if he’s not at home. Many women look at him like he’s “shady” and people have said that they thought he was trying to have some sort of “Joe-Cool” look, which is not the way he would choose to roll. He avoids going to stores after the sun has set for fear that they will think him suspicious like a robber. Something that is not imperative, but still sad, is that he can’t see 3D movies. My heart hurts for him with these ongoing issues. I hate that people would see my husband as shady or cheesy and that he can’t enjoy the simple pleasure of 3D and for his physical pain. In my eyes, he is the same handsome, strong, confident, driven, kind, loving man prior to surgery. I thank God for his life and that God protected us from things being even worse than they are. We continue to pray for a miracle and God’s grace for the interim.

This is a photo of our family the day before his craniotomy:

This is a photo of Devin & the girls on our recent trip to the Outer Banks:

Time Out for Remembrance: Hurricane Katrina

This time of year brings a time of remembrance and special prayer for me. There are three tragic events that have happened around this time in our lives. I will be sharing three “Time Out for Remembrance” posts. Then I’ll get back to the love language series.

We just passed the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. My husband, oldest daughter, (who was then 10 months old), and I lived in Mississippi when the hurricane hit the Gulf of Mexico. I remember it very well. We lived in a small 2-bedroom house in a private lake community that was out well away from the city where my husband worked. MS is filled with tall pine trees, and the community we lived in was very wooded – our property was up against a forest of pines. We were about 3 hours (not sure of mileage) north of the Gulf, so we weren’t right on the coast, but us native Pennsylvanians still experienced a large hurricane!

We were in New Orleans to see a Saints football game the day before Katrina hit! My husband had gotten a VIP pass for us, where we got to eat in a special area before the game started, and the package included a free second night hotel stay. It was a Friday night game. Saturday, we took time to walk around N.O. and see the sights and culture. It was a beautiful warm sunny day. You wouldn’t know a hurricane was coming, except for a few places, like the aquarium, that was boarding up its windows. I totally shudder to think what we would have experienced if we had indeed used that free night in the hotel. We aren’t usually ones to pass up free things ~ especially things like a night in a hotel. However, just because I was scheduled to be helping in the church nursery that Sunday, plus with the hurricane possibly coming, I convinced my husband to head home Saturday evening. As we left N.O., the traffic wasn’t horrible, but it seemed like more people than usual were heading north out of N.O. for a Saturday night. As we looked over at the south-bound lanes, we only saw a sparse vehicle here and there, and lots of police vehicles going into the city. It was kind-of eerie, actually.

We got home and went to bed. In the morning, we went to church. The sky was cloudy and there was a brisk breeze. Everyone at church kept asking everyone else if they were ready – if they had supplies on hand, like water, flashlights, batteries, etc. If it weren’t for the people at the church seeming to be taking it more seriously and putting out a call to make sure people were ready, I probably wouldn’t have considered heading back to the store to make sure we had everything they recommended.

The hurricane officially made landfall I think sometime Sunday night. Monday morning was still overcast, rain had begun, and the wind was picking up. My husband went to work as usual and I was waiting to see how things were on Monday morning to decide whether to go to the store! Around 9a, I called my husband to see what was going on and how things were out there. (He worked at a newspaper so they would know… and we didn’t have cable/satellite/internet services at home… not even rabbit ears – just a DVD player to watch movies and otherwise I listened to Christian radio and read books all day, when our daughter was napping, which was often because of the anti-seizure medication she was on at the time). He said they were planning to close the office early, around 2p, when the hurricane was supposed to be about hitting our area, but otherwise, things were fine. I decided to go ahead and go to the store just to make sure we had water, a flashlight, and extra diapers and formula on hand. I went up to Wal-Mart, which was up on a hill. When I opened my car door, it whipped open so hard I almost thought it was going to fly off the hinges. I hugged my daughter close to shield her from the wind – by then it was big gusts, my hair was flying straight back and I had to lean into the wind a bit to make progress toward the store. Inside, they had hurricane supplies right up front and people were there buying last minute items. As we were walking through the store, a crew of firemen in their thick coats came walking through. They were from OHIO!!! I can’t recall where in OH, but I was like whoa! That’s when the real gravity of the situation hit me – how serious this was and wondering exactly what had happened south of us that firemen from that far north were coming to help. I kept trying to overhear people talking about the hurricane to see if I could hear what was happening, and all I could gather was that it was serious.

I drove home, feeling my little PT Cruiser get pushed by the wind a few times and noticing lots of leaves and sticks flying around. The rain was picking up, too. By the time my husband got home, he was glad he was driving a 4-wheel drive SUV! He said there were limbs and branches down all over, wet leaves on the roads, and there was a large part of a tree across the road as he had come around a bend and he had to slam on his breaks so he didn’t hit it. He got out of the car and physically moved it off the road, with strength he didn’t know he had. At some point in the late afternoon or early evening, our electricity went out. We hunkered down and listened to the wind whipping, rain splatting, and thunder & lightning.

As we were hanging out, riding out the storm, our daughter was playing in the living room. (We didn’t have a basement to be in.) She was at the age where she was pulling herself up to stand and starting to cruise around holding onto things. Our living room had one large wall of floor to ceiling windows, (well, they started just a few inches off the floor, with a little ledge). Alexis was standing at the windows, holding onto the ledge, and somehow she tripped and fell. She hit her chin, but there was blood pouring out of her mouth. I worried about her teeth. But upon inspection, it wasn’t her teeth. It wasn’t her lips, either. Then we saw – she had bit through the tip of her tongue!!! I thank God that the bleeding didn’t last too long and she seemed to be okay and still able to eat. But I was worried because there was a significant split in her tongue and I didn’t know if she should be getting stitches or seen by a doctor. Our electric was out and our cell phones weren’t working, so I couldn’t even call anyone, much less take her to the doctor or hospital.

We went to bed as usual that night, but didn’t get a lot of sleep. The storm was still raging. Sometime in the night, the wind and rain slowed down. We thought that aside from losing our electricity, we were safe. But as we laid in bed with the windows open since the A/C couldn’t run, we suddenly started to hear popping. Trees started snapping. I will never forget that sound as long as I live. Loud wood splintering sounds and sometimes a thud. The trees had been bent and whipped around to the point when the wind died down, they could no longer stand. I had thought when the wind died down, we would be in the clear. I never thought that after the wind the trees would snap. We weren’t lucky enough to escape with no damage. Four tall pines right along our fence line fell over onto our roof. They bent the fence, but luckily didn’t puncture the roof – just some minor shingle damage. Needless to say, it was very scary – the trees landed on the roof right above where we were laying in bed. We heard the snaps and knew trees close to us were going down. We just held our breath waiting to see where they would land and whether anything was going to come through the roof. We got our daughter out of bed and went downstairs with our pillows & blankets and camped on the living room floor for the rest of the night.

My husband went to work the next day, as they were shipping in a huge generator to power the newspaper press to get the news out. One of his coworkers brought in a bunch of meat that would go bad with no power to keep it frozen, so they opened the back bay and fired up a grill and had a giant cook out. I was still worried about Alexis’ tongue, and although I couldn’t call my husband to see what things were like out there, I decided if he had gone to work, I could probably get Alexis to the hospital. We stopped by the paper to get something to eat and tell my husband that we were going to the hospital. The roads were passable, thank goodness! The ground was littered with leaves and sticks and debris, but nothing was blocking the roads we were on. The ER was filled, it was hot because the A/C wasn’t being used by the hospital’s generator, and we had to wait a long time to be seen. I heard many people’s stories of injuries and needing medical treatment during the storm. It ended up being an exercise in futility, as I learned that most mouth/tongue injuries don’t require stitches and are the fastest healing injuries of anywhere else in the body. Her tongue would be okay on its own.

We were without power for four days and using water from our bathtub to flush the toilet and cooking on the grill. Our cell phones were out for a couple of days at least. It was difficult not being able to communicate with friends and family up north, who were worried about us. I think my mom was finally able to get through on the newspaper phone lines to talk to my husband. It was hot and yucky and like we were on a forced camping trip. But we were safe. We were extremely fortunate in the scope of what was happening just to our south. Immediately, I began feeling deep compassion for those people who were hit harder. There is something about going through the same hardship as someone else that binds people together in a profound and unspoken way. I wanted to be able to help and do something, but we weren’t in a position to do anything at that time. So I did all I could do – I prayed for those precious people.

Shortly after Katrina, we moved back to PA and we found out I was expecting our middle daughter – we had conceived her sometime just days before Katrina hit. I had been in the midst of so much worry and stress going through the hurricane, Alexis’ tongue injury, and moving, and yet it’s ironic how that pregnancy was the only one that was totally without complication!

I still follow the clean-up and rebuilding that is even now continuing in the south. I still pray for those people periodically who weathered the same storm. It was part of my life – so it’s in the fabric of my being. Even when other people in other parts of the United States or world might not remember, might get sick of hearing about it, or might be too busy dealing with the disasters in their own lives, (as I also have a tendency to do when things don’t directly impact me), there are those of us who survived Katrina scattered about and who still care.

Incidentally, we now live in Ohio ~ I will always remember those Ohio firemen in a Mississippi Wal-Mart who were coming down to help. Thank you for your service!

Spontaneous Community


Our Pastor is currently doing a series about Kingdom Living and has brought up a lot of good points. This past Sunday, the message was basically about spontaneous community. He first reviewed thoughts and Scripture passages about community itself and how we’re called to be in community with one another and how great the need is. The main text was Acts 2:41-47,

“Therefore those who accepted and welcomed his message were baptized, and there were added that day about 3,000 souls. And they steadfastly persevered, devoting themselves constantly to the instruction and fellowship of the apostles, to the breaking of bread [including the Lord’s Supper] and prayers. And a sense of awe (reverential fear) came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were performed through the apostles (the special messengers). And all who believed (who adhered to and trusted in and relied on Jesus Christ) were united and [together] they had everything in common; And they sold their possessions (both their landed property and their movable goods) and distributed the price among all, according as any had need. And day after day they regularly assembled in the temple with united purpose, and in their homes they broke bread [including the Lord’s Supper]. They partook of their food with gladness and simplicity and generous hearts, Constantly praising God and being in favor and goodwill with all the people; and the Lord kept adding [to their number] daily those who were being saved [from spiritual death].”

Focusing on this last bit (in bold), our Pastor pointed out how everyone was hospitable to each other, both believers and unbelievers. They (the church) were associating with everyone in gladness and with generous hearts. They were in favor and goodwill with all the people, and more and more people were turning to Jesus.

Pastor D was pointing out how we aren’t supposed to be “separatists” or “elitists”, saying we’re only going to associate with other believers or only do business with believers, etc. Nor should we befriend unbelievers just to be a “pet project” to convert them. Instead, we need to focus on just showing Christ’s love.

One way to do this is by creating “community”. He started talking about spontaneous community. One example was of one of us from the church showing up at the local park with a bunch of hot dogs and start grilling them and serving them up to anyone who happens to be there that day. Another example was of someone deciding to have a cook out at their house and invite their neighbors, co-workers, and church friends alike.

The Pastor’s words were echoing in my mind as I spontaneously decided to take my two youngest daughters to story time at the library on Tuesday. We haven’t been to story time in a very long time because my youngest has been taking a morning nap up until recently. And with the beautiful weather, I didn’t want to stay home all day.

As we were scurrying around getting ready to go, I had a flashback come to mind of a friend of mine in PA, Sara. Several years ago, (I can’t remember if my middle was born yet or not), saw me at story time, and in a moment of what seemed to be “spontaneous community”, invited me and a few other moms to her house afterwards for pancakes. I went and got to know her and the other moms better, and really enjoyed her thoughtfulness, hospitality, community, and yes, her spontaneity. (I’m a planner & organizer, so being spontaneous isn’t really my forte.)

I thought about turning the tables…what would it be like for me to suddenly invite some moms over? Well, I’d be wondering if I had all the necessary ingredients at home, or enough ingredients… or what about the milk supply, like if someone’s child needed a refill? In the rushing around to get ready, the remnants of breakfast were still splashed out over the table and cereal crumbs ground into the carpet… certainly I’d need to wipe the table, vacuum the floors, and somehow squeeze all the dirty dishes into the dishwasher!!! I didn’t think my pantry or my house would be able to handle it… or is that rather, my own ego and pride?!?!

I’m reminded of the classic Bible story of Mary & Martha, out of Luke 10:38-42. Jesus, (and probably some disciples and people that were traveling with Him), happened to come to a village “and a woman named Martha received and welcomed Him into her house”. This is clearly a case of unplanned visitor(s).

Martha’s sister, Mary, just sat down and drank in the words of Jesus. The Amplified Bible says,”But Martha [overly occupied and too busy] was distracted with much serving…” She was upset that Mary wasn’t helping out. Martha told Jesus to tell Mary, “to help me [to lend a hand and do her part along with me]!” Then Jesus told Martha, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; There is need of only one or but a few things. Mary has chosen the good portion [that which is to her advantage], which shall not be taken away from her.”

In Sara’s shoes, I would have been “anxious and troubled about many things”. I would have been upset if as soon as we got home, my daughters didn’t start helping to clean up the house. Can you see me at warp speed trying to clean and yell for help from my 4-year-old as I’m tripping over my 1-year-old? Can you hear the kitchen cupboard doors banging around in a frantic assessment of what they contain? It would hardly be an enjoyable experience in that state!!!

But Sara modeled a wonderful “Mary” example that day, as well as the kind of community from the church in Acts. She welcomed us into her home – one that was tidy, but yet I knew she hadn’t necessarily been planning on having company. She dug around in her cupboards for ingredients and bowls. She found enough kid-friendly cups to serve drinks in. The kids played in the playroom and we all gathered around the dining table for pancakes. Sara was serving with gladness and simplicity (just pancakes!) and a generous heart. She chose “the good portion” – the joy of spontaneous community, over any anxieties, tasks, or pride in what her house looked like or if she ran out of milk. (If you’re reading this, Thank You, Sara…you rock!!!)

So did I pull “a Sara” at story time on Tuesday? No. But I was delighted to help a mom who had a sleeping child in her arms who came up to me and asked if I would put her son’s coat on him for her. I don’t know why she chose to ask me. However, one of these days, maybe I’ll even surprise myself and follow Sara’s lead. I know there are many blessings to be found when we engage in spontaneous community!

Have you ever been a hostess to spontaneous community? Was it stressful or joyful?

If you’re a Christ-follower, do you have trouble associating with non-believers? Or do you intermingle and shine your Light?

Ephesians Chapters 1 & 2

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