Blown Away: The First Five Hours In My New Ministry

July 7, 2011

I’ve had many memorable moments with students in the past. All of these youth have impacted my life in a major way, as I hope that I have with theirs. I will cherish some of these memories for the rest of my life. As some of you know, I have recently been hired by a new church after a long (in my eyes) 14-month hiatus from youth ministry. It wasn’t my choice but it is what it is and I feel that God definitely had a reason for taking me out of full-time ministry for that amount of time. I won’t touch any more on that for now but rest assured that I will definitely be writing about it as soon as I can. Anyway, I got hired at Doylestown United Methodist Church on June 12, 2011 and my official start date was to be July 1, 2011. I left Belle Vernon, PA on June 30, 2011 and headed down Interstate 76 (the Pennsylvania Turnpike) to start my new life and new ministry. On my way there, I stopped at a huge Christian music festival called “Creation” that my new youth group and leaders were attending. And when I say “huge,” I mean 82,000 people HUGE! Creation is a four or five day festival. I only planned to stop for one day to get to know some of the youth and leaders that would be my new family. Stopping at Creation was key and had potential to be an extremely beneficial way to begin my new ministry. The reason for this is that I will be taking 39 of those students on a High School Missions Trip on July 10-15 and then 20 or so more of them on the Middle School Missions Trip on July 24-29. So breaking the ice, getting to know them, and getting them to know me was an extremely important thing that needed to be taken care of as quickly as possible since there is no youth group and no other way for me to meet/get to know them before the trips. I was blown away as soon as I pulled up in front of our groups’ camp site.

Looking down on Creation Fest from overlook mountain...

As I was driving the two and a half hours it took to get there, I couldn’t help but to feel nervous. I wondered how well the students would like me, if things would be awkward because no one knew me and I didn’t know them, would they want to meet me, would they be mad/hurt that I was the guy replacing their old youth pastor, etc. All kinds of scenarios were running through my mind but the conclusion that I came to was that I would have to just leave it in God’s hands and wait and see what would happen. And that’s exactly what I did. There was nothing else I could do.

As soon as I stepped out of my truck, I got “attacked” by my new youth group. All of the kids that were there (some were at concerts or at the various other attractions that they had at “Creation”) swarmed to me around my truck and started to introduce themselves. They were excited to meet me and it was such an amazing, warm, and welcoming feeling when all I expected was shyness and awkwardness. I was so blown away/overwhelmed with joy because of this. This took away all of the nervousness, uncertainty, questions, and broke the ice. I was able to focus on building relationships with them the rest of the time since this initial part was knocked out by them. God’s hands were definitely all over this and I am so thankful for that.

A small group of my youth on overlook mountain...

There was one other amazing thing that these students and leaders did for me that I didn’t quite pick up on right away. As I was meeting them I noticed that they all had some form of a temporary or henna tattoo on them. Some had them on their necks. Some had them on their arms. Some had them on their stomachs, backs, legs. And one even had so many of them on one arm that it looked like a sleeve. I noticed it but I didn’t put much thought into it because I was so amazed at how awesome these kids were. Later that night at one of the sessions/concerts one of my leaders was talking to me and she asked me if I noticed everyone’s tattoos. Then it hit me: it wasn’t just a coincidence! She told me that they planned it and all of the kids and leaders wanted to make me feel comfortable (since I have tattoos) so they went out of their way to put all of those tattoos on…AMAZING! I ended up staying for two nights because my students wanted me to stay longer.

So if all of this awesomeness took place within my first 5 hours of being there, I can’t wait to see what else God has in store for me, this youth group, and this church. It’s going to be good!

–          paulg


Alexis Update: A Blessing in Disguise…

February 8, 2010

Hey Everyone,

On Friday February 5, 2010 Alexis had her port replacement surgery. Before I tell you about it, I would like to thank you for praying. God heard those prayers and gave the surgeons wisdom and knowledge in order to see that something was wrong and turn this surgery into a “blessing in disguise” as Ashley called it!

Alexis playing in the snow!

Alexis had to be at Childrens Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA for surgery at 5:45 AM. This meant that they had to leave Altoona, PA at about 3:00 AM.

On Wednesday, Ashley got a call from Alexis’ hem/onc doctor and she told her that Alexis would need a plasma infusion when they arrived because the clotting agents in her blood were abnormal, due to the PEG-aspariginase (type of chemo) that she has been given. Ashley said that the doctors said it was totally normal and something that they expected to happen; that’s why they looked for it. She said it was nothing really bad and if it were an emergency, they would have no worries about just doing the surgery. But since it was scheduled, they decided to go ahead and do the infusion to be on the safe side.

There was a bit of confusion whenever they got to the same day surgery unit. No one had any record of Alexis needing the infusion. They made some phone calls and found out that Ashley was correct, and that Alexis was supposed to have the infusion. The doctors opted to give her the infusion during the surgery, which made Ashley a little bit nervous. But she trusted the doctors and let them do their thing.

The surgery went extremely well. They placed the new mediport on the same side as the old port, only lower and more towards the front. Ashley says “It looks AWESOME!!!!!” The new port is less noticeable than the old powerport. When the surgeon came out to talk to Ashley after the surgery, he told them that he tried to place it on the opposite side but couldn’t get the catheter into the blood vessel, so he placed it on the same side as the old one. When he removed the old port, he told the family that the catheter had flipped and was going in the opposite direction. This is where the “blessing in disguise” comes into play. God saw that she needed this done and that it could give her problems in the future, so He gave the doctors what they needed in order to correct the problem before it became a serious problem. Ashley said “SO thank God that she had it replaced before it gave her problems!”

Alexis slept the whole way home from the hospital and was doing awesome by the time Friday night rolled around.

We got slammed with a huge snow storm on Friday and Saturday. God allowed them to get home though before the roads got bad. We got around 23 inches of snow (or somewhere around there). So thank you to those of you who were also praying for safe travels to and from the hospital!

Lastly, Ashley says “Thanks for your prayers and support!!!”

You guys are awesome and I know that God hears our prayers for this little girl and her family and is answering them left and right! Wooo Hooo! Thank you!!!

–          paulg


An Update on Alexis: Praises and Prayer Requests…

February 2, 2010

Hey Everyone,

It’s been a while since I have updated you on Alexis’ battle with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. There have been some positives and some negatives since my last update, as is normal for what she is going through. I will start with the positives and then finish with the negative, which will also let you know how you can be praying!

Alexis "driving" my truck!

On Sunday January 24, 2010, Ashley got a call during church and had to rush out to take Alexis to the hospital here in Altoona. Her port (the place under her arm pit where they administer the chemo) was extremely red and swollen. They were afraid it was infected. The doctors concluded that it was just irritated from the skin being stretched so tightly over it and her clothes rubbing on it. So that was a relief to hear!

On Tuesday January 27, 2010, Ashley received some very good news about Alexis’ blood counts. Her white blood cells were up (not as much, but still good). Her Hemoglobin’s and Platelets are down (but this is normal for the chemo she has been receiving). But the most amazing news is what I’m about to tell you next! Alexis’ ANC (Absolute Neutrophil Count) was raised significantly from the last report and from what it should be in someone in her condition. Normal ANC should be between 1,000 and 2,000. Alexis’ numbers have been in the 300-400 range as of late, but something happened last week that can only be explained by looking to God, the Mighty Physician and Awesome Provider! Last week, Alexi’s dad was diagnosed with Pneumonia. Alexis was with her dad a few days before this happened, so everyone was afraid that she would get sick due to her ANC being as low as it has been. But God had other plans. When Ashley and her mom (Diana) were told that Alexis’ ANC was way up, Diana said (out loud, in the hospital room) “God knew what she needed to keep from getting the pneumonia her daddy has!” On Friday January 22, 2010, her ANC was 640, and on Tuesday January 26, 2010, her count was 1,800!!!! With the intense chemo she was receiving, the counts should have dropped significantly, not gone up significantly!

Another praise is that due to the intense chemo Alexis has been receiving over the last two weeks, she should have lost her hair by now…and she hasn’t! She still has a full head of hair and is still full of energy, which is something that the doctors said she would lose as well!

Alexis has not been sleeping very well lately and Ashley and her parents are not sure why. Sometimes it seems as if she has a belly ache and sometimes it may be a bad dream. They say she has been crying for a ½ hour plus, several times per night. This not only affects Ashley (who sleeps with Alexis), but it also affects Ashley’s parents. They all wake up to care for Alexis and then have trouble falling back to sleep, and when they finally do, Alexis wakes up crying again.

Alexis is currently (as I write this at 10:15 am on Tuesday February 2, 2010) at Childrens Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA receiving a chemo treatment and LP (spinal tap). Here platelets and other levels are good, so she will not need a transfusion today (which is an answer to prayer). As of Monday, her ANC was below 500 though (in the 400 range). Today, Ashley has informed me that it is down to 200. Due to this low number, she is highly susceptible to infection and sicknesses.

I received a text message from Ashley a little bit ago that said that Alexis will need to have surgery on Friday to have her port replaced because it is rubbing through her skin. They won’t find out what time the surgery is until Thursday night sometime. Ashley says that they could possibly not find out until 9 pm Thursday and then have to be there at 6 am on Friday.

So where do you come in? I need you all to pray for several things. Pray for them once, pray for them twice, pray for them a million times. Ashley, Alexis, and family need your prayers so very much right now!

Please pray for:

  • Alexis’ numbers to stay in the normal range
  • Alexis to not get sick due to her low ANC
  • Alexis’ hair to stay for as long as possible (I’ve been praying that she won’t lose it…because nothing is impossible with God)
  • Alexis’ Port Replacement Surgery on Friday February 5, 2010
  • Health for Ashley and her family…they need to stay healthy to make sure Alexis gets healthy
  • Rest for Ashley, Alexis, and Ashley’s Parents
  • Peace for everyone involved

Thank you all so very much for your continued prayers, love, and support of little Alexis and everyone involved in what she is going through.

God is in control, and He hears our prayers. So keep ‘em coming!!! Thank you!!!

– paulg


An Update on Alexis (from Ashley)…

January 13, 2010

Hey Everyone,

Here is an update on sweet little Alexis from her mommy Ashley! I got some of the info wrong yesterday based on the limited communication we had via text message, so here is the full details  on Alexis’ current condition. Please use this to know how to pray for her!

pray for this beautiful/wonderful/amazing little girl!

“Yesterday we went to Pittsburgh for an LP (spinal tap) and chemo. We were also excited to find out the results of the last bone marrow aspirate to find out what “risk group” Alexis was put into.

The first two hours we were there, Alexis was given fluids through an IV. She needed these to prevent damage to her bladder from the Cytoxan (type of chemo) that she received. (She will have to do this again in 4 weeks.) After her fluids, we met with her doctor to talk about her bone marrow results.

The test they did was 1,000 times stronger than the previous tests, and it revealed that there is still Leukemia in her bone marrow. Not enough to take her out of remission, but enough to categorize her as “standard risk-high”. There are 3 risk groups, low, standard and high, and within standard, there is standard risk-low and standard risk-high. We weren’t expecting this AT ALL.

SO what does this mean? She will have to have two extra months of intense chemotherapy. That won’t extend her total treatment time, it will just take two months out of her maintenance period (usually the last two years). AND…if we hadn’t enrolled Alexis in this clinical trial, they wouldn’t have found this Leukemia…the test isn’t standard, strictly for the clinical trial!! So thank GOD we had her enrolled! Otherwise her chances of relapsing would have been GREATLY increased, and by that I mean, more than likely, she would have.

So what’s next? LOTS of chemo. She had two different types yesterday, today she starts in-home chemo, where a nurse comes in and administers it through her port (we came home with it accessed). She will have in-home chemo wednesday through friday this week and next week. Plus she is taking a chemo pill every night for two weeks. Next tuesday, we go back to CHP for chemo and another LP.

They also told us that her hair will be gone by the end of next week. 😦 Her ANC (absolute neutrophil count) is down, so shes not allowed to go out anymore either. They also told us that the chemo can cause fevers, and as soon as she has a fever of 101 or 100.5 for longer than 2-3 hours, we have to go to the ER. They told us to go to Altoona and the will do bloodwork there. If her counts are ok, she can have an antibiotic and go home, but more than likely they wont be, so she’ll get transported to CHP by ambulance and we will be there until she has 3 days in a row fever-free. Basically, we are to expect that to happen. And we aren’t supposed to go back to CHP without a bag packed to stay, just in case. She will be needing more blood transfusions and platelets over the next few weeks because all of her counts will be dropping from the massive amounts of chemo she will be receiving.

Please keep praying, everyone!! We have a long road ahead of us, and it just got longer! But God is good!! 🙂

Ashley”

I’ve been telling you all how strong Ashley has been for Alexis and how amazing she is. I provide you with her words in this post so you can see for yourselves. This is not easy on anyone!

I do have one specific prayer request for you. I got to see Ashley and Alexis for a few minutes today (Ashley and I on the porch, and Alexis inside through the living room window). She was being her cute, sweet, and innocent self. She was full of joy and excitement. She was happy to see me and was excited to tell her grandpap (Ashley’s Dad) about my “scary hat” as she likes to call it! It brought such joy to me to see her so happy and full of excitement. Yesterday, we all found out that Alexis is sicker than the doctors thought, but after seeing her today, and knowing of the terrible day she had just been through, it showed me that she is stronger than we thought! She is a fighter…she is amazing…she is beautiful…and she is anything a mother could ever want in a child. Please pray that she will not lose her joy, regardless of what she goes through. Pray that she is able to remain happy little Alexis. This will help her mommy, her family, and those close to her to stay strong for her!

Alexis needs your prayers. Ashley needs your prayers. Their family needs your prayers. And I need your prayers!

Thank you again!

– paulg


Alexis Update: Urgent Prayer Needed…

January 12, 2010

I just received an update on Alexis, and it didn’t sound good. I am writing this with tears in my eyes, but God is still doing His thing…I can feel it and have faith in Him!

Alexis Running on the Beach

The bone marrow test that Alexis had done two weeks ago came back and the news is not what the doctors and family were expecting. Alexis has come a long way since her initial diagnosis on December 4, 2009 but she is sicker than they initially thought.

On Sunday, Ashley told me about a super strong bone marrow test that was performed on Alexis the last time she was at Childrens Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA. If they hadn’t put her in the study (which gets her the above-mentioned super strong bone marrow test…that is 10,000 times strongerr than the normal test, they never would have caught the Leukemia cells that are still in her body. Ashley said that because of this test, she is now considered “standard-high risk. It doesn’t decrease her chances of beating this disease, but it does mean she needs an extra two months of intense chemo!

These two extra months of chemo will be added to the original plan of 2 ½ years. She will also be getting chemo every day this week here in Altoona, PA. And she will probably lose her hair by the end of the week. Most of the news on Alexis has been good up to this point, but this is a big setback for her, her family, and those who love this little girl. The family and everyone involved is overwhelmed and could use large amounts of prayer, and that’s why I’m writing and regularly updating you all.

The doctors still feel that a full recovery will happen, but it will just take longer than they originally thought. The doctors initially told the family that the journey would be like this, with good days and bad, like a roller coaster. And that is exactly what it has been thus far!

Please keep praying for Alexis, Ashley, Family, and everyone involved in this little girl’s life. As my pastor put it, “we are in this journey with them…together…in prayer and support!”

I will provide more details as they are made known to me to help us pray more specifically. For now though, this should be enough info to send us to our knees to pray to our mighty, powerful, and awesome God! Nothing is too hard for Him!

As I was about to post this, I text messaged Ashley letting her know I was praying and would be updating you all so you could pray too. I let her know that God is in control, even when it seems that He isn’t, and that I am there for her no matter what.

And she responded with this:

“Thanks…I’m just about in shock. We’re really surprised. They said if we hadn’t put her in the study they wouldn’t have caught it and she probably would’ve relapsed. So THANK GOD!”

I have been teaching my youth group lately that no problem is too big for our God, and this is reminding me again of that. This seems HUGE and hurts so bad to think about, experience, and have happen to someone so innocent and young, but still we MUST worship! God knows what He is doing, and He knows that it will and allows this problem to seem huge to us. I believe He is working here and will prove to us all that HE IS BIGGER THAN leukemia, sickness, disease, pain, sorrow, hurt, uncertainty, and any unpleasant thing that we can ever imagine.

When we can’t, He can!

If you guys haven’t realized yet by these last few months of posts/updates, Ashley and Alexis mean the world to me and they are very dear to my heart. Please continue to pray for them…that’s all I ask! Thank you SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO incredibly much! Words can’t begin to describe how much this means to me, and to them!

–       paulg


Alexis is Becoming Alexis Again…

January 11, 2010

Hey Everyone,

I just wanted to take a few minutes to update you on Alexis. Alexis is doing amazingly well these days! She had the week off of chemo treatments, which was a nice break for both her and Ashley! Another nice break is that she is now off of the steroids that she was on. While on them, she was not the same little girl. But now that she is off of them, she is back to her normal (full of energy) self, and I can now call her “crazy baby” again! That’s my nickname for her, and she loves it!

Crazy Baby Alexis in "Paul's Toot Toot!"

On Thursday, I spent the day with Ashley and Alexis. We went to State College to get some new Penn State gear. Alexis made me wash my truck (which she calls “Paul’s toot toot”) before I picked them up though. She likes a clean looking truck I guess. Smart kid!!! The above picture is of her in the back seat of my truck, I mean “toot toot” being her “crazy baby” and cute self!

Here is an update that Ashley typed up for me a few days ago…

“Alexis has been doing awesome! She’s been off of the steroids since Jan. 2nd and she’s definitely back to her old self!! Her belly goes down every day; she has a belly button again!! Her face is still chubby as can be…but they said that’s always the last to go down! She also isn’t up all night eating, so we are finally getting some sleep!!! She’s been keeping busy playing with play-doh and her leap frog computer…and watching barney and kids sing praise, of course!!

Her next treatment is Jan. 12th. Her appt. time is 1:30 but our arrival time is scheduled for 11AM. They are going to start her on fluids that she will need for her treatment. She will also have chemo that day, and brandon and I decide whether or not to keep her in the study. We’ll find out what risk group she is in based on her last bone marrow test/spinal, too. They say that this will be a long visit, probably hours, if we stay on the study, because they will need to be on the phone with California registering her and whatever else they need to do.

we are having a blood drive through central blood bank in honor of Alexis. it will be at grace bible church in Hollidaysburg on January 25th from 12:00-6:00! 🙂   “

If you would like to set an appointment to donate at this drive, please log on to http://www.centralbloodbank.org and enter Alexis’ sponsor code ZRTN0603 or call April Harmon at 814-505-5514

I can’t thank you all enough for your prayers and support of this amazing little girl! Please continue to pray for Alexis, Ashley, and the rest of Ashley’s family. Prayer changes things, and God has been answering our prayers for this situation! Keep it up…

–          paulg


One Day at a Time (an update on Alexis)…

January 4, 2010

Hey Everyone,

It has almost been one week since my last update on Alexis and I have the wonderful privilege of bringing you more great news and reasons to thank God for this amazing little girl! God is slowly healing her and her blood levels are getting better and better each week!

momma and her mini-me!

I was hanging out with Ashley and Alexis yesterday whenever Ashley got the call from Alexis’ nurse with the results of that mornings blood work. It brought me such joy to hear the excitement and joy in Ashley’s voice while on the phone with the nurse. To attempt to explain the results, I will first give you Alexis’ results from last week. Then I will give you what normal numbers should be, and then I will give you the results from yesterday! I have no idea what any of this means, but Ashley helped me to understand it a bit and provided me with this information.

Last week’s results:

White Blood Cells:  .8
Platelets:  79k
Hemoglobin:  9.7
ANC:  317

Normal numbers:

White Blood Cells:  5-10 (Alexis’ are going to be low because she’s a cancer patient)
Platelets:  150k-450k
Hemoglobin: 11.5-14
ANC:  1000-2000

Yesterday’s results:

White Blood Cells:  1.6
Platelets:  86k
Hemoglobin:  8.2
ANC:  1067

Prayer changes things. I can testify to that fully! God has been doing some amazing things in Ashley, Alexis, their family, and even my life through all of this. Although we can’t always understand it as humans, God knows the ending, and we just need to trust Him and take it one day at a time.

Tonight is going to be a rough night for Alexis so I would like to urge you to pray. She has to go to Children’s Hospital for a chemo treatment and a bone marrow aspirate tomorrow morning. Because of these tests, she cannot have any food tonight, and due to the steroids that she is on, this is going to be a battle. So please pray for a peaceful night of rest for Ashley, Alexis, Ashley’s parents, and Ashley’s brother. Pray that Alexis will be able to sleep the whole night through without waking up numerous times screaming (because she wants to eat).

Lastly, please pray extra hard for Ashley. She hasn’t been able to get much sleep at all for the past few weeks as Alexis has been on these steroids. Pray that she will be able to stay healthy, composed, and strong for her little girl. Ashley has portrayed unimaginable strength through this all and I tell her all of the time how much I admire it and that she is doing the right thing.  But I can see that it isn’t easy on her and it hurts to see her like that.

So please join me in continuing to pray for Ashley and Alexis. Words can’t express how thankful I am for all of you and your prayers!

– paulg


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