Jason and Michelle’s Storms

Hear my cry, O God;
Attend to my prayer.
From the end of the earth I will cry to You,
When my heart is overwhelmed;
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For You have been a shelter for me,
A strong tower from the enemy.
I will abide in Your tabernacle forever;
I will trust in the shelter of Your wings.

Psalm 61:1-4 NKJV

There is a song from the 1940’s that most people remember by the song title alone. “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall” by the Ink Spots. I don’t know the song nor the group, but I do know the song title is quoted and misquoted frequently. There is truth to the phrase and sometimes it is more than just “some rain.” Barely a year into our marriage, Michelle and I could start seeing the coming of the rain, but we had no idea the storms that were on their way, or how they would rock the very foundations of our marriage and our faith.

I was 30 and things in my life were going well, thanks to the Lord. I was married to a wonderful wife and working a 9-5 job for a great employer. Just a few years earlier, I had no hope for my future. I thought I’d be stuck working security or a similar dead end job for the rest of my life. I would have been happy working at that same job even longer, if I could. Perhaps even getting a home and starting a family. God, had other plans, though. Soon after returning from our “third honeymoon” I was told that the company was going to be restructuring and doing away with their independent sales representative position. That meant there was a very real possibility that I would have to look for another job. I was scared. I did have five years experience with sales and some IT work, and I did have some certificates for extension courses related to web development, but I still didn’t have a degree. If I had to find a job, would I be forced back into a dead end job again? If so, how would we be able to live?

Things moved on and I found out that the man I worked for had been talking to the owners of the company, trying to negotiate for the main company to bring in their employees, so no one would have to look for another job. That meant there was a chance we could have to move to Dallas, Texas, continuing to work in sales, or move to Monterey or San Jose, California, where the corporate offices were located. He was working with the owners to pull me onto the development team in San Jose, but there were still no guarantees, just a lot of unknowns. I was afraid of my prospects should I have to try to find another job.

Thanks to the Lord, the company decided to hire all the independent sales reps and their employees that wanted to remain with the company. They took our previous experience, which in my case was five years, and counted that as part of our employment period. In addition, I was brought in to the Software Quality Assurance. They didn’t want to hire me as a developer, but I was told that I could move into development after I proved myself in QA. This moved us from Southern California to the Monterey area of the California Central Coast in October of 2003, not even a year into our marriage. While not as far away as moving to Dallas, and, of course, a much nicer area to live in, it was still a six to seven hour drive from family and friends. This was a big deal for us, considering how close we were with my family, her sister, and our friends. In addition, it was a cut of over 10K from my annual salary, despite moving to a more expensive area.

Moving to the Monterey area was a blessing as well. Growing up in Southern California, I hated the summer heat. Growing up, I had said I wanted to move to San Diego, as it had nice temperatures year-round. Monterey, though, was still a wonderful place to move to. Temperatures were on the cool side, but fairly consistent, year-round. There wasn’t the traffic like there was in Southern California, and it was much more green. We found a new church, Calvary Chapel Monterey Bay, and chose to make that our new home church. We got involved in the Junior High and Children’s Ministry soon after we arrived, but I cut it back to just the Children’s Ministry soon after. I even started doing the coordinating and scheduling of the teachers in the Children’s Ministry.

Things looked like they were off to a good start, but then Michelle started getting sick. We went to doctors and had tests done, and not even six months after we had moved, Michelle was told she had a tumor on her pancreas. They couldn’t tell if it was cancer or not, so they were going to have to treat it as if it was cancer, which means performing one of the most invasive abdominal surgeries, known as the Whipple. This surgery was extreme, and one that had a high mortality rate. Just over a year into our marriage, and we were looking at a very real possibility of Michelle’s death.

Why would the Lord allow this? Why would He allow us to move so far away from family and friends just to put this into our lives? Oh, there can be any number of reasons, but only God sees the bigger picture. I knew that God was in control. I knew that He had a plan for us. I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this was not the end. God promised to give us a future and a hope. He had already shown Himself faithful in my own life, and I knew that He would continue to do so. I had a peace that surpassed all understanding, a peace that surprised a lot of people, including Michelle. Where did this peace come from? It came from the Lord, my trust in Him, and my putting our cares at His feet.

The surgery was late June/early July of 2004, just a year and a half into our marriage. My parents came up just before the surgery to spend time with us, and stayed the day of the surgery to support us. I was scared, but I knew that God was in control. The surgery lasted over eight hours. They removed the tumor along with the head of her pancreas, some of her intestines, her gall bladder, a part of her stomach, and pretty much “rewired” her insides. The doctor said the surgery went well, but they would have to send the tumor to be analyzed. There was no way to know if it was cancerous or not. Even though the surgery went well, there was still the recovery, which could still be fatal.

After a week in the hospital, Michelle was released. She spent barely a week at home, before going back into the hospital due to complications in the recovery process. In all, she spent about a month in the hospital recovering. She did survive, but her life, and mine, would never be the same again. We would soon discover what our new normal was going to be, and that new normal wasn’t always a good thing.

As she recovered, she had follow-up visits with doctors and surgeons to keep track of her recovery process. Along the way, they discovered that she may have a problem with her thyroid as well. In November of 2004, not long after she had mostly recovered from the Whipple surgery, she was back under the knife again. They determined, during the surgery, that she had thyroid cancer, so they completely removed her thyroid. First a tumor on her pancreas, which we still didn’t know if it was cancerous or not, and now thyroid cancer. I still trusted that the Lord would pull us through all of this, and I still had peace through it. Unfortunately, this was only the beginning.

Our new church was very supportive at this time. They brought us food and prayed with us. I still tried to be involved in Ministry, but soon had to pull out as there were so many times I couldn’t be at church due to needing to be at home for Michelle. There was a song at that time by Casting Crowns, “Praise You in the Storm.” That song was played quite frequently as we both tried to continue to praise the Lord, even in spite of all that was going on. That song always brought tears to my eyes as I sang it to the Lord, knowing that no matter what was going on, He was in control, and I would continue to praise Him.

We started going to church less and less. We’d show up sometimes, when we were able to, but there was just so much going on. I never stopped trusting in God, though. Even with all the struggles and trials, I knew He was in control. The mountain tops I had been on from 1996-2002 were gone and now we were in the stormy valleys. There were times that I felt like I was barely holding my head above water, knowing that it was only through the strength of the Lord that I wasn’t drowning.

Michelle was in constant pain. Michelle was frequently sick, vomiting uncontrollably. She was going to the Emergency Room frequently. She went back to the hospital several times, hospitals from Monterey all the way to San Francisco. It was at least one surgery a year. At one point, she spent almost five months in a hospital up in San Francisco, and I was only able to see her once a week, due to how far away it was. All the while, I was working my normal work shifts the best I can, and ensuring that I was getting my work done on time, so that the medical issues rarely got in the way.

When the housing market crashed in 2008, that created an entirely new issue. The Monterey office that I worked out of was shut down and I had to start commuting to San Jose on a daily basis. It was 65 miles one way and there was no possibility of moving, due to Michelle’s medical issues and the cost of living differences. In order to save money on the commute, I started taking the bus, which made my day even longer. I would leave my house at 5am, and not get home until 8 or 9pm. Sometimes I was able to meet a coworker half-way and commute with him. Sometimes, I just had to drive myself, just to get to and from work quicker. I was still working in QA, and I was still trying to get into development, but it wasn’t happening. I couldn’t go looking for another job. Our debt was spiraling out of control due to all the unpaid medical bills. I still didn’t have a college degree. I had a very sick wife that I didn’t know how each day would affect my job. I was unhappy, felt trapped, and often times felt like I was going insane. Yet, I continued to trust in the Lord and I tried as hard as I could to put up the “brave front” around everyone.

With all the surgeries that Michelle had gone through, all the pain, and all the vomiting, there came the unfortunate time that Michelle became addicted to the narcotic pain medication they gave her in the hospitals. Unfortunately, it’s a story all to common. I struggled with her on that, not knowing how much was real, how much was the addiction. We were going to the ER every other day, sometimes she even drove herself. I felt helpless and powerless. I didn’t know what to do and I felt like I was a horrible husband, unable to care for and protect my wife. Then came the “theft” that broke the camel’s back. I had received a bonus check in the mail from work, and she got it from the mail. She told me it was half the amount it was, and used the rest herself. When it was discovered and admitted, I knew that things had to change. I actually kicked her out and sent her to live with her father for a couple weeks. I told her she could return when she agreed to work with the hospital to get off narcotics and her addiction to them.

I don’t recall exactly how long she was living with her father. She thinks it was a couple weeks, I think closer to a month. Whatever it was, when she came home, she kept to the commitment to get off the narcotics. It was a long struggle, but it was one that we made it through with the Lord’s help. Unfortunately, that time still left its scars which remain today. She is no longer addicted to the narcotics, but I still fear that any trip to the ER or surgery is going to start that downward spiral again.

Work continued despite these struggles. My life had literally become work, Michelle’s health, and sleep. There was nothing else. I was so exhausted, that our weekends were spent recovering. We couldn’t make plans. Any plans we did make often got changed due to her health. It was a miserable time. I never turned away from God, though. I know we weren’t walking as close as we should have been, but I still trusted Him. I knew He would deliver us, despite the mounting debt and never ending medical issues.

Finally, I was able to get some development work at my job. I was still in the QA department, but I started out working on our installer, as a way to transition into development. That work eventually led to me being tasked to do the development work on a new Contact Management System we were rolling out in-house. Microsoft CRM 4.0. I worked on the CRM with our Database Administrator. She did the database integrations while I learned how to customize the system to do what we needed it to do. The company hired a consultant not to do the development, but to be a resource for me to reach out to with questions. I’m pretty sure I annoyed him with the questions, but I didn’t care, that’s what we were paying him for. Between my calls with him, and my own research, I managed to build some very complex systems to do the work, even despite the highly unreasonable timetable I was given.

For three years, I worked on the CRM. I was still technically not a developer. I was told that I wasn’t good enough to be a developer, but I could work on the CRM. I was still in QA during this time, so when the company finally decided to let me go, they had a convenient way to do it. They pulled the CRM project from me, saying they wanted a developer to work on it, and since I wasn’t a developer, I was no longer needed. Since I was still in QA, I asked if I would be returning to QA work, but their response was I wasn’t needed there anymore, so they were letting me go. I know the reason they were letting me go was because of Michelle’s health issues, but there was no way for me to prove it. Thirteen years with the company, eight years directly employed by them, and it meant nothing. All my fears over the past few years came crashing down on top of me. I was given a severance package that would carry me a couple months, but that’s it. I had a sick wife, I had no degree, I had mountains of medical debt. Where was that going to leave me?

Unlike my firing about fifteen years earlier, this was different. I wasn’t right around the corner from my church. I hadn’t even been going to church regularly anymore. I was too busy just trying to survive. There are those who would turn their backs on God, but even in what appeared to be my darkest hour, I wouldn’t do that. God had proven Himself faithful, time and time again. My wife was alive, she had gotten past a near crippling narcotic addiction, I was living in the beautiful Monterey Peninsula. Even though I was being laid off, I still had eight years of practical experience with software testing and three years development of Microsoft CRM 4.0. All of that, thanks to the Lord, so, even though I was scared, I knew God would provide like He had so many times before.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Matthew 3:34 NKJV

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