Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Black Angel

This is a story. An amazing story. A true story. An unbelievable story. A story of faith. A story that is still being written and yet…we already know the ending.

It all starts with a black angel.

Two and a half weeks ago, sitting in the waiting room, waiting to be taken back for his liver biopsy the mood was…sobering. Travis made jokes to ease the tension and Carrie and her mom Kris, of course, giggled. All the while, in the back of their minds, thinking what if? Certainly not. It’s an infection.  It can’t be…the “C word“. But they nervously laughed along with Travis, if for no other reason, than to make him feel better.

Travis’ name was called and he and Carrie walked back. It was just Kris and I…hoping…praying. Kris turned to me and said “we should pray”. And so we did. Quietly. Discreetly. Holding hands in that waiting room praying for our dear loved ones.

And then the black angel appeared.

No. I don’t mean she appeared from no where. One minute not there and the next…there. She was actually a few chairs down and across from us and she got up and walked over. She was dressed in a gleaming white polyester suit and her skin and hair were black as night. She spoke softly.

“I saw you praying and The Lord spoke to me. He told me to tell you this sickness is not unto death. And then she walked back to her seat.

Ok. I’ll admit it. I’ll say it. I smiled and thanked her, along with Kris, but my first thought was “Cuckoo!” I mean she claimed to hear from God!?! And who talks like that anyway???

But then, a few minutes later, we noticed…she disappeared.

No. Not before-our-eyes-disappeared. But you notice the people around you in a waiting room. You notice when their loved one gets brought back and they sit there anxiously waiting. You notice when their loved ones come out and they gather their things and you listen in on what they say. You notice because you want it to be your loved one coming out. Giving good news. You notice.

But she was gone. Nobody had come out. She didn’t seem to be with, or waiting on, anybody. It was like she was there simply to deliver us a message. And then she was gone.

Suddenly. I wasn’t so sure she was “Cuckoo!”.

Suddenly. We were referring to her as “our black angel”.

Travis had better faith than I did. We told him about the black angel and he immediately believed. He believed in his black angel and her message.

But time has a funny way of messing with your mind.

Of making you forget.

When the news came in that it was “the C word” we said to each other, “what about our black angel?!?”

As the appointments delivered worse and worse news…we forgot about our black angel. And her message.

But God didn’t forget.

Since we began the blog Travis and Carrie have been emailed daily by a friend of Travis’ from high school – Kimberly. Travis has not spoken to Kimberly since high school but she still felt convicted to fervently pray for this family. And so she did.

Each day she has sent them an encouraging email with some encouraging bible verses. What the Roberts didn’t realize was that Kimberly only did so when she felt directed by The Lord. She never sought out a verse for encouragement but only included a verse that was laid upon her heart. Only emailed when she was prompted. Never on her own.

Yesterday was no different.

Yesterday morning she prayed and asked God to show her how she could encourage Travis and Carrie that day.

Silence.

She was tempted a couple times to search for a verse that would bring them comfort but she remembered her conviction to only deliver what The Lord impressed upon her and so she resisted the temptation.

The day dragged on and there was still nothing. Perhaps she wasn’t supposed to email them today?

And then she received the latest blog update and she read about their pain. Their struggle to breathe. “Oh Lord…help me encourage them!”

Silence.

As she and her husband put their children to bed, her husband prayed and read scripture while she silently asked God to please lay something on her heart because she wanted to encourage them but she did not want her words to be “of her”.

Immediately, she was reminded of an email from two years earlier.

Two years earlier, she received an email from a friend stating her husband had stage 4 cancer. What struck her was their faith. Her first thought was that she didn’t think he would make it.

She felt ashamed. Ashamed that she did not have their kind of faith. She immediately cried out to God. She confessed her lack of faith. She begged Him to comfort her. She was led to a daily devotional and she turned the pages to that date.

And then she wept.

She stared in utter amazement at the verse God led her to and she read and reread it. She underlined it and put a note by it. Because she did not want to forget it.

But time has a funny way of making you forget.

She sought out that same daily devotional last night. She couldn’t remember the day or even the exact month of that email but, as she opened it and turned the pages, she felt convicted to look only at today’s reading. She looked at the clock.

It was 12:04 AM. May 4th. May 4th by four minutes. So she turned to May 4th.

To her complete and utter amazement it was the same page she read two years earlier. The verse that taught her to have faith…despite the circumstances.

The verse?  John 11:4

This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it. Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?”

The same words of our black angel.

Our minds may play tricks on us. Make us question. Make us forget.

But thankfully…God doesn’t.

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Breathe Travis. Just Breathe.

Yesterday was a tough day. A day full of emotions. A day where the Roberts had to remind themselves to…

Breathe. Just breathe.

Yesterday was the first opportunity the Roberts had to meet with a specialist in gastrointestinal cancers, specifically Cholangiocarcinoma.

Can you imagine the anticipation? Can you imagine the high hopes? Finally…someone who knows a lot about this horrible disease. Someone who knows more than what the Roberts are finding on Google. Someone to tell them what they are finding on Google is wrong…and to stay off the Internet. Someone to say, “this isn’t nearly as bad as your other doctors have made it out to be. It’s only because it’s rare that it’s so scary.” “We got this.”

Someone who will help Carrie and Travis breathe again.

Their appointment was at noon and the morning had been good. Records picked up. Kids dropped off. Business running smoothly. There was even some laughter. The drive to Emory was pretty to say the least.  The mature trees and full azaleas were bursting with color against quaint cottages and impressive estates.  It was almost…peaceful.

And then the trees cleared. And as Emory appeared ahead, hearts started racing.  Suddenly the peace and tranquility was gone.  Suddenly stomachs were churning.  Suddenly it was getting harder to breathe.

Despite looking “dapper” (the physician assistant’s word…not mine) in his “baby blues” (pants) and polo with sleeves rolled up, Travis was…a wreck.  The wait in the waiting room was three hours.

At least it felt that way to Carrie and Travis.

Finally, Amar’e  Stoudemire, called Travis back.

Ok.  So it wasn’t Amar’e  Stoudemire of the New York Knicks…but he was a dead ringer!

Charm and wit are a big part of Travis’ personality.  It is how he has been able to get away with the things he has gotten away with most of his life.  Make them laugh and he gets whatever it is he wants.

Doing what you know calms you.  It helps you breathe.  Being witty and charming calms Travis.  Only…Amar’e  Stoudemire didn’t exactly find Travis charming. Luckily he was only there for a few minutes.

The doctor and physician assistant came in next and it wasn’t long before all of the oxygen got sucked out of the room.  Nobody could breathe.  Everybody was gasping for air.

It felt that way.

The doctor got right to the point, explained the clinical trial they had going on and asked if Travis had any questions.

Any questions!?!  Apparently, he didn’t know Travis.

Travis went through a litany of questions and as each answer came the Roberts quickly realized this visit was going to be no different from the others.  It wasn’t that the other doctors weren’t familiar cholangiocarcinoma.  It wasn’t that Google was wrong.  The Internet wasn’t this place with only worse case scenarios.  It was that this disease is that bad. 

Breathe.  Just breathe.

How long? That’s what everyone wants to know. How long do they have?  The problem is cancer is different for everyone.  It reacts differently to everyone.  The treatments are different for everyone.  So doctors talk in averages.

“So give me the averages.”

“12-14 months.”

Breathe.

“Can you cure it?”

“No.”

Breathe.

“Can you get it into remission and buy me some time.”

“I don’t think so.  It is unlikely”

Breathe reader.  Just breathe.

Where did all of the oxygen in the room go?  Why were the Roberts struggling to breathe?With tears in his eyes, Travis tried to catch his breath and then did what he does.

He made a joke.

“Well.  I guess that’s Game Over.”

Breathe Carrie. Just breathe.

And then he left.  Most of us, in that situation, would have gone home.  We would have turned off the lights, crawled into bed and cried. But not Travis. Travis got in his truck and drove 7 miles across town, put on a happy face, and walked into a room full of lawyers for a mediation between his company and a general contractor as if he wasn’t just handed a death sentence.  Somehow. Travis figured out how to breathe.

Yesterday was not the day the Roberts were hoping for…praying for. Yesterday did not make things any easier. But the good news is…there is always tomorrow.

They will head to MD Anderson Sunday night for a three day visit.  Their expectations are set.  They know they are not going to suddenly hear about high success rates.  About high survival rates.  They are looking for a plan.  The best plan.  A plan to fight and beat the odds.

There are two HUGE prayers that we ask you get on your knees for over the next 72 hours.  First…pray for a mistake.  Weird?  Our prayer is that the liver biopsy reading was wrong.  A mistake was made.  Is it a long shot? Maybe.  Maybe not.  It happens.  MD Anderson will be reading the slides.  Pray that it is something.  Anything else.  Second…in order for them to find something different they need to get the slides.  The slides are in transit.  They are not there yet.  They need to get there by Tuesday in order to be read in time for Carrie and Travis to discuss treatment options with the doctors at MD Anderson.  Please fervently pray for both of these things.

Every night Travis practices dying.  If you know Travis, when you are finished laughing, you won’t be surprised by this.  To hear him tell it is hilarious despite its morbidity.

“Yeah. I just lay down and close my eyes and think ‘I’m dead’.  It’s not too bad.  I hold my breath and I just practice dying.”

Breathe Travis. Just breathe. 

I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. - Psalm 3:5

Gathering Thoughts

I am happy to report that I am still employed. Travis did not fire me.

After all, he respects a little rebellion.

He asked me to let you all know that he plans to post, personally, in the next day or so. He’s just gathering his thoughts…


Not a Number…

It’s possible this is going to be my last post because I am breaking the rule I placed on myself when we started this.  I am posting without getting Travis’ approval first.  But I didn’t want his edits this time because everything I am going to say is truth.

As we learn more and more about cancer we are learning that it seems to be all about numbers.  Doctors talk in numbers.  Websites talk in numbers.  We find ourselves talking in numbers.  Averages.  Ratios.  Ages.  Years of life.

Numbers.

My friend’s name is Travis Roberts.  He is a husband. A father. A business owner. A friend. A child of the Living God.

He is not a number.

Travis is a husband.  He is a great husband. An amazing husband.  Don’t get me wrong.  He has, by no means, been a perfect husband but show me a husband who has been – or a wife for that matter.  But he is a great husband.  I have always noticed how Travis looks at his beautiful wife.  With love.  With adoration.  Proud to have the prettiest girl in the room on his arm.  He admires his wife and how she stays home full time, raising their children, and admits he could never do it.  He ensures she lives a comfortable life and, tries his best to spoil her (although anyone who knows her knows she is not impressed with the material things.)  He is.  An amazing husband.

Travis is a father.  A wonderful father.  A father who adores his children and is devastated at the thought of them going even a day of their childhood without him.  Just go two pages over from this post and see the pictures of him with his kids.  Holding Trey.  The look in his eye.  The love in his eyes.  He has always seemed to strike the perfect balance between spoiling and disciplining.  As an outsider looking in…I have always been surprised by this.  I just assumed Travis is all about fun. It was a surprise to me to learn he not only disciplined but knew how to discipline out of love. He is. An amazing father.

Travis is an inspirational business owner.  A 27 year old “boy” who started a small driveway business – Hemma Concrete, just eleven years ago with only a few hundred dollars, and has turned it into the fiftieth largest concrete company in the country.  A 25 million dollar company.  In eleven years.  Starting out as a 27 year old.  Wow.  But sales and growth don’t give the full picture.  There’s the people.  Travis’ employees love and I mean LOVE him as a boss.  My hunch is many would not work there for not Travis as a boss.  He refers to them as “the Hemma family” and he truly means it. He is.  An amazing business owner.

Travis is fantastic friend.  Fantastic.  He has more friends from childhood and high school than most of us have friends total.  There is a reason for that.  Many of you reading this are lucky enough to count yourself as a friend of Travis’.  Whether it is from growing up, business, college, church, or any other means I don’t have to convince you what a great friend Travis is to have.  He is a FUN friend.  Fun to be around.  Fun to have around.  Always a gracious host whether it is on his boat, teaching you how to wakeboard; in his home, for another UGA football party; or on his tailgate trailer.  He is.  An amazing friend.

Travis is a cherished and sought after child of the Living God.  Who knows if Travis was saved when he was eleven years old or just in the recent weeks.  It doesn’t matter.  One thing is undeniable.  God has chased after Travis since he was eleven.  Travis did his best to run.  He is, after all, a fast runner.  But God didn’t give up. God doesn’t give up.  And in these last few scary, FRIGHTFUL weeks Travis has found comfort and even peace in his Father.  His heavenly Father.  Because Travis is a child of the Living God.

Travis is NOT a number.


The Waiting Game

Waiting sucks. Plain and simple. Just ask…anybody.

I remember in June of 2004 we booked the cruise of a lifetime for that December. I thought the wait was going to kill me.

Or a kid waiting for Christmas. Or their birthday. It tortures them (and their parents).

How about Fridays? How hard is the wait when you drag yourself in on Mondays?

A high schooler waiting for summer break. A first grader waiting for a loose tooth to fall out. A giddy 12 year old for an upcoming slumber party. A bride for her wedding (the groom for their honeymoon).  Football season.  Water to boil.  The microwave to finish.  The traffic light to turn green.  This blog page to load.

Waiting to fight for your life.

Wow. Suddenly the others seem so trivial.

Can you imagine, every day, waking up knowing you have cancer inside of you and having to wait for the treatment plan to fight it?  What is that like? “Good morning cancer. I know you’re in there. Eating away at me. I’m going to have to ask that you ‘freeze’. No spreading. No growing. Just freeze. Cause I am waiting for the plan to fight you.”

Talk about feeling helpless.

Travis and Carrie are waiting. Stuck in a holding pattern. Waiting for test results to be mailed. Records to be faxed. Doctors to review. Appointments to be made. All the while knowing there is this thing inside of him trying to kill him. Can you imagine?!?

Can. You. Imagine?

So this week we ask that you pray for things to fall into place. Quickly. There is no time to lose. How the pieces of a puzzle fall into place to create a picturesque image – not a piece out of place – we pray everything would fall into place for the Roberts.

Specifically… For MD Anderson to receive everything they need from Kaiser. For Emory to receive all of the records they need. For the appointment with the Piedmont Hospital surgical team to happen this week. For the appointment with the Emory team to happen this week. For the appointment with MD Anderson to happen early next week.

For all pieces to fall into place. Because waiting sucks.

So now for the best part of all…

Everything you just read was written first thing this morning. I always ensure the Roberts read, make changes, and approve posts before they are published. After all, this is their story. This post was waiting to be published. And the calls started rolling in. Travis has his appointment with Emory tomorrow at noon. His appointment with MD Anderson on Monday.

The records have been delivered. The appointments have been made. Before the prayer even left our lips… the puzzle is coming together…beautifully. One could even say – miraculously.

They still need your prayers for the remaining pieces to fall into place to perfect the picture.  They would like their appointment with the Piedmont surgical team to happen before they go to MD Anderson so they know the surgical options available here.  They also need the pathology slides, from Travis’ liver biopsy, to get to MD Anderson before their appointment Monday.

Who knows?  Maybe God is already working on finalizing those final pieces of the puzzle.  Because even though He sometimes uses it as a tool for refining us. God knows…waiting sucks.

And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. Romans 5:4