A Journey of Beautiful Survival {a tribute to my mama}

Grandmama and my daughter, her namesake.

My mother and daughter, before Mama was diagnosed with cancer. (At my parent’s lovely home, overlooking the PA farmland).

I’ll always remember the day I got the phone call that my beautiful mama was unconscious, and headed to the hospital. How could it be?! She was the picture of health, and a pillar in her family. The reality of her lying helpless in a hospital bed was an unthinkable truth. One minute she was going about business as usual; full of life. And in an instant, her world as she knew it, came to a screeching halt.

In the hospital - Mama looking beautiful as ever, right before her surgery. (You'd never guess she's wearing a hospital gown!).

In the hospital – Mama looking beautiful as ever, right before her surgery. (You’d never guess she’s wearing a hospital gown!).

This weekend marks the two year anniversary of my mother’s admittance to the hospital where after many weeks, many tests, and a brain biopsy later, doctors discovered she had an inoperable, cancerous, brain tumor on the left frontal lobe. We treasured every moment at the hospital with our sweet Mama.

Mama (after her biopsy), with her two youngest sons

Mama (after her biopsy), with her two youngest sons

Mama with the boys

Mama with the boys

Holding one of her precious granddaughters, during the hospital stay.

Holding one of her precious granddaughters, during the hospital stay.

Daddy and Mama with some of the beautiful flowers family and friends sent to the hospital.

Daddy and Mama with some of the beautiful flowers family and friends sent to the hospital.

Over the past two years mother has battled cancer in the most resplendent manner. Her strength of character through an incredibly formidable season of life is truly inspiring. She has been offered every opportunity to lay down and give up; to surrender to the darkness. But she has done quite the opposite. She continues to live, love, dream and hope.

Leaving the hospital!

Leaving the hospital!

My daughter & Grandmama visiting the ACS for a wig fitting, after Mama’s surgery and radiation took her hair.

You see, the building of my mother’s character began long before January, 2011. Because of her deep rooted faith, her identity is not in her diagnosis, but in the story her heavenly Father has planned for her life – which (in all the years I’ve been alive and witnessed it) has been a journey of seeking, knowing, serving and loving her Maker.


Mama, as a first grader

Mama was born into an Amish family, and raised on a picturesque farm in Lancaster County, PA. She lived a delightful childhood and never lacked for anything. But despite her life’s quaint and captivating appearance, it was marred with difficulty and suffering. I can see that the hardships she endured (and how she witnessed my grandparents walking through their painful experiences with in deep faith), prepared her for life ahead.

The Farmhouse where my mother grew up with her family

The farmhouse where my mother grew up with her family


Daddy and Mama as a young married couple

My parents were married in 1974. Their marriage is a portrait of true, sacrificial love and devotion. In 1981, they moved to Texas with 4 small children, and started a family homestead which they built from the ground up. We spent 13 years there, and I witnessed my parents nuture relationships and community with people from all walks of life, as they lovingly and carefully raised and homeschooled us children.

Family Pic

Family Photo in the mid ’80’s

Growing up with my mother was an experience for which I’m eternally grateful. She is the true renaissance woman. As a child I believed she could do nearly ANYTHING, and do it well. As an adult, my opinion hasn’t changed! She has a God-given ability to see and draw out the beauty in everything she touches, and anyone she knows. From our little home built by my Daddy on the landscape of Texas pastureland long ago, to banquets for the worlds VIP’s (after her children were grown), her touches of artistry and outstanding gift of hospitality never fail to leave the world a better place.

Tea Party at Grandmama's house.

Tea Party at Grandmama’s house.

Mama is a lover of Jesus, her husband and family, and anyone around her, and a worshiper of God, in every facet of her life. She is a reader, a dreamer, a goal-setter. She is an artist, a designer and a florist. She is a gardener, a keeper of the lost arts and a farmer. She is a songbird, a lover of poetry, and a history-buff. She is homemaker extraordinaire and a business woman. She is a health connoisseur. She is a leader, a teacher, a model wife, and a most excellent mother. She is a woman who passionately LIVES what she believes, and doesn’t just talk about it.

One of the things I am most grateful for, is my mother’s pioneering spirit in the arena of homeschooling. My parents chose to educate us at home before they even knew such a concept existed. What a gift they gave us!

One of my favorite photos of Mama, with her foster son Terry.

One of my favorite photos of Mama, with her foster son Terry.

My mother and father have walked through the past two years with strength and fortitude that can only come through faith, and I know their story has many more wondrous chapters that remain to be played out. This quote perfectly sums up the way they live each day:

“Teach me to treat all that comes to me with peace of soul and with firm conviction that Your will governs all.”~ Elisabeth Elliot

Survivor Photo Shoot, by Dajay Art Photography

Survivor Photo Shoot, by Dajay Art Photography

In addition to the steadfastness and love displayed by my parents, one of the most treasured things to witness has been the outpouring of love from people all around our family, from all across the country, and all walks of life. Cancer brings with it a complete disruption of normal routines, and our lovely family and friends have been beside my parents, their children and grandchildren every single step of the way.

A family luncheon at cousin Rachel's house

A family luncheon at cousin Rachel’s house

Delicious meals, car rides, open hearts and homes, cards, letters, notes, flowers, gifts, words of experience and encouragement, plane tickets, childcare and most importantly, prayers. Words cannot begin to express our family’s deep gratitude.

Mama and Daddy several years ago, with their six children and 10 of their now sixteen grandchildren.

Mama and Daddy several years ago, with their six children and 10 of their (now sixteen) grandchildren.

In closing; Mama, I call you blessed! You are the kind of mother that books are written about. You are my friend, my teacher and my hero. The fruits of the Spirit are evident in every arena of your life. I want to be like you when I grow up! May God continue to guide you and carry you in every moment of your beautiful journey. May you “…be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”

Forever grateful to God for my mother, ~ Justina Dee

“Survivor Photo” by DaJay Art Photography

Scripture Reference: Psalm 1:2-4, KJV


9 thoughts on “A Journey of Beautiful Survival {a tribute to my mama}

  1. Loved this… smiled and laughed and cried reading it. Your mama is all these things, and you have shown me the same…. I could never count the ways you and Joanna and Jethro, all of you, have influenced my life. I love Jesus more because of knowing you all.
    I’m so grateful. So grateful…

    • Bekah, you are such a dear!!! It was such a blessing to sit down and share some things about my mama, and I’m so happy you took time to read my post. I am so excited about the way God is using your willing heart and hands, and can’t wait to see what all lies ahead as you chase after Jesus!! Love you oodles and oodles, and wish I could reach across the states and hug your neck. I’ll say a prayer for you instead. XO
      ~ Justina Dee

  2. Thank you for sharing this amazing story of your mother… When Kathryn and Jacob approached me, and wanted me to do her survival photos I was overwhelmed, they could of picked anyone for their photographer… I began spending lots of time with them, they were so inviting, genuine, kindhearted, and filled with the spirit of Jesus…

    I do not know if they know this but I adopted them as my second family. When I am around them and their family its like stepping outside after a rain shower… I get a burst of fresh air and a sense of peace around my soul…

    I remember a special moment when I approached them about my vision for their backyard. The vision of my husband and I having our wedding there and how magical that would me… Kathryn did not hesitate to tell me this was a dream of her’s too.. Last year June 9, 2012 Kathryn, Jacob, friends and family made that happen for us. I am forever grateful!! I am blessed to be part of their lives, and I will never forget the amazing things they have done for my family and I. Love you, DaJay Art Photography Daisy & Jason Dienner

    • Daisy, I love you like a sister! Thank you for the beautiful photos, for the beautiful memories and for all the love you’ve shown to all of us. Thank you for taking the time to read this post, and for sharing your lovely thoughts. We’re grateful for you and your family. So much love, ~Justina

  3. I love every word of this post. What a legacy she has and is still leaving for you—and all of us.

    –Aunt Rachel

  4. tears. tears. and more tears.
    your entire family is evident of the deep roots of wisdom, love, nurture, giftings, and Godliness passed down to you.
    this begets generations!

    cancer is so limiting!

    BLESSINGS of full, and long grateful living to your sweet, beautiful momma!

  5. Justina…….. your Mother’s heart is a Sweet picture of Jesus. Although I don’t know her well, her journey speaks volumes of who she is. She is truly an inspiration to all of us.
    Someday when I get home for a visit, I plan to go gisit het, and your Aunt Anna and Carol, Rachel and anyone I can find.
    I miss your family. I had so much fun growing up with you guys, with Rose, Carol, Rachel… l loved coming to the Esh farm.
    Precious Memories for me.
    Thank you for sharing!

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