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Choosing Joy Amidst Great Loss

Aisha Thomas is choosing joy, just weeks after her husband Brad passed away. How is she doing it?  Here she shares her tips, advice, and daily routines for faith-keeping and faith-building in a time that could feel hopeless.

 

I know God’s love is real because I could not get out of bed on my own.  They don’t tell you this: you wake up and it takes a couple of seconds. You think you are still in your old life.  If it were just Aisha, I would be lying in bed all day, but because of what the love of Jesus gives us, I’m able to turn over the covers.  I also feel him through my kids, my mother, through friends reaching out, and my church. When I put the title of “widow” on, I just want to go to the corner, huddle and say, “this is my life.”  But God stretches me to let them love me and for me to love them back.

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Choosing Joy

Just a few weeks into life without her husband Brad, Aisha Thomas has made one thing clear--she is choosing joy and gratitude.  The two are inextricably linked, and for Aisha, one begets the other. In continuing the family’s practice of gratitude, which the family does indeed practice every day, Aisha acknowledges what she is thankful for, and she acknowledges more than most people.  The mom of three and school principal admits it’s not easy, “I will say, it is the hardest time of joy-choosing. With kids, it is not necessarily hard to find it, but it is hard to choose it.” 

 

The Thomas family--all smiles on their IoH Legacy RetreatⓇ
The Thomas family--all smiles on their IoH Legacy RetreatⓇ
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Tyler Emmerd Speaks up for Inheritance of Hope

Over the summer, fourteen-year-old Tyler Emmerd chose to focus on Inheritance of Hope for a speech that he gave to 30 of his peers--well, if you can call seniors peers to an incoming high school freshman!   Tyler admits to some serious nerves before taking this required class, but he nailed it! 

 

Tyler and his family attended the Orlando May 2017 Legacy RetreatⓇ, and he counts visiting Sea World among his favorite memories. This animal lover had always wanted to see a sea turtle in person, but spending time with his parents, Melinda and Mike, and siblings Hailey, Ryan, and Cayla was even better, “We loved spending time with each other without the stress of cancer in our lives.  I love looking back on our vacation and remembering how special it was in all of our pictures we have,” he says.  

 

Tyler (second from right) and his family ready to take on Universal Studios
Tyler (second from right) and his family ready to take on Universal Studios
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Inheriting Hope and Leaving a Legacy

Fourteen-year-old Tyler Emmerd chose to focus on Inheritance of Hope for a speech that he gave to 30 of his peers.



Tyler and his family attended the Orlando May 2017 Legacy RetreatⓇ, and he counts visiting Sea World among his favorite memories. This animal lover had always wanted to see a sea turtle in person, but spending time with his parents, Melinda and Mike, and siblings Hailey, Ryan, and Cayla was even better, “We loved spending time with each other without the stress of cancer in our lives.  I love looking back on our vacation and remembering how special it was in all of our pictures we have,” he says.  

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Caitlin Shorey Raises Her Voice for Inheritance of Hope

Only eight years old, Caitlin Shorey has a big voice, and people are listening.  While she often uses it to belt out Broadway show tunes, lately this powerhouse of a third-grader has been speaking up for one of her favorite charities, Inheritance of Hope (IoH).  IoH serves young families facing the loss of a parent due to terminal illness, and Caitlin’s family benefitted from an IoH Orlando Legacy Retreat® in March 2018.  

 

“It was amazing to be able to express my feelings in a way that I didn’t have to hide anything, and I met new friends from all over,” Caitlin enthusiastically explains.  “For example, sometimes I feel scared, sad, or anxious about what might happen to my mom, but everyone in that group understood what I feel. On an IoH retreat, everyone knows because they have all experienced it.” 

 

The Shorey Family on their IoH Legacy RetreatⓇ
The Shorey Family on their IoH Legacy RetreatⓇ

 

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Family Spotlight: Amanda Coleman on her husband Mike’s Legacy

Of her family’s Inheritance of Hope Legacy RetreatⓇ, Amanda Coleman comments, “It’s pretty amazing what three days came to!” Amanda, her late husband Mike, and their daughter Leah joined IoH in May 2013 for an Orlando Legacy RetreatⓇ, while Mike was battling glioblastoma multiforme brain cancer. 

 

Mike had vacationed at Disney World as a child himself, which Amanda describes as “his favorite place on earth.”  Some of the family’s best memories from their trip were Leah meeting Princess Merida and Mike insisting on carrying his small daughter through the park when she began to tire out.  Amanda remembers, “He said he didn’t know how long he would be able to do that, and he wanted Leah to remember that it was her Daddy who carried her.”

 

Amanda, Leah and Mike on their Legacy RetreatⓇ

 

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Finding art in unexpected places

This collection of work was inspired by my mom for her perseverance and strong will. She has always been my role model and is the strongest woman I know. In the summer leading up to my junior year of high school, my mom was diagnosed with a stage four brain tumor called a glioblastoma. After my mom’s diagnosis, I became very involved in her treatments and doctors’ visits. I enjoyed accompanying her to appointments and often would ask the doctor and surgeon questions, so I could better understand what my mom was going through. At each appointment we would go over MRI and CT scans. First, to prepare for surgery, in which they would remove as much as they could. Secondly, to continue observing the growth or shrinkage of the tumor, post operation and treatments.

 

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Family Spotlight: Gabe and Erin Matheny’s survivor story

“If I could, I would make people go on an Inheritance of Hope Legacy RetreatⓇ,” says Gabe Matheny, former EMT from Corinth, Texas.  Diagnosed with a glioblastoma multiforme tumor, Gabe attended an Inheritance of Hope Legacy RetreatⓇ to Orlando with his family in May 2018.  “Originally, I was hesitant to go, but IoH was probably the biggest, best experience that has happened to us, and one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.  It was a huge relief for us, and we had so much fun with our kids.” He goes on, “Plus, the resources, the memories we got out of that, and the new friendships we still have...  There would have been absolutely no way for us to do that otherwise. From the first moment we got off the plane, the welcome we were given--the staff and volunteers just did so much. You could see it in their faces.”  Gabe pauses to consult with his wife, Erin, “what is the word I’m looking for?”

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Lighting a Candle for Hope

“Scents of Hope,” Marti Ogren’s candle business, is aptly named.  The preschool teacher, who also spent 35 years in a first grade classroom, has found her second calling, and her purpose is bigger than filling your home with pleasant fragrances.  Lest you get the wrong idea, Marti is passionate about the process of developing, testing, and making her soy-based candles. She embraces every step, from brainstorming new products to pouring the warm clear liquid and watching it cool to a creamy solid.  But, she is even more passionate about inspiring hope.

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Finding our way while helping others: longtime brain cancer survivors and caregivers share their experiences

One thing our IoH families all have in common is the desire to help others on this same road, and to make the path easier where possible.  Many of our families affected by brain cancer have particularly positive outlooks, and want to share that with anyone else facing this diagnosis.

 

Brain cancer Painting
Photo credit: Jordan Gersh (Orlando Legacy RetreatⓇ, Feb. 2017)

 

What you should know:

 

1. “It’s not a death sentence.  Yes, it’s terminal and I know that.  One day it will get me, but as of right now, it’s not.  Stay strong. Don’t let it get to you, be in the moment, and be there for other people.”  --Shannon Fogarty 

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