This past spring I got to meet and photograph the Japp family. We met up just a couple weeks after they received some of the most difficult news of their lives. They met me because they wanted to document their now. Right now. That night I told them I would love to share their story if they ever felt led. Months later I received a text from Jenn telling me they didn't want this trial wasted and they wanted to share their story so that they could press on to know the Lord more and lay themselves bare to serve other hearts. I hope you'll take the time to read their story. It will leave you with a healthy dose of perspective and encouragement. And I would ask that each and every one of you here please remember them in the days and weeks and months to come in your prayers.
Well, I guess introductions can feel a little awkward but here we are—the Japps! I am Jenn and I met Brendan in college at the University of Tennessee in 2005. Since we were the same major, we were “forced” to spend an abundance of hours together which then became something much more. We became bff’s, drank way too much caffeine so we could stay up “studying” together, poured out our hearts to each other in Hodges library over marketing projects, dreamed overly ambitious naive dreams, saw each others flaws, grazed hands occasionally “on accident”, slowly realized we were each others biggest cheerleader, and watched each other become adults and then one day realized we were the ONLY adults each of us wanted to know, be near, listen to, argue with, drink crappy coffee with, wake up next to, and love forever...and ever and ever. And so it was, we married soon after we graduated on what proved to be one of the hottest days of the year, which now feels completely perfect since we have proven to be quite a fiery mess of mistakes, joy, and hope.
Fast forward to present….We have 4 incredible children. Griffin is 5, Edie Gray is 4, Maddox is 2 and Huck is not quite a year old now. They are so much fun. Our live is FULL. It is abounding in riches that cannot even be described. Our family of 6...it’s what we spent hours talking about, dreaming up and praying for...AND HERE WE ARE. You know how a lot of people spend their entire lives waiting for THAT thing they wanted to see happen….well WE ARE IN IT. We are fully aware that this is IT. We are living it. We are living in the tangible, immeasurable goodness that God has poured out for us. Our cup is overflowing. The cup simply cannot contain anymore. He has lavished us with his gifts and we see them, talk to them and breathe it in every single day.
But, here’s where this story line gets a little complicated, the feathers get a little ruffled and the lens we see life through starts to get a little foggy when stepping outside to see the morning sun. Early in 2017, after I had recovered mostly from a fairly traumatic delivery of Huck, Brendan caught a cold. You know the kind, everyone gets them...all the kids had it and now he did. Except 6 weeks later he wasn’t getting better. He was getting worse and I was growing fearful. So, after seeking out a lot of medical advice and chasing some rabbit trails...Brendan checked himself into the hospital to get some help and some answers as to why he was 31 years old, couldn’t take out the trash, couldn’t pick his kids up out of the bath or walk up our stairs. We could never have prepared for the words that would come out of the doctors mouth on April 13th, 2017. Brendan and I were sitting in a dingy, dark hospital room waiting for test results, with me bouncing an antsy 6 month old Huck, when a doctor walked into our room and changed our lives forever. He told me I needed to sit down or put the baby down. I sat at Brendan’s feet and listened as he slowly explained that although it was rare, it was confirmed that my best friend, the father of my 4 young babies had a late stage incurable form of non-small cell lung cancer. He was crying, I was nauseated, Brendan was encouraging the doctor that our hope is not here but in God and Huck was innocently kicking his little feet against me as our world fell apart. Doctor left, we wept bitterly, and I wanted to scream. We wept for our dreams, our hopes, for fear of the future, in anger, in hatred of this disease and for our love of each other that seemed to be the greatest gift God had every given us. We were AFRAID, full of a type of fear that doesn't just grip your throat but nearly pulls you to the ground in paralysis. Our cup that overflowed seemed to have been turned over and poured out bitterly. The following day we were told that Brendan would need emergency open heart surgery to drain fluid from around his heart OR he would not live to fight the cancer. So, we did the surgery and that was the most terrifying few hours of my life, waiting for him to come out of that OR and hold my hand. But, he did. He made it. It was rough, He was weak but God carried him. The following days and weeks are a total blur. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. We were thrown into a world where we could barely swim. Learning new vocab, understanding where we stood, trying to navigate this NEW life was overwhelming and suffocating. I actually experienced chest pains from the weight of what we were experiencing…..
And now I’m sitting here trying to relay this story 5 months later. Brendan is on a targeted therapy that is currently working well for him. AND NOW, I can look back and see the intimate, detailed way that God provided in our darkest hour. I could type page after page of how I see God gently and strategically orchestrating our lives. Huck was an unplanned pregnancy, his early delivery was HARD (that’s another story) and I experienced postpartum depression afterward. BUT, if we had waited to try to get pregnant in our timing, we would've had a baby right around Brendan’s diagnosis. The postpartum depression was DARK. I have never felt more unlike myself but CHRIST showed me that in my weak dark crumbling moments, he paid a way for me to commune with him. He was STRONG when I was weak. He didn’t need my strength but only my heart. I needed to learn that before walking through this diagnosis.
We have seen God supernaturally direct our relationships with amazing physicians, some of whom spent Sunday evenings in their personal homes on the phone with us giving us guidance on our situation. We have received hundreds of meals and thousands of dollars of groceries. We have been given thousands of dollars to help us during a time where Brendan cannot work and our medical bills are overwhelming. We have been prayed for, encouraged and thought of by so many people that we cannot keep track. Strangers are praying for us on a daily basis. The body of Christ is literally lifting our drooping knees and carrying us before the throne of the Holy God. So, although dark, its been an unusually sweet time to see the intimate care of our Father. Our needs are met. Our tears are comforted by his Word. Our souls are strengthened by hope in Him.
We do not know the future. The odds are NOT in my husband’s favor. We live scan to scan to see what is happening in his body with complete uncertainty. We HAVE NO CONTROL. Prior to Huck’s birth, the Spirit put this verse on my heart and it hangs over my kitchen sink, “And, I will the lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness into light,, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do and I do not forsake them. Isaiah 42:16” And I fully believe the Spirit gave me this verse because God knew I would need this promise to sustain me in the storm. I often feel like we are in a barren wilderness, shaking from malnourishment, afraid of the noises in the distance, shivering from the lack of shelter..but it just isn’t so. My soul, even in the most bitter moments of battling our situation, still wants to attest to the GOD WHO SAVES. God is a God of redemption—beauty from ashes, vegetation from desolate land, hope in the darkness—HE WILL MAKE A WAY. I will praise him when I don’t feel like it. I will pour out my heart before him in all its fear, sadness and grief & he will count my tears in a bottle, bind me up in his arms and cry with me. HE WILL NOT FORSAKE US. HE WILL NOT. So, we will endure. We will ask for the Lord to give us hope, to help us trust Him when the circumstances don’t seem or feel GOOD , we will recount his faithfulness, we will trust his sovereignty and we will SING TO OUR SOULS in the midst of trial and suffering.
In the wise words of Charles Spurgeon, “ When the weather is rough, passengers on a ship can be comforted by the captains calm behavior. One simple-minded soul said, ‘ I am sure there is no cause to fear, for I hear the captain whistling.’ Surely if the captain is at ease, the passengers can be at peace. If the Lord Jesus is at the helm singing, ‘Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.’ Be strong, and do not fear.
God has been doing an unraveling of sorts in our lives. HE is pushing us so far outside of what is comfortable and joyful to show us that HE IS ENOUGH. My joy can't be placed in my tidy house, feeding my kids healthy food, making my home cute, my schedule, my to-do list, my health or how well I am checking off everything. He can UNDO EVERY SINGLE BIT OF IT. He can shake your world to the core. He can be trusted with your messy house, piles of laundry and endless bills. He can be trusted with that conflict with your husband. He can be trusted with that business you are struggling to start. HE IS GOOD. And guess what, all those are pretty easy to hand over to him compared to where I am now. Now I have to say that I can trust God with my children's lives. I CAN TRUST GOD WITH MY HUSBAND'S CANCER. I can hand it over. He is faithful. My security, self-worth, hope and propensity to push on do not lie in my circumstances. THEY LIE IN THE HOPE OF THE RISEN SAVIOR. The good news of Christ has blown open the goals of this world and have shed light on the darkness, have spread fertilizer on barren land and have watered the dry hopeless dirt. We have hope in CHRIST ALONE. BY GRACE ALONE.
My daily chaos is normal. I seek to find my normal & my peace/calm when my world in unrattled. When everyone is healthy and happy, the schedule goes well, people are sleeping well, the bank account is padded and there are no concerns, life is ON TRACK. When someone gets an infectious wound that needs to be drained or someone knocks a front tooth out first thing in the morning & there's blood everywhere or my bank account is in the low of lows and my spouse may not be here in a year & I feel afraid to even look at that big body scan next week, GOD IS STILL GOOD. HE IS STILL ENOUGH IN THE MIDST OF THE MESSY. CHRIST'S GIFT OF SALVATION FREES ME FROM NEEDING A PICTURE PERFECT LIFE. IN FACT, GOD LOVES A REDEMPTION STORY. ALL HE WANTS IT OUR HEARTS. HE WANTS OUR MESSY, TANGLED HEAVY HEARTS. HE BEGS US HAND HIM OUR BURDENS. HE BEGS US TO RUN TO HIM AND FIND JOY IN HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS INSTEAD OF TRYING TO STACK UP OUR OWN. HE BEGS US TO TRUST HIM.
He is trustworthy. He will make a way. He is the God of salvation. He will give light in the dark. He will level uneven ground. He will plant a sunrise at the ending of a tumultuous storm.
PSALM 77:19-20 "YOUR WAY WAS THROUGH THE SEA. YOUR PATH THROUGH THE GREAT WATERS; YET YOUR FOOTPRINTS WERE UNSEEN. You led your people like a flock."
I am feeling in my own life that God's work is often done in the chaos. He is most present with me in the mess....because I feel my NEED for him. I am desperate. I don't have life together. I literally need him every hour. I am weak and could faint but he renews strength. He is a fortress. He is our deliverer. He is our rock of refuge. He is mighty. He is the director of the seas. He is good. We can trust Him even when all the elements tell us not to, for he commands them.
So instead of feeling like chaotic weeks, messy houses and rough days are the "out of sorts," I want to learn to embrace them and trust that God is weaving a story in the middle of the mess that will one day make me weep for joy. His ways are not our ways. We are sojourners here on earth. We are made to be satisfied by HIM alone. Nothing else will and if these small hard moments in the midst of these large trials & suffering make us know him more, may we never turn away from it.
Brendan is doing well currently and we pray that continues. We pray for uncomplicated regression of his disease. We pray for a miraculous healing of his lungs and the various metastases elsewhere in his body. We pray the Lord has big plans for his testimony here on earth and that he his time here would be used in such a valuable way that prior to this we would’ve wasted. We pray his days are long on the earth. We pray that he sees Edie go to kindergarten and for Huck to turn 2. We pray that he lives to see Maddox start his first baseball season and for Griffin to be a teenager. We pray he lives to walk his daughter down the aisle, the hold his first grandchild and for us to be telling stories about his faithfulness during this season. BUT, ultimately, we pray that his will would be done and that we would find our true source of HOPE, security, JOY, peace, endurance, steadfastness to come from the hope that he gave us when JESUS paid our ransom, walked us straight out of the fire into the throne room of the God our Father and pronounced us clean, loved and made whole! We know his goodness and because of that, our hope is unending despite what our circumstances tell us. God is the God of promises made good and never-changing compassion. We are safe in his care.