On September 2nd, 2002, life as we knew it changed.
That night, I prayed like I’ve never prayed before that God would not take my husband from me. We had been married for twenty-six years. We were like most married couples. We both had our careers in full swing – working sixty-five to eighty hours a week – making five-figure salaries. We put off going to church on Sundays because that was the only day we didn’t have to be anywhere and could sleep in. Our two children had both married their high school sweethearts and had their first child. Andy, our son, gave us Andrew Lee Lewis IV (Drew) and Melissa, our daughter, gave us our first granddaughter, Ally.
My husband, Andy, had not been feeling well for about three months. He didn’t want to worry me, so he didn’t say anything except an occasional comment about an upset stomach or being tired. I started noticing that he was losing weight (thirty-three pounds in ninety days) and regardless of what I cooked it never was pleasing to him. He would say it was either too salty, greasy, or spicy, and etc., and that the portions I was giving him were too large (I’m a chef and he always enjoyed my meals prior to getting sick).
It was a normal Thursday afternoon – I was at work – and I got a call from our son. I could tell by his voice that something was terribly wrong. He said, “Mom, Dad doesn’t want you to know, but he’s been really sick for the past couple of months. Today, he almost fell off a ladder and I’ve brought him to the hospital. Mom, I’m really worried about him.”
After testing him for everything except cancer, they released him for a follow up with our family doctor. That’s when they ordered a CAT scan and found that he had a very large mass in his abdominal area that measured twenty-one centimeters long, nineteen centimeters wide, and seven and a half centimeters thick. It was causing complete blockage to his intestines and stomach. After they did the biopsy, they told us that Andy had stage four Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
It’s funny how everything in your life can come to a complete stop. That happened when they told me my husband had a very small chance of even surviving through the night. They gave us the choice of trying an experimental drug regime consisting of eight hours per day, twice daily, and repeated every twenty-one days for seven rounds. They said it might save his life, but they couldn’t promise me that. But they also said he would die if we didn’t do anything, this would give him a chance.
We went through the one hundred forty-seven days of Chemo and then twenty-four rounds of radiation, and, praise God, that got him into remission and he’s been in remission ever since.
It was the night they told me he might not make it that I tried to make a deal with God. If He would not take Andy away from me, I’d get my spiritual life in check and I promised I’d be a better Christian wife, mother, and grandmother. It’s funny that it took Andy getting sick for me to change my priorities.
After Andy started feeling better we took a month off and did some traveling. We went to a dude ranch in Arizona, and on the way back home Andy told me he wanted me to fulfill my dream of having a Bed and Breakfast before his cancer returned (we’d been told that it would come back, but they just didn’t know when or where it would show up again in our lives).
We then started looking for a business to buy. In 2004, we purchased the ranch – it was called “Tickled Pink Ranch” at that time. It didn’t take us long to realize that we needed to change the name, so we decided on “A to Z Guest Ranch” (“A” for Andy, being the first letter of the alphabet, and, of course, “Z” for Zondra, being the last letter of the alphabet). Moving to Oklahoma meant that we were going to be leaving our adult married children and grandchildren in Kansas City, but we knew that God had a master plan for our lives and that this was part of it. We are proud to be Christians and knew one thing for sure: whatever business we were going to purchase had to be or the potential to be turned into a “family friendly” place, not only for our guests to enjoy but also for our grandchildren to be able to come and stay with us during the summers, holidays, and school breaks. We are pleased to say that we have a place that families can come to – Mom and Dad don’t have to worry about what their children might see or hear while playing around camp. There is no better sound to your ears then sitting out on the pavilion in the evening and hearing children laughing and playing in the background, while also hearing other guests talking, laughing, playing a guitar, and singing songs together around their bonfires. We’ve even had husbands call and thank us for having a “safe” place for their wives to come and stay a week with a group of their girlfriends.
Then, in 2008, God opened up another door of opportunity for us, which was to have a ministry just for couples. We purchased our second business, which is only located five miles from our ranch. Eagle Creek Estates is a community with luxury cabins for couples only. We purchased five cabins, which are each located on an acre of land per cabin. All the cabins have double Jacuzzi bath tubs, two-person hot tubs on the porch, fireplaces, king size beds wrapped in luxury linens, flat screen TVs with over 150 channels – including movie channels – and fully equipped kitchens. They are set up with everything you’d need to just walk in with your suitcase and make yourselves right at home. The campus sits high above Eagle Creek over looking the Kiamichi Mountains. It also hosts a private stocked lake in the middle of the property. We also purchased a large, beautiful log home that is called the Lodge. The Lodge hosts a dining room that overlooks the Mountains and Creek. This property is a Chef’s dream come true for me. I love to wine and dine my guests daily with home-cooked breakfasts each morning and candlelit dinners every evening of the week except for Sundays. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that God brought us to this second business so that we could minister to other couples that don’t have to go through cancer to stop and appreciate what God has given them, which is amazing.
In January 2014, we had to make a hard decision; we needed to sell one of our two businesses. You see, it was just too much trying to keep both places running to our standards. After lots of prayer, God gave us the opportunity to sell The Reserve on Eagle Creek to Mr. and Mrs. Hendrix. Andy and I then moved back to A to Z and plan on staying here until we retire.
I hope our story has spoken to your hearts and will hopefully make a difference in the way you look at your day to day life and each other.
God Bless you and yours, Zondra Lewis, Andy’s wife of thirty-eight years and counting….
In May of 2016 Andy was getting ready to go out on a guided trail ride with a family just like every other day at our ranch, but this time something was really wrong; as he was getting on his horse, he found out that he didn’t have control of his right leg at all, he could not throw his leg over the back of the saddle to mount his horse. (we thought he had a stroke, because that is what it looked like to us) Our doctor sent him to a neurosurgeon that week, where we found out that he didn’t have a stroke, but that he had damage to his neck. They scheduled him for surgery that very next week. After five hours in the operating room the doctor came out and told me that Andy’s neck was one of the worst he had ever seen. They had to remove four vertebras and replace them with cadaver vertebras, installed a eight inch plate with eight screws plus two stabilizer bars all in his neck. Recovery has been very painful and long for him. He has lost a lot of his range of motion in his neck, arms and shoulders. And needless to say all the work it takes to run a business like ours, you need to be 100% healthy to get it all done daily, which he can’t do any-longer and refuses to stand by and see me do all the work.
So again we had to make a VERY difficult decision to put our beloved guest ranch up for sale so Andy can retire. We listed it with a realtor out of Broken Bow for a year, but God must have had a different plan, because we didn’t get it sold. So now, we’ve decided that we are going to try and sell it on our own without all the realtor fees to make it more affordable for someone to purchase.
Our prayer is that God will send us the right people to purchase our ranch and that they will LOVE this place as much as we have for the past 13+ years.