How we got there is far too much to even explain. Let’s just say the Spirit led us.
“The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for all that He, in His goodness, sends to us day after day.” – St Gianna Molla.
The presence of multiple Blue Herons was enough to give us consolation we were exactly where we needed to be.
Every time we saw them—the herons—from pictures and lamps in our sleeping quarters to frequent flyovers on the beach and all the places in between, we knew we were where God called us to be.
I shared about the Blue Heron capturing my attention the night before Jon’s surgery on our quick last-minute walk before I headed to Adoration to lay all my worries at the feet of Jesus. We only learned earlier that day that that spot we have been watching since April is showing signs of tumor progression and other things like swelling we had not seen at our previous scan.
Thankfully, we moved the kids into school a few weeks earlier and got the girls started in their school year before any of this happened.
Because the very next day, everything changed. Yes, the spot the surgeon removed was, in fact, consistent with tumor progression according to the pathology—the dreaded recurring aggressive brain cancer. GBM was recurring once again.
After many months of the unknown and finally slowing down long enough to catch our breath, we suffered the trauma of the many months behind us. It’s like when you slam on the breaks and everything in the back of the car shifts?
Well, that was us.
When we put on the breaks once school was over before summer classes began, after therapy was on hiatus, and once we caught up on some sleep, each of us in this house felt the effects very differently.
Most of it was not good. Grief, fear, exhaustion, stress, overwhelm, and loneliness all found their way in.
We looked around, and it felt rather lonely. I know others in similar situations have experienced the same thing. Lonelier than we would have expected, given our months and months of carrying this heavy cross.
This might be the biggest heartache and most confusing part of our story.
After our most recent MRI, conversation with our oncologist, and assurance from our team of therapists, we knew we had to get away. The oncologist built a schedule so we could take time to get away. Our life currently is built around treatment and time sensitive schedules. So we take time when we can. It was imperative we step away, rest and find peace.
The timing couldn’t be more perfect after dance recitals, a driver test, and grad school applications were finalized and behind us.
Isabelle had a blast returning to and shining on stage once again. Olivia is now my 3rd successful and responsible driver. Sophia has applied and been accepted to the MBA program at Franciscan. I couldn’t be happier about all of the positive news. We relish in the positive news.
So with a window of time given to us, we embraced what we were given.
We made plans to travel and stop at a few places and see a few faces along the way. After a bit of prayer, we decided to change course and obey the call to land in only one place a few days earlier than expected.
We knew it was right where we needed to be, consolation after consolation.
Days before we left, we were blessed with the support of a few loved ones who helped us clean up and clear out a few things we needed to get done—mending fences has been more than necessary. Oh, the irony.
It has been hard to manage all the things we need to do, and Ian takes on a lot while taking summer classes, working part-time, and road-tripping to the midwest to visit a friend.
We had the loving support of a few trusted and very accommodating sitters for our furry friends. We knew it was safe to get up and go.
It was an all too familiar story.
After Jon’s first surgery and initial diagnosis in July 2020, we were given permission from our medical team to get away, highly recommending we heal at the beach.
So we did.
Back then, Jon could only stand in the water to keep him safe. Most people were none the wiser about his diagnosis. He wanted it that way.
As I stood with waves crashing at my feet for a brief moment, I wondered if he would see another summer. But I kept reminding myself we would take it all one day at a time. We would trust God’s plan no matter what.
And God keeps showing up.
Last summer, while Jon was treating the possible new growth with a trial protocol and targeted radiation, we made plans again between appointments to schedule time away. After the painful time of losing my mom (and the kids losing their grandmother) and coming to terms with Jon’s possible returning brain cancer while also preparing to launch two kids off to school, it was necessary to get away from the daily grind.
With so much changing, we took to the road. We traveled to a peaceful yet adventurous family retreat. We trekked up a few mountain trails and down into a few watering holes and made some lifelong friends. We also learned that the mom of one of the younger moms in our crowd was praying for Jon for months before we met. She had heard about him through our online rosary group. They prayed many hail marys and divine mercy chaplets; she told her daughter to simply say “Verso l’alto” to me as if this was our prayer warrior code word.
The truth is it kinda is.
Verso l’alto, to the heights, is a well-loved expression used by Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. True, he loved hiking and being outdoors. But the phrase means less about climbing and more about living rather than just existing. Pier is on the road to sainthood. He always shared his journey to sanctification and outdoor life and his hiking as part of his desire to reach God. If you want to learn more about him, go here
“To live without a Faith, without a patrimony to defend, without a steady struggle for Truth, that is not living but existing.”Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati
Sounds like my kind of to guy on the road Sainthood hence the “Blessed.” It just so happens as I wrote this I had forgotten today, July 4, is his feast day. Ora Pro Nobis, Pier.
It’s no secret my love and admiration for the saints. We can learn so much from them. Just like family and friends, we look to for wisdom and witness. I will come back to this.
We spent lots of time outside last summer. We had many adventures, not just climbing in the mountains but also resting at the shore with the waves crashing at our feet. Thanks to the gift of a dear friend. Again, I cannot tell you how much consolation we had on that spontaneous beach trip.
There was Jon in the same ocean he had not been able to surf in the previous summer because he was healing from the surgery that removed the first tumor. It was a glorious trip, and so many memories were made. Jon never got out of the ocean.
That summer will forever be etched in my heart. We had a glimpse beyond the thin veil of heaven and earth.
And so will this summer too. Because all who wander are not lost. All who wander can find rest and restore.
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us”Gandalf, J.R.R. Tolkein.
Last week we decided to embrace the life we have been given, accommodations, limitations, frustrations, and all.
So we hit the road.
As I mentioned, we were coming off a tough few weeks, including heartache over the loneliness that comes with walking through a journey like this.
Stepping away from the daily grind and stepping toward the sand and sea always brings us clarity and closer to God. There are a few places that bring me close to God, the ocean, the mountains, and always Adoration—the real presence.
The trip in June brought clarity while answering some prayers and opening some doors even when people blew through them and nearly knocked Jon (and me) over.
Sometimes we struggled with where to park, with those who shouted, “I don’t care!” when they were held up for a few minutes as Jon slowly and carefully climbed into the car. A blue hang tag and a cane apparently mean nothing anymore. We were also told Jon needed to take the stairs rather than the ramp. Jon needs to use the ramp. “Forgive them father for they know what they do.”
I’ve learned a lot about people on our journey to this beach and on this cancer journey. People are becoming hard of heart, consumed, and unwilling to look beyond their own needs to see how others are hurting.
Surprising and hurtful, to say the least. Some are full of compassion others downright rude. God did say, I am sending you like lambs among the wolves. We will experience trials, but the suffering continues to be our journey toward sanctification. He never promised it would be easy.
I need to remind myself to forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do. We respond/react and are shaped by the wounds, brokenness, and sinfulness we carry, yet that should never keep us from looking up to God and out to others first.
Do unto others and love others first.
This is how we are called to act and what we are called to do. It’s heartbreaking the world has forgotten the Golden Rule.
But God is still near and sends his beloveds to love us and show us they care.
God sent many people along the path to remind us we are not alone.
Last July 5, I shared a reflection on Instagram about a Henri Nouwen quote: “Pay attention to the people God puts in your path if you want to discern what God is up to in your life.”
I am pretty sure that quote applies to my life over and over. Sometimes I begin to forget He takes care of everything. When He surprises me in His faithfulness, I become giddy over the sheer beauty of how the details come together, and these encounters happen.
That July 5 post remains one of the top most shared/quoted posts I have written to date, next to a cookie post of supporting others outside the door and the post where I shared Jon’s about brain cancer and a reel of the Old Glory—that seems to continue to be shared and is only a reel of a few pictures blowing in the wind…
People must agree with the beauty of our flag, given people still share the reel and like it. I love this country even in its brokenness. But that is a story for another day.
And people must know that we should pay attention and be grateful for who God places in our lives. And how we need to support them even if we don’t know how or all we do is sit outside their door to let them know someone is near.
God allows people in our lives (or removes them) for His purpose. We don’t always understand—maybe it’s for protection or to make room for the love of others. There are so many mysteries in this life. The gospel yesterday shared about going out into his kingdom…
‘Peace to this household.’
If a peaceful person lives there,
your peace will rest on him;
but if not, it will return to you.
Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you,
for the laborer deserves his payment.
Do not move about from one house to another.
Whatever town you enter and they welcome you,
eat what is set before you,
cure the sick in it and say to them,
‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’
Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you,
go out into the streets and say,
‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet,
even that we shake off against you.’
Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand. – Luke 10:1-20
I love people, sometimes hopelessly. Even after frustrating moments with people this past week, I will always love meeting people and getting to know their hearts.
It’s where God meets me.
At the beginning of June, I chatted with an Instagram friend, and we messaged about possibly connecting at a local shrine of a beloved Saint. We talked about looking over our schedules soon. Then time passed
Last week I connected with this friend briefly after she posted an IG story about being at the beach. She was not too far from where we were at the beach.
We chatted about a few things weighing on my heart.
Then she heard my heart. She really listened to my heart.
I know this because she changed her plans/route and came to visit our family the next while we were both on vacation. We were about an hour from one another.
This is amusing because we live further than this from each other at home. Only God could arrange these details.
Never doubt God hears the cries of our hearts.
In His goodness, He sends us beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. In this case, God sent me an entire Sisterhood and their Founder. This friend and founder of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Relic of St. Gianna Molla sent me a 2nd class relic of St. Gianna back in January after I shared about Jon’s stroke and some challenges he/I was having.
I won’t go into all the details, but I encourage you to read more about Jen and her beautiful prayer ministry, the Sisterhood of the Traveling Relics. She tells it much better than I.
Here is a link to the Sisterhood Ministry and website.
Jen started her ministry not long after she touched the relic, a glove, of St Gianna Molla, in 2010. She witnessed many miracles after this encounter, which touched her very deeply. Please know it’s not the relic that brings the miracle (read Jen’s words here on relics.)
So she was obedient to God’s call.
I won’t use this post to explain all of the theology of sainthood and relics. I will leave that to the experts (if you are interested, you can read more here and here). But a quick reminder I love the saints as they give us a good view of how to live a holy life. They are brothers and sisters who have traveled the narrow way even if it took some longer than others to get there.
Catholics use relics to honor the saints’ memory, bodies, and possessions. We give thanks to God for the saint’s holy witness. Relics are tangible and concrete reminders that heaven is obtainable for us — so long as we recognize what made the saints holy and work to apply those qualities to our lives.
I have touched the relics of many beautiful and treasured saints, but the first relic the kids and I ever touched/venerated was the glove of St. Gianna Molla back around 2010. Jon was with us too on that day.
How is that for irony or the goodness of God? Only a God could weave together such detail connecting Jen and me to the same relic.
In January, Jen sent me several prayer cards, including the personal prayer intention card of Pietro, St Gianna’s husband, a second-class relic, and a Divine Mercy Chaplet prayer card. Jen and her husband have another ministry related to the Divine Mercy.
Our family also has a strong devotion to the Divine Mercy Chaplet.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Relic has a team of prayer warriors worldwide who pray for specific intentions for those in need of prayers. I have prayed with and for many of their special intentions.
Since meeting Jen and hugging and praying with her last week, Jon has been placed on the Sisterhood’s prayer list. Many brothers and sisters in Christ are praying around the world for his miraculous healing of aggressive brain cancer.
We’d love you to join our team of prayer warriors while praying the specific prayer for private devotion to have St. Gianna Molla’s husband, Pietro Molla, intercede (bring prayers to Jesus) for Jon’s miraculous and complete healing from brain cancer. This healing may help Pietro’s cause for sainthood along the way. This is where my love of saints woven into our lives shows up again. St. Gianna’s daughter, Dr. Gianna Emmanuela, is also praying for Jon’s healing.
When you pray, would you also consider including a prayer of thanksgiving for our time away?
We were so grateful for the time. While many things were frustrating and heartbreaking about this trip, there were more gifts, graces, and answers to prayers that continue bringing our family closer to God.
The remainder of our time away and our time at the water’s edge was another trip I cannot begin to put into words.
Not all we experience in life is meant to be shared outside our four walls. Sometimes it’s a sacred space. We spent hours in the car laughing and sleeping—not me; I was the driver. We rested our heads on pillows in 4 different places and three states over 10 days. We had many consolations and affirmations we were on the path God called us to follow.
Unlike our pace last year, this year was much more about rest and less about adventure. Last year we hiked to the top of the mountain where North and South Carolina met. This year, we felt the presence of God on the beach and in the moments when Jon could do things we never expected in our wildest imagination, given the challenges from his stroke during surgery in September. Sometimes you just need to go where you are called.
We came back to a place we traveled to in 2016. It was bananas how much has changed in the location and our lives since that trip. See what I did there (see the pics)?
But there was still such a restful familiarity even being many states away from home.
Watching my grown kids board a banana boat and be whisked out to sea not once but twice was a testament to the growth of many people aboard that boat as they held on tight, yet each jumped off (without Jon or me near) into the middle of the deep blue sea.
“If You say, ‘It’s wrong,’ then I’ll say, ‘No.’
If You say, ‘Release,’ I’m letting go
If You’re in it with me, I’ll begin
And when You say to jump, I’m diving in
If You say, ‘Be still,’ then I will wait
If You say to trust, I will obey
Teach me how to follow in Your way.” -Michael Ketterer, Spirit Lead Me.
I love watching these kids grow more and more independent and adventurous every day, all while balancing supporting Jon (and me) on this unknown journey. Maybe someday, I will be called to share more about how deeply touching it is to watch each of our children help Jon with some daily/basic tasks.
Sometimes I worry this will all become a burden for them until I see their deep abiding love and admiration for their dad and, of course, how I catch him looking at each of them (with so much love and gratitude) in some very humbling moments.
Two words…unconditional love… explains it all.
Exhale, deep breath, grab tissues—this is my daily routine. I never hide the tears, though, or the satisfaction, joy, admiration, or gratitude; this is the life we’ve been called to embrace. It isn’t always easy, and we are grateful for it.
We don’t rush anywhere anymore. Life has had to slow down to a pace that allows Jon to participate and enjoy life. Don’t let me forget the several holes in one or two—par for the course—Jon is a fantastic one-handed putter. Miniature golf has nothing on Jon.
I, on the other hand (wink, wink), am a terrible putter, so I will bow out so Jon can enjoy all of it while I stand close to help and guide his way.
We played miniature golf, and while Jon may not have been climbing mountains, he was undoubtedly climbing obstacles in a way that we never thought he would or could.
Never underestimate the power of staying positive, believing in and trusting God with your prayers and heart desires.
Getting Jon on the sand and standing in the water of the pool and ocean was no small feat, but they were able to be done by the amazing grace of God and the supportive hand of my kids.
With God, all things are possible.
When on the beach watching the kids dive in the big warm waves of the South Carolina ocean, Jon sat next to me and said, “Just like 2020, I couldn’t fully swim in the water, and last year I could. Next year, I will be swimming and riding the waves in the deep blue sea once again.
Without a doubt, Jon will be standing in the oceans deep and soaking up the sun.
Until then, we will continue asking the spirit to lead us and follow his lead.
There is so much freedom in that.
Speaking of freedom, May you enjoy your time with those God puts in your path this 4th of July.
May we always let the spirit lead us, there is freedom in that.
May we choose to live moment by moment and thank God for all of His Goodness (thank you St. Gianna for that reminder).
May we all live and not just exist. Verso L’alto! Happy Feast Day Blessed Pier Frassati
Heather your writing makes my heart swoon. You give us all such beautiful endless hope. God thank You for Heather and her family. Im
in awe and praying for you all. Kristin
Thank you so much for this thoughtful message Kristin.