Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Tributes to a Legacy and Miracles in a Mudslide

As a way to remember and honor the legacy of their father, Chad and Shane reserved Chris' regular seat in church at his funeral.  They also opened the hymnal to His Eye is On the Sparrow, which Chris requested be played at his funeral.
Reserving their dad's regular spot in church

His Eye is on the Sparrow
They wanted to pay a special final tribute to their dad and his fight of "cancer on two wheels."  As Chris fought over the years, his body was less able to handle riding his bike, even though he desperately wanted to continue.  Eventually, his bike stood in the garage, unused.  Their desire was that their dad, though absent in body, would be able to roll out with them for one last ride.  So exactly one week after he passed, down to the minute (Saturday at 7 a.m. and his usual ride time), Chad and Shane rolled for a lap around the neighborhood with his bike, each carrying one of his favorite jerseys.  

Shane then had the honor of taking Chris’ bike on a proper ride to Lake Lavon, a common route for the three of them.  They recognized that though cancer took his body, their dad lives on in spirit and in the legacy he passed on to them.  Chris would have really enjoyed the beautiful morning ride with his boys.

Shane is on Chris' bike
Shane finished his front pocket wallet/money clip project that I mentioned previously in the “Do Not Worry” blog.  He totally scrapped his original design planned.  The front has Shane's own initials "CSH."  He said, “This was not only a chance for me to try something new, but also a chance to remember my dad.  This was the first piece of leather I've tooled since he passed away last month.  My dad was the one who got me started with leather work years ago and taught me as much as he could.  Over this last year as I began to develop my abilities more and sell work, I always went to him to get his opinion.  It will be very difficult moving forward not being able to do that anymore.  The design on the front is my homage to the traditional western style he always used.  The flower in the bottom right is a small part of the design on last wallet he started, which remains unfinished.  The reverse is completely dedicated to his memory, including his favorite passage from the Bible, and his signature.  Photo credit goes to Chad Haga, who is now learning my dad's other passion for photography.”

Shane and I drove to Colorado last week to visit with Chad and his fiancĂ©e Kate before Chad heads back to Europe for the last 3 months of his race season.  Since our favorite family vacation spot was just an hour away, we drove to the Christian family dude ranch in Estes Park, called Wind River Ranch.  We visited there 3 different summers when the boys were younger.  The boys had rated it a perfect “10” while they rated Disney World only a “7.”  We all found this to be a place to seek and find God and enjoy family time in a relaxed Christian atmosphere.

Wind River Ranch, A Christian Family Guest Ranch

"Be Still and Know That I Am God"   Psalm 46:10
View during daily Bible study

After visiting with the Director and long-time friend Don McIntyre and his wife over a delicious lunch of grilled hamburgers and all the fixin’s, Don took us on a tour of the ranch to see all the changes and improvements that had taken place since the last time we were there 11 years ago.  

Shane, Don, and Chad - 2001

Chad, Don, and Shane - 2016

Chad, DeLayne, Shane
In 2013, there was a big mudslide that hit the area.  This was during the time of massive rainfall, and apparently the ground couldn’t handle all the rain, and a natural underground water geyser formed and sent a 22-foot wall of water and mud down the mountain, directly toward the Wind River Ranch cabins, where many church pastors and their wives were staying for a conference.  Don pointed out where Gorilla Rock diverted the mudslide around most of the camp on either side, as well as where all the limbs on the trees were broken off up to 22-feet high.  The fact that no one was injured at WRR is a miracle in itself.  He said that a Taoist Temple had been planned to be built on the other side of the mountain, but that area was destroyed by the mudslide and the temple has never been built.  (God meant what He said in the Ten Commandments.) 
Exodus 20:3  “You shall have no other gods before me.”

Gorilla Rock
The natural disaster changed the landscape and has helped to provide a natural fire break due to the mudslide.  They will now be able to have tiered ponds with the new natural reservoirs formed that will provide additional fire breaks in the event of forest fires.  God works His miracles in mysterious ways.

Ranch Foreman Nick Herold took his gun and thought he would have to put down all 54 horses in the corral due to injuries from the mudslide, but when he arrived to the area, every single one was safe, even though many were up to their withers in water.  The brand new fence that had been built had been strong enough to stop the debris from inundating the corral.  Don explained that they had built a trench for the zip line and the displaced dirt formed a blockade and an island for the horses to stand on until they could be rescued. 

After our tour, we had a chance to ride horses, including one very special horse named “Haga,” which was named in honor of Chris in 2010 after his lung cancer diagnosis.  Yes, "Haga" survived the mudslide!  Shane is pictured riding “Haga” (the black horse).

Then we took a hike to explore the area, and Chad got to experiment with his dad’s camera, taking photos that Chris would have taken, including close-up photos of bear claw marks on the trees and pretty flowers.

bear claw marks

To read more about the mudslide and its impact on the Wind River Ranch ministry, go to:

If You Could See Me Now

Chris knew that this was his temporary home.  We can’t celebrate his life without talking about what was most important to him, and that was his faith.  When Chris was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in July 2010, no one understood why he would have gotten that particular type of cancer since he had never smoked in his entire life.  He could only come up with one reason:  He accepted the diagnosis as part of God’s plan to use him to reach others as he witnessed for Christ.  Chris also helped pave the way for successful treatments to be used on other lung cancer patients.  He took part in 4 clinical trials, 2 of which were FDA approved while he was in the trials due to the success the treatments were achieving. Chris said he was willing to be a Guinea pig if it helped someone else beat lung cancer.  As rare as his “ALK positive” cancer mutation was, he actually met someone at church with his same mutation who was taking the first clinical trial drug that Chris helped to become FDA approved.  He was pleased to be able to meet a beneficiary of his trial.

I think you will agree that Chris used his illness to show others how to face trials with faith and grace by fully relying on God.  As many of you have followed his Cancer on 2 Wheels blogs, you know what an inspiration he was to others in his walk of faith in the face of adversity time after time.  Chris asked God that some good would come out of this cancer journey.  Each time he posted a blog, he prayed that God would use the blog to touch someone in a special way.  He enjoyed when people left comments or sent him e-mails because that meant his prayers were being answered.

Chris also wanted to bring attention to the public that lung cancer is not a disease limited to smokers.  Anyone with lungs can get lung cancer Newspapers wrote articles about his cancer journey, and his testimony was published on an international cancer encouragement website.  He was known to leave his “calling card” with the restaurant bill to share his testimony while bringing awareness that 10%-20% of lung cancer patients never smoked, also providing a list of common symptoms of lung cancer.

Chris’ symptoms started with a little cough that would not go away, rapid weight loss, extreme fatigue, and recurring pneumonia.  He was riding his bike approximately 80 miles a week when he was diagnosed.  He was misdiagnosed for 3 months because 2 different doctors didn’t suspect lung cancer in a never-smoker, and 3 sets of x-rays only showed pneumonia.  Similar stories were heard time and time again.  By the time Chris was diagnosed from a CT scan, the cancer was stage 4 and inoperable.  It had metastasized to his lymph nodes in his chest and abdomen and to his brain.  He endured Gamma Knife radiation to the brain, massive radiation to his lung, 3 standard chemo drugs, 6 targeted therapy drugs, and countless other medications to counteract the side effects.  Although these drugs helped him to live 5-1/2 years longer than expected, they damaged his kidneys, and he was unable to continue chemo.  He officially achieved “No Evidence of Disease” twice, and possibly 4 times.  But lung cancer is unlike other cancers—it almost always comes back.  More people die each year from lung cancer than colon, breast, and prostate cancer combined.  More women die of lung cancer than of breast cancer.  People in their 20’s who have never smoked are now being diagnosed with lung cancer.  Chris was known to urge anyone with a recurring cough to get a CT scan, in hopes that if they had lung cancer, they could catch it at an early stage.

On numerous occasions he had friends call him and ask him to talk with their friends or family members who had been recently diagnosed with lung cancer to give them hope.  Of course, he was always willing to talk with them and even developed lasting friendships with some of them.  He was a member of the Cancer Encouragement Group at our local church and was told on countless occasions what an inspiration he was to others in their cancer journey.

Here are some excerpts from a blog that Chris wrote on June 16, 2011, titled, “Things Cancer Has Taught Me”: “I remember thinking when I was first diagnosed that I should not have lung cancer.  Even one of the doctors said, ‘You should not have this, but you do.’  I have the memory of praying that God would use this as an opportunity for us to teach others about lung cancer and present us with those openings.  If I could have lung cancer, then anyone could develop lung cancer.  Little did I know at the time what cancer would teach me.

One thing that I have learned is to laugh every day, and when you think you are tired of laughing, laugh some more.  There have been times that if I had not laughed, I would have cried.   
I have learned to cherish every moment of every day. Take time to enjoy where you are and who you are with.  You will never have that moment in time again.

I have always believed in the Bible, but this experience has taught me that the Bible is more than just words on paper.  The Bible is the very living, breathing Word of God.  I have seen the scriptures come alive daily.  One thing that has surprised me is the realization that everyone has a "cancer" in their life.  Mine was physical, but others may be dealing with porn, gambling, alcohol, issues at work, financial issues, problems with a child or spouse.  Everybody has something that, given time, will grow, and if left untreated, like cancer, will take your life.  The great thing is that we have One who sits at the right hand of God ready to help us.  I am thankful that He is there.”

On March 20, 2011, Chris wrote a blog titled, “A Life Sentence.”  In that blog, he said, “The one thing that has helped me the most is that I do not see cancer as being a death sentence.  I see cancer as being a life sentence.  I firmly believe that God's will is for me to be completely healed from cancer and that it will never return.  When that happens, I will live each day thankful for that day, loving my family and enjoying the days with them, and I will worship Jesus.

I know that there are some people that will ask, ‘What if God's will is for you not to be healed?’  If the time should come that cancer takes my earthly body, then I know that because of my belief in Jesus Christ, when I take my last breath on earth, I will take my first breath in heaven.  I will have two good lungs and there will be no more pain.  I will see family and friends that have gone before me, and I will worship Jesus.

Either way, I still live!”

The last month of Chris’ life was very humbling for a man who had always been strong and took good care of his family.  (In return, it was my privilege and honor to be his caregiver and be by his side throughout this 6-year journey.)  He was in almost constant back pain because of the changes in his torso due to a collapsed lung and 5 fractured vertebrae that had been repaired.  He walked lopsided with one shoulder noticeably lower than the other due to his collapsed lung.  He also lost 2 inches in height.  If you could see him now, he’s walking streets of gold.  He’s standing tall and whole!

Chris knew that his final day on earth would eventually come and had been praying for the best but preparing for the worst.  Chris helped plan his funeral service.  He was an amazing photographer, and his favorite things to photograph were God’s creations.  Click on the link below to see a collection of his favorite photographs, set to music, that he asked to be shown at his funeral.  Imagine him singing, "If You Could See Me Now."                                          
                                                       ~ DeLayne Haga

If You Could See Me Now

The following are excerpts from Chris’ graveside service that brought great comfort to me:

Chris didn’t lose his battle with cancer.  Cancer lost its battle with Chris!  Because, when the cancer conquered his body, the cancer stopped living. It died…forever.  But Chris lives!!!!  Chris lives because Jesus conquered sin and death for us.

Psalm 118:17 reads, “I will not die, but live, and tell of the works of the LORD.”
2 Timothy 4:7 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."

If Chris could speak to each of us today, he would simply say, “Trust Christ, ask God to forgive you of your sins, and He will, and begin to ride the Christian race by faith, full of purpose, unconditional love, and a lasting legacy to those you touch.”

We celebrate the race Chris cycled here on this earth. We look forward with hope and expectancy to one day seeing Chris again, yet even more, being with our Savior Jesus Christ for eternity.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Do Not Worry

"You worry too much."  How many times have I heard that from Chris and my boys over the years? 

Last night while Shane and I were chatting, he mentioned that he is starting a new leather project--this time for himself.  But he was having trouble coming up with a design idea.  Later, when I went upstairs to tell him goodnight, he was working on the design.  In the bottom corner, he had drawn a fancy "6 25" in the corner, with room for two more numbers.  "34?" I asked. 

"No, 16."  In memory of his dad, he was including in the design the date of his dad's death.

He then asked me the obvious question:  "What made you think it would be the number 34?"

Matthew 6:25-34 was Chris' all-time favorite scripture; he asked that it be read at his funeral.  It begins, "Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?"

It didn't dawn on me until this morning that it was no coincidence that Chris passed on 6/25.  Even through his death, he is still reminding me, "Do not worry.  God is in control."
                                                     ~ DeLayne