Getting Closer to Making It Final

 { Me, Miss Bee and 'N'...or Tummy Mommy as we refer to her as. Posted with permission. }

On March 21st, Miss Bee became legally free getting us that much closer to her adoption day. Her journey becoming one of us has been a joy; quite uneventful compared to most foster situations. Her Tummy Mommy and I chat regularly and just a couple weeks ago met at Perch and Play for a visit. We have a friendship that to others seems odd or unfamiliar, but she's family now regardless how you look at things. Bee's Tummy Mommy has expressed some heartfelt words with me that I will hold tight and share with Bee when she's older. I've learned so much about who she is and her own childhood which ultimately has bonded us. Her decision for Miss Bee's life is respected and will be kept safe until Bee is able to understand. 
It was quite funny actually as we were visiting with 'N' because Myriam had the "ahh hah" moment figuring out that 'N' was Bee's Tummy Mommy. From that point on there were some sweet conversations about the sisters Tummy Mommy's. A link that only these sisters will have. 
I made a book of Miss Bee's first year of life which shows her journey through foster care including some pictures from a few of her visits. This is something similar to what we made for Myriam and it's been a great tool expressing at the age appropriate level how our daughters joined our family. 'N' has a copy herself as well. It's the simple things that make the difference for these kids. 
I will say though, when in line at the grocery store I have been embarrassed far too many times when Myriam will gladly tell anyone she has two Mommies....I quickly follow up by saying me and her Tummy Mommy. "Yeah, this is my real Mommy but I didn't grow in her tummy." 
But then you have the other public conversation like I encountered just yesterday. "Your girls have completely opposite complexions. She has your cheek bones but she must have her Dad's coloring." Really? Myriam has my cheekbones? I actually get that a lot. I simply answered, "Actually, Myriam is adopted and this one is legally free in the process of adoption." There are times I want to take back my words and give a more heart-thought answer and then times when I just want to shut the chat down. 
These are our daughters. Our girls. We have different DNA but these princesses are 100% ours. 
Our family welcomes these new branches into our family tree, both Miss Meranda and 'N' and cherish the connections that explain and give depth into who our girls are.
Our next court review is in May and by the time things are finalized Miss Bee will be in our care for over 500 days. Pray with us as these last few details are sorted through. Pray for N as she prepares for this new chapter in her life and for our family as we grow into an official six pack. 

 { Miss Bee on her birthday. }

{ It is only because she's legally free that I now can show her adorable face! }

She Keeps Me Running

{ 7th state race }

The first time back in my running shoes after my sister passed, I found myself on the treadmill with worship music playing starring at a dark gray sky. I caught myself having a conversation with Traci about how I would ever run another race without her telling me right before all the sweet words of encouragement like she would through texts and phone calls. 
The reason why I made the goal of 50 by 50 (50 state races by the age of 50) was to run because she couldn't. It was to run for her, in honor of her and others, with the capability and ability to run and to make memories of traveling all across the country with my sister. We had plans to do big things with these races. We had talked about me running a race after our family cruise in Florida and how excited Traci was that I found a race with such a dear cause; Dash for Downs 5k. She was so excited for me to run! It was a one-sided, possibly a little of an angry toned chat as I sprinted through a few miles hoping to hear 
her voice talk back to me. 
I was almost done with my quick sprint when I was telling her I quit and then...
Right in front of me, against the moisture heavy, dark cloudy sky came a clearing of bright white clouds shaped as a heart. 
I have learned to see things for what they are and I took that moment and treasured it as my sweet sister sending me some love. A soft kick in the pants perhaps to say, 
"Get back up! You will not quit. You will not stop because I have not left you and will be with you on every race; every step."
And so I did. 
That night I registered for the race that she was so excited for me to run here in Florida. 
This morning, driving to the race, the sun rose from the east in gorgeous fashion and I felt her. 
She was with me. 
Every step. 
Today I ran for two Angels:
Traci Van Dyken and Katrina Van Berkum

 { Overwhelmed with emotion crossing the finish line realizing it's now running in memory of and getting another of many firsts out of the way.  }

I won't stop sister. 
The kids have even talked about running some races alongside of me and the family traveling to make this all of our goal; not just crazy Mom with her collection of running shoes. 
Like I've said...
His strength; my feet. 

My Tribute: Daughter, Sister, Friend

I first want to say thank you, on behalf of our family, for walking these past 10 years with us praying, encouraging and showing us support as we cared for our daughter and sister in her fight. It was not only just her fight; it became all of our fight and we can not say how much your willingness to join through prayer and support has meant to all of us. There were successful fundraisers, homes opened up to stay at, meals provided, gas cards given, rides offered to bring Traci to and from treatments or even back home. In boxes above Traci’s closet are every single card written with words of hope, scriptures of truth and sentiments of friendship spoken. Traci clung to your friendships and it is the fuel behind her fight. We humbly ask that you help us finish our Hero’s fight worshipping and celebrating her life, her love for her Jesus and to not focus on her death, but her victory.

In the early days, Traci and I shared a bedroom for 17 years. Many called us twins as we were only 15 months apart. We were each others best friend growing up. What she wore first and new, I was bound to wear used. Traci was the pack rat of us two. The things she collected; pencils, erasers, shells, overflowed in our tiny bedroom. At one point I got so mad with her junk and mess I put duct tape on the floor clearly marking out a mini walkway for her to get to her side of the room and then making a guideline of where her junk could go. “This is my side and that is yours.” Then there came bedtime. Oh I had fun with that. Some nights we’d fight over the light needing to be turned off, but Traci was a diligent student and dedicated at getting her homework done regardless of the time of night. On other nights, I’d let her fall asleep by about 20 minutes then I’d carefully slither out of bed, quietly sneak across the floor and with a loud scream wake her up. Oh she’d hate me for that! Of course everyone likes seconds so about 30 minutes later I’d do it again! Usually what followed was “girls, go to bed.”

Then there was the time our feisty baby brother thought he’d annoy us by swinging between our beds and after Traci gave clear warning to stop and get out, she thought she’d send a stronger message, pushing him off the bed and ending up breaking his arm.

Our parents were committed to family time and we spent our summers in the San Juan Islands exploring the beaches, hiking and fishing from the docks. That passion for the outdoors continued into her adult life as she biked miles through Portland, paddled through the river, hiked the falls and mountains in the northwest and shared her love of the islands with her nieces and nephews. Traci was a selfless, giving, loving and easy to persuade kind of Auntie. She never came home empty handed and the kids knew if they were to visit Auntie they’d end up with some special treat. Addison was two when Traci received her cancer diagnoses. Our kids have only ever known their Auntie to be sick. She didn’t let that stop her from making memories and special moments that we will all treasure forever.

But I don’t want to spend your time telling you all about what she did as an auntie because she bragged about her family all the time. She was proud of her family and her walls in her apartment prove that as they are covered with hand drawn pictures, photographs and special tokens from the kids. Her computer is laced with thousands of pictures of those she loved.

Traci over the years has expressed to me tidbits of what she would want for her service. We never spent much time talking about it because neither of us wanted to focus on that. But it’s quite simple: Jesus. She wants it to be all about Jesus.

The last time I held my sisters hand was the first time she stood before her God and Maker.
Without pain or scars of her almost ten year journey with breast cancer.
Surrounded by her family, she peacefully marched her way into glory.

Whenever I had a question about faith, the Bible or just needed to talk about our Jesus, she was quick to help me out often times sending me lists from her Bible reference books per topic or recommending books for me to read.

The hours leading up to Traci entering Heaven, I spent reading to her from her worn-torn Bible. At one point I stopped reading and she asked for more songs. “You want more songs? More Bible verses?” She gently nodded her head yes. Traci longed to know more about her Savior. The pages of her Bible tell us so. Her journals are filled with Bible Study notes as she simply couldn’t get enough Truth learning more about Jesus. Revelations was her favorite.

What I admire most about my sister is her solid faith in Jesus Christ. There was a period of time where Traci and I were not very close. It was rather a relationship of tension, stress and jealousy. What I find profound is how her diagnoses of breast cancer brought her to life. She often wondered what her purpose was and struggled with depression in her aimless wandering of figuring out who she was. In God’s amazing purpose and perfect plan, He gave Traci her eternal purpose and mission field in what ultimately took her away from us too early. It was her cancer that brought back to life our friendship. It instantly bonded us. She inspired me daily fighting through countless chemotherapy treatments, radiation treatments and surgeries. With every setback, her faith gained that much more strength. It fueled her to live brighter, more courageous and to live unashamed of her faith in a God that can move mountains.  

Her cancer became her mission field. We will never know the number of lives she touched through her positive, uplifting and joyful attitude as she selflessly fought cancer.

My Hero, Traci, lived her life racing towards the end. It’s been two weeks since my sister has left us. I can’t explain the weight of missing her presence, the size void she left. What I can tell you is what I have learned since she’s passed and what she would want you to know as well. When I opened her Bible after we got home and started to read through her journals was a common thread. Her end was just the beginning. Even in her Bible you’ll find a page of Genesis in the very back of her Bible because it really is true: The beginning of life doesn’t begin until it reaches the end. When we stand face to face with our Maker in all His perfection and He says to His child…
Traci, well done my strong, joyful, daughter. You have been faithful. You are now free.

Sister, it hurts to breath I miss you so much. Thank you for teaching me what matters most.
God is indeed so very good.

Her Words; Her Story

Last November, I found myself gazing on the frozen ground and wanting to find a way to freeze that time with my sister. In communicating these thoughts with Tim, I shared how I desired something I could always have for the kids to see.
Selfishly, I wanted to be able to preserve Traci's voice, her smile, her laughter. 
I knew I needed to ask Traci if this was something she'd be willing to do and without hesitating, Traci was all over the idea of videoing her testimony. She had talked about wanting to do something like this by writing letters, but wasn't sure where to start. It didn't become something grim in creating a film for after she left us. It became a tool in helping us prepare her for this final step in her journey.
The secret of planning this film was so much fun to share together. 
We flew Evan and another cameraman out in February after Traci had learned the cancer had spread once again. Before she was going to loose her hair, we wanted to film her story when she looked relatively healthy. 

It was a secret Traci was excited to keep. It was a secret she wanted to keep locked up 
until her service.
The blessing of being able to hear her voice again is priceless. 
It is an honor to share this with you. 
Her words; her story. 
She gives God all the glory.


Traci Van Dyken, age 37, went to be with her Lord and Savior Friday, February 17, 2017 after a ten year battle with breast cancer. Traci was born April 30, 1979 to Paul and Cheryl (Schuitema) Van Dyken in Bellingham, WA. She grew up in the Bellingham area, attending Bellingham Christian School, Evergreen Christian School and graduating from Lynden Christian High School. Traci went on to Multnomah Bible College graduating with a degree in Educational Ministries. Traci was a preschool teacher at Sunshine School and Creative Minds Preschool in Portland, OR.

Traci lived for Jesus always wanting to grow and learn more about Him. People knew her for her smile. She especially loved to spoil her nieces and nephews whenever she could. Traci enjoyed hiking, camping, boating, and paddling on the Pink Phoenix Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat team. Traci was a member of Trinity Bible Fellowship in Portland, OR and Faith Reformed Church, Lynden, WA.

Traci is preceded in death by grandparents Ralph and Marjorie Van Dyken, Gordon Schuitema and Al Haak.

She is survived by her parents Paul and Cheryl Van Dyken, sister Stephanie (Tim) Broersma and their children Addison, Charlie, Myriam and Baylee; and brother Jason (Lindsay) and their children Talan and Ashlyn; grandparents Etta Haak and Betty Schuitema and numerous nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles. She was loved by her Portland family from school, church and many friends. 

The Last Time I Held Her Hand

The last time I held my sisters hand was the first time she stood before her God and Maker. 
Without pain or scars of her almost ten year journey with breast cancer. 
Surrounded by her family, she peacefully marched her way into glory. 
I say march because that's exactly what Traci did in those last hours here on earth. 

I was originally going to fly down to Portland Thursday morning, but my flight was cancelled the night before leaving me to drive the next morning. I got to Traci's apartment around 10:30am. Mom had told me about the confirmed liver failure a few days before and the turn of yellow in her skin, but seeing in person was much more prominent then I expected. 
Traci and I joked about how yellow was never her color. She said with her cute smirk, "Yeah, it's not my favorite either. It's not that bad though." She was always reassuring me she was okay. 

{ I'm not sure who looks more tired. Taken minutes after arriving to Portland. }

The car ride to Compass Oncology that afternoon was heavy with emotion, fatigue and the knowing of the reality to come. 
It didn't take long before the air was sucked right out of the room. 
"We're going to be stopping all treatments and transfer you into support care."

My sister has been a valiant fighter for ten years coming face to face with death sentences far too many times in her journey. What started as breast cancer soon raged into bone, lung, liver, brain and eye cancer. Multiple surgeries, not a day without pills or maintenance chemo, loss of hair four times and never a single complaint. She fought with that bright, contagious smile and never lost her sparkle. 
When most people fall into pieces after getting diagnosed with cancer, Traci came to life. 
My sister in her earlier days struggled to find her sense of identity; to know who she was and why she was placed here on earth. She fought with depression some and has said to me, "I felt like a wanderer not knowing what my purpose was." And then she met her diagnosis.
Traci was always passionate about her Jesus and had interest in missionary work growing up. What happened quickly after her first surgery was something magical. The harder cancer fought to take Traci away from us, the more she'd push to let her faith shine more radiantly. Rather than us encouraging her to stay strong, was Traci telling everyone "it's okay, God is in control."
These past few months I shared with my sister how I felt her starting to slip away. She, without hesitating, told me, "Sis, I'm not going anywhere."
When she was given her first timeline just a few months ago, she replied with, "Dr. Look is not in control of my timeline. God is the only one who knows my timeline."
She fought with confidence for a cure. She fought with purpose to share her Jesus with everyone she came into contact with at work, home, on her paddling team and any stranger willing to listen. 
Her fight inspired numbers that we will never see here on this side of earth. 

{ The weight of the world landed on our shoulders in the doctors office. }

We sat in shambles as the staff at Compass came in to say their goodbyes with social workers gathering information to set up hospice up north. The details of making Traci comfortable once we made it home came together easily, but the acceptance of "why" was hard to adjust to. Addison had been in Portland all week and after a few days of seeing her Auntie becoming weaker in strength and more confused in conversation, she finally came to the point where she broke into quiet sobs resting in her Papa's arms. My sister had reached her hand out and invited me to sit next to her. Fingers laced together, we were going to finish this strong. 
"Am I dying? Am I really dying?"
Yes, honey, you're dying. 
"I don't know. I...okay...yeah, I don't know."

You think about this moment happening, but then it's here and nothing prepares you for the rawness of emotions that flood every part of your mind and body. What happened in that doctors office was simple: the man who came up with options for every curve ball this cancer has thrown at us finally had no more tricks, experimental treatments or options to treat the beast that stole a healthy body ten years earlier. In those moments Dr. Look gave Traci's weak, frail body permission to stop fighting. Whether she wanted to or not; her body was worn out from such an intense fight. 
Dr. Look had given her one to two months. She was adamant about going on our family cruise next month. I'm not sure which made her more upset honestly;
stopping treatment or not being able to travel. 

With oxygen by her side, we navigated our way to the pharmacy to gather a few more prescriptions before heading back to the apartment. She had wanted to let her friends know and was asking to post something on Facebook. After making attempts on her phone, I placed her computer in her lap so she could let her supporters know of this news. Unfortunately, in her confusion, she wasn't able to recognize Facebook and saw the computer as just being black which led me to writing what she had earlier expressed and her approving it before posting.
"God was still good."
Later in the evening Pastor Jesse and his wife Crystal came to visit and pray with Traci. 
What astonishes me is how powerful the mind plays a role in our decision making, and our will to live. While visiting with Jesse, I noticed Traci dozing off and her color changing in front of us. Again, she said multiple times, "Yeah, so..I don't know," as we prayed over her, committing her to Jesus and asking boldly for peace. 
It was immediately after, Traci became cold and clammy, yet dripping in sweat. It was as if her spirit fled after Pastor Jesse prayed. Now her body and mind were in agreement.
Because of the liver failure and increasing kidney failure, she felt like using the bathroom every ten to fifteen minutes. We together spent many precious moments with me sitting on the floor resting on her knees telling her I loved her, discussing intimate details and moments of just locking eyes in disbelief. A blessing to us was when a Pink Phoenix team mate stopped by moments after Jesse left. With her knowledge and experience, it was clear that Traci would not make it home the next day. As gently as she could, Sue tenderly told me she may not survive the night. 
Panic. I'm not ready. Fear. Seriously? Is this really happening now?

Addison paced the front porch waiting for her baby brother to arrive to the apartment after being flown to Portland by his Grandpa Doug, and transported by Grandpa John to the apartment. There were many moments that evening that broke me, but the one of Addison and Charlie embracing in a tight hug weeping together was definitely one as a parent, that tore me apart. 
Traci didn't have much energy and her level of lucidness was becoming less, but the moment Charlie came to her side she lit up and together they had a moment. 
"Hi pal!"
Charlie knew the seriousness of the moment and laid in bed with his Auntie rubbing her back, reminding her he loved her. 

Tim arrived shortly after followed by Jason who raced down to be with us. We were supposed to be driving home the next day. We were supposed to all go to Charlie's basketball game Saturday and celebrate his birthday on Sunday.
Traci had other plans. 
The hours passed slowly. Mom and I never left her side as I read from her worn out Bible "songs" that she had underlined and known favorites of hers. I had stopped reading at one point and she asked for more songs so I continued to read scripture while Mom rubbed her back and I held her hand. Many times I locked eyes and told her it was okay to go, He's calling your name and you have permission to go. When it was just the two of us, I prayed that prayer with us never closing our eyes, and she in agreement smiled and said, "I know. I love you."

To have one more moment to say that to her, face to face. To hear her laugh just that one more time. To have her tell me she's not going anywhere.
Sister, I need you. 

It was hours later that Mom and I saw the struggle become more present. As a family, we laid hands on our beloved first daughter and big sister as I prayed permission for her to go and released her back into the hands of her Creator. After that, we didn't get many more words or response. Her spirit had left and her body was not far behind. She had calmed some and with the assistance of Hospice and Sue, we were able to rest for a short while. She was very comfortable with the efforts from morphine. Mom continued to hold her baby girl as I laid next to her never wanting to let go. 
The fight was gone. 
In her final moments, there was fear that it was happening, but also honor to be able to speak to her  through emotion as she was standing face to face with her Maker. 
"Honey, you need to go. Just go. You need to go. He's calling your name. It's okay.
We love you. You need to go."

"The Sovereign LORD is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
He enables me to go to the heights."
Habakkuk 3:19

I should never have had to say those words to my big sister. I will never forget what it felt like to feel my big sisters hand go limp in mine knowing her life was gone and her fight was done. Nothing can steal that moment away and I'm still processing exactly what we experienced. 

The flood of emotion can not be explained. There was intense sadness. Relief. Loss. Joy.
I felt sick. I felt weak. I struggled to know what to do and saw my children process as they stood over their Auntie who conquered. The rest of the morning became a blur. 
There is still so much processing that needs to happen and grief that will wake me up at night.

But in the end...
God IS still good. 

{ Traci's first Heavenly sunset. Pink, of course...}

Sweet Hour of Prayer

Sweet sister. You have no idea the hole you left here on earth. I just have no words right now. 
I miss you immensely and it's only been a day. God, this hurts. 

Sweet hour of prayer! Sweet hour of prayer!
That calls me from a world of care,
And bids me at my Father's throne
Make all my wants and wishes known.
In seasons of distress and grief,
My soul has often found relief,
And oft escaped the temper's snare,
By thy return, sweet hour of prayer!

Sweet hour of prayer! Sweet hour of prayer!
The joys I feel, the bliss I share,
Of those whose anxious spirits burn
With strong desires for thy return!
With such I hasten to the place
Where God my Savior shows His face,
And gladly take my station there,
And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!

Sweet hour of prayer! Sweet hour of prayer!
Thy wings shall my petition bear
To Him whose truth and faithfulness
Engage the waiting soul to bless.
And since He bids me seek His face,
Believe His Word and trust His grace,
I'll cast on Him my every care,
And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!

150 Times of Intentional Asking

Charlie and his Auntie Traci have a special relationship. One that connects them in a sixth sense. 
When one is having a bad day; so is the other. 
When one is struggling emotionally; so does the other.
There is such love, pride and joy in this relationship shared between these two. 
When Charlie started this school year he was proud to raise his hand on the first day of school asking for his classmates to pray for Auntie Traci. He was bold in his asking and it hasn't stopped. 
Multiple times a day, this third grade class prays for Auntie Traci. 
And how do we know it's been 150 times this nephew has asked for prayer? 
Well, he's kept a running tally at his desk. 

This is the course of knowing Auntie Traci. She's contagious in her faith, inspiring in her fight and always has her arms opened wide to love those around her. 
These kids have met Traci once, but have not let that stop their faith from asking bold prayers like Charlie's praying. 
Faith like a child...
I can promise you this...
These children will not stop praying. 

{ Not only have they prayed but they sent Valentine's encouragement too. }

Will you join them in prayer?