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Choose Joy

November 11
by
Caitlyn Denkler
in
Faith
with
.

Over the past year and some change, my life has been flipped upside down.


I always prided myself in thinking that I was a “go with the flow” kind of girl, and able to handle change with open arms, but this I was very wrong about.

When my dad was diagnosed with Stage IV brain cancer last September, everything about my life changed.

It was like everything I knew about the world and the goodness of it had just been shattered to pieces on the floor.

It was like I knew it was true, but I still didn’t want believe it in my heart. Looking back at the most painful year of my life is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do but from that point to this day, I have learned so much more about myself, the meaning of the word love, endless forgiveness, the process of life and learning how necessary choosing joy is through it all.

I have ALWAYS been a daddy’s girl. Ask anyone in my family. My dad and I have always had an exceptional relationship, which has been the biggest blessing to me.

We share a lot of interests; one of his passions was soccer (which he played at the Naval Academy) and which I pursued into college alongside both of my sisters.

Being a Naval Academy grad, he always had a desire to fly. Though his dreams were crushed when he couldn’t qualify commissioning naval aviation, he still managed to make it happen a few years ago when he received his pilot’s license and flew for pleasure every chance he got.

%tags Faith

He is also an incredible artist and post-retirement continued to sharpen his painting skills. I would join him for painting classes. I loved the chance to spend any time I could with him and learn some things along the way.

He was constantly teaching me, constantly supporting me, and constantly pushing me to be the best version of myself.

Our relationship is one that I cherish so deeply. My dad has always been a go-getter; nothing has ever stopped him. I knew deep down though that his diagnosis would eventually slow him down.

But, despite his odds, he continued to be the go-getter I always knew him to be. Through what seemed like endless rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, and varieties of medications, I watched as the man that I knew to be my dad slowly fade away.

He continued to do all of his favorite things: working out, painting, and flying until his body wouldn’t allow him to any longer. The frustration and heartbreak of it all crept in little by little, too much to bear some days.

It was like everything he loved to do was being taken away from him little by little. And yet, I still didn’t want to believe that God wanted this for my family.

I still believed that there was some kind of miracle that was going to happen and that things would just go back to the way they always were.

Before life got hard. I battled for months on end, pushing it aside and believing that he had to get better, so many people can live with cancer for years and even be cured, right?

That’s the thing with life. It doesn’t bow down to what we want and it never will. God gives us loads that are too heavy for us to bear on our own, knowing He has a bigger plan.

Though this past year has been an internal battle of acceptance, I have learned and witnessed His bigger and better plan. The love that my mom has given and shown to my dad through his battle is the way we are loved by Jesus; raw, unconditional and sacrificial.

Her life has been put aside for his with no hesitation. I have never seen a greater humanly love in action.

Love is an action; it is how we choose to live each day when we wake up.

It is the kind of love that can bring tears to your eyes just by watching because of how rare and genuine it is. Love has to be an action that we choose and choose every day whole-heartedly.

Another thing I have learned is that forgiveness is essential. First, being able to forgive yourself, but also being able to forgive those who have wounded our hearts deeply.

It is not an easy thing and can be a painfully long process, but forgiving is freeing and it is how we are called to live as God’s children. His heart, for us, is to live free.

The third thing, life is a process. Process, process, process is something that I have had to nail into my brain a thousand times over. Our lives are a journey and not a destination; we are not racing to a finish line.

I am someone who puts high pressure on myself which can lead to immense disappointment.

I have learned that life is messy, it is imperfect, and it is always changing.

That’s the beauty of it though, we are always learning more about ourselves, good and bad, and accepting the process.

Lastly, that there is joy to be found even when it seems like there is none to be had. Joy comes in the simplest of things; the belly laughs from my dad at the dinner table, the meals enjoyed with distant friends, the weekly family gatherings, the memories shared, the stillness during a morning breakfast, the tears that turn into laughs, the love of dedicated friends, and the part of dad I am left with who shows me that living in the moment can be done and is the happiest way to be.


Looking back on this past year, I have been changed. Change comes when we least expect it sometimes but it is essential in our lives for the Lord to teach us and work in us. Writing this, there is still a piece of me that will never be the same when my dad is no longer with us.

There is a place in my heart that he will always be and that will always hurt a lot without him here. But, I will always fight to see the bigger story and fight to believe in the promises that God has for us. He is always good, he is always better, and he is always a reason to hope.

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