Tuesday, February 06, 2018

9 Years

Yesterday Monday morning, I woke up and the old fog had descended upon my spirit again. I didn't want to face the day or my responsibilities. I wanted my kids to leave me alone and not need anything. I was so tired of being the only one who could meet their needs. I wanted margin. Just the day before I was saying how much my children delighted me. Why the sudden change in mood?

And then: of course. Can you believe that on Feb. 7th it will have been 9 years since Andrew left us?

I wanted the past to be the past. It took 8 years for the past to stop feeling so present. I didn't want to think about or face my tears.

Imagine your beloved spouse never coming home again. The agony in that second of imagination is too great to bear. Multiply that unbearable second by 60 seconds, then by 60 minutes, then by hours, then days, then weeks, then years. Eight years. "Oh God I can't do this! This is too much!" I hear myself exclaim over and over alone in my room for the past 9 years. "I can't raise these children by myself! This is too much to ask of me!"

And then: "But you have. You've made it through 9 years. Can you believe it? You've rebuilt your life. Raised 2 amazing children, who you adore and they love you so much. You've learned how to smile again and laugh and to be happy. You live such a rich life! It's really amazing what you've accomplished by God's faithfulness. Just keep doing what you're doing. God is with you. Just make it through today. His grace is enough. Tomorrow has enough trouble of it's own. God's grace will meet you there too."

Several minutes later, Gracie Olivia comes over and hugs me. "Mama I love you SOOOO MUCH! With all my heart it's just about to burst I love you so much!"

If you want to serve your widowed friends, look through Scripture and obey it. "True religion is to visit the widow and the fatherless in their distress." And it is distress. Children growing up everyday without their godly father to know how they're even supposed to carry themselves. Visit them or have them over. If you haven't invested any time into them, how can you know their needs or how to meet them?

"...Admonish the unruly, ENCOURAGE THE FAINTHEARTED, help the weak, be patient with everyone." (1 Thess. 5:15). Encourage the fainthearted. That is what my current church has done for me. Make sure not to screw up this verse and ADMONISH the Fainthearted. Especially if they are in the middle of going through actual trauma--do not kick someone when they are down. When they are most vulnerable, you could exacerbate their trauma 10 or 100 times more-fold depending on how much influence you have in that person's life. That happened to me 10 years ago. And you do not want to do that. So be humble and not self-righteously arrogant. Imagine yourself in their situation and ask yourself what you would be feeling and what you would need. Be gentle.

While God has provided so much healing, certain times of the year, especially this one, press on the scars and brings out the pain all over again. Pray for us. It feels like I'm walking through wet cement again.

I saw another widow's video recently from her husband's memorial service. I felt rage. Beautiful families with loving fathers and husbands aren't supposed to die with the children and widow having to live day after day with the consequences! "THIS IS WRONG!" I scream. I feel it and know it in my being. This isn't how it was meant to be! In the Garden of Eden, there was no death, no suffering, no fatherlessness, no widows in distress. But because of such horror, Jesus died. Thank God, He rose. Jesus will come again. And He will make everything right. But He hasn't yet. Until then, we live in a broken world that we Americans do not want to look straight in the face. Don't minimize people's sufferings around you just because of your lack of courage. Look people's pain in the face, weep with them, and do what God's Word says, and sacrifice for them and serve them.

You know, if you're wondering, what you're suffering friend may need the most is simply a listening ear and validation. They need you to sit beside them and enter into their suffering by weeping with them. They don't need you to know better, because unless you've been through what they've been through and come out on the other end, you don't. Thinking you know something in theory is completely different from putting something into practice day after day after day for years and persevering. If you really knew, then you'd be gentle, like someone trying to carefully bandage a wound.

I am grateful for my church that was born on Feb. 7th, 2010, exactly 1 year after Andrew went to be with the Lord. The Lord gave me my husband, then took him away, and then replaced him with my family of Maranatha Grace Church. Andrew was the only place that truly felt like home. Until I had my church. It is my safe place where I feel cared for and protected. I'm grateful for my friends. My friends have lent me their listening ears, their hugs, their validation, and their encouragement: "You're doing it, Grace. Just keep going."

I am grateful for those of you who have held up my arms, prayed for us, and given me strength over the years. You are provisions from God and an example to many.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Junior High Letter

If you've ever read my blog, you know that I've posted all of Andrew's letter to be read posthumously. There were letters to be read the first 5 days after his death, the first year after, when my kids started kindergarten, etc. I publish them according to the occasion for which he wrote it.

After 7 years of having no more letters to share with you, here is a letter from Andrew to A.J. Andrew's last letter to AJ was for elementary school, which I posted when he entered kindergarten in 2010. I feel relieved that we made it! We made it to the next letter. 

AJ is in 7th grade this year, which means it's time for Andrew's letter to him about Junior High.

Mt. Wilson in Los Angeles
Junior High

Dear AJ,

Entering junior high is an exciting time. Things will be changing very fast so try to take a step back every now and then and see how you’ve progressed. For example, when I was in junior high I tried all sorts of new sports, I got contact lenses, and I made new sets of friends in just one year. When I look back I see how I was just trying to be cool and fit in, so I made all these quick changes in my life just to please others. I was more worried about what other people thought of me than what God thought of me, so I changed quickly on the outside to gain acceptance from my peers rather than from God.

Be careful not to walk with the wicked. They will entice you to join their crowd, but they’re actually not that cool. The cool crowd changes every couple of years anyways. The cool people in junior high won’t be cool in high school, and college, and so on. Its always just a cycle, don’t fall into the trap and waste your time. Just keep focused on pleasing God and walking in His ways.

(Insert proverbs 1 here)

I assume mom isn’t married yet, but either way you need to be a man and take care of your mom and your sister. Always look out for your sister and gently protect her when you can. As a man you need to respect women and treat them with dignity and honor. The world will look at women with lustful passion and see only the outer beauty. God looks not at outer beauty, but at the heart. When you look at a woman do not look at her to evaluate her beauty, instead see her as God’s creation and another man’s future wife. Chasing after girls is a waste of time, and satan uses this to distract men from being leaders. Don’t fall into this trap. God will satisfy your desires in due time, just be patient and wait on Him.

(Insert Proverbs here)

You’re almost an adult now, so we’ll need to set some goals for you in the coming years. I know life has been hard not having a father, but God has designed this to be the very best for you. Here are some examples of goals:
  • Share the gospel with a friend every few months.
  • What are your gifts? Choose some things that you want to work on and develop. 
  • Try something new that you've never done before. A new sport or instrument. New activity or club? 
I remember you being very much like mom, full of passion for everything. Lots of energy. Do you enjoy sports? Arts, dancing?

Share my testimony…

Instruct them on Ecclesiastes and Proverbs. Use them in family worship and read some each night.

On Being a Single Mom of Big Kids

I once read that studies show that children of single parents of the same gender tend to do just as well as those with two parents. But children who are of the opposite gender of the single parent have a harder time. AJ is a wonderful boy. As his mother, who adores him, I think he's extraordinary. The other day, we were taking a walk together chatting and even though I've known him his whole life, suddenly I was struck: Oh my gosh. He's amazing. It still fascinates me how unique each child is. Though you're the one who raised your child, they still each have their own personalities, abilities, mind, and uniqueness that God gave them. 

But I have to say I am certainly having a harder time raising a child of the opposite gender as me. With Gracie Olivia, I can relate to every stage she's going through. I can relate to how she thinks. Often, when she doesn't know how to perfectly articulate what she's feeling and thinking, I get it. With AJ, it's no longer as simple as it was when he was 7 years old and we completely got each other. He's becoming a man and that is something that's still foreign territory to me.

Dinner with AJ

At Café Habana, the aroma of shredded pork and fried plantains danced into our noses. On Tuesday, I took AJ out for dinner just us, while Gracie Olivia was at dance. AJ has been researching the effects of radiation on the human body for a science fair. Radiation like cell phones, microwaves, etc.

I savored my sweet drink. AJ's research sounded fascinating.

AJ smiled at his red Shirley Temple and sipped it. "Maybe that's why Papa got cancer."

The Latin music playing overhead seemed to fade. I swallowed. "I don't think so."

One of the books AJ was reading mentioned several times Motorola, the company Andrew had been a systems engineer for. Was AJ researching this because of his dad? Or was the research reminding him of his dad? I forked my gluten-free calamari.

AJ took a bite of his Cuban sandwich. "But didn't he design and work with radio towers? What about the radiation from there?"

Images of Andrew's beloved radio towers flashed before me. Sometimes Andrew took me hiking to see a view of all the towers on Mt. Wilson from a distance. One night he took me to the base of some towers in the Santa Monica Mountains in Southern California. I got tired standing there in the chilly dark and tried to sit on one of them, but it was too sharp. I remembered how during his college internship with Motorola, he said he was brought to the tallest building in L.A. At the top of the building, he climbed through a door where the radio tower was. There was no roof to stand on; you just leaned half your body out the door. Andrew loved his dream job.

When AJ was younger, it seemed I knew his every thought and understood him completely. I didn't think he looked like his dad and he didn't particularly remind me of him. Rather than a math whiz, the bookworm had the rich eyes of a poet and spoke with precocious insight, reading people's facial expressions and emotions. But in the past year, he's begun looking like his dad. He's even started getting the same type of haircut Andrew had when I first met him, though most of the pictures AJ has of Andrew are from his shaved head years. AJ likes his hair buzzed tight, while keeping the front long. It's like his dad's preferences are just in his DNA. As AJ spoke about radio towers and used the vocabulary from his book they were the same words Andrew used to use about his job. AJ looked and sounded like his dad. A knife twisted in my heart.

I wanted Andrew to be the one teaching his son, having these discussions with his "mini-me." I wanted AJ to learn from his dad daily what it looks like to be a godly man. I wished AJ could be discussing radio towers with his dad and following in his dad's footsteps in character, faith, and career.

Images of my cousin, Krystene, and I hours before Andrew's funeral flashed before me, as she had brushed pink blush onto my cheeks in my bathroom. The sun shone through the sky light onto the warm, yellow walls. Outside, bright sunshine bounced off the thick snow blanketing the Minnesota ground. Exhilarating. So painfully beautiful. All of it. Our love for each other. Our home.

At Café Habana, a dark cloud loomed above my head. 

In Minnesota, I was 28 years old. People here outside of NYC are just starting their lives at 28. They still live at home with their parents, not even married. I felt like I was dying at 28... Andrew died before he was 28. We already had our own home, our own family.

At the Cuban restaurant, a trombone screamed from the speakers. The bongo beat relentlessly. I felt the old cloud descending upon me. It twisted into my throat and burned my eyes. I pressed a napkin to my cheeks. The waiter passed behind me and refilled my water. The fog squeezed my chest, keeping me up at night. 

I have fear all the time that I won't be able to transition AJ into a man when he doesn't have a father daily in his life to look up to and model. AJ not having a dad to take him to soccer. It hurts that he's not able to observe his parents' relationship, something which gives security to children. I fear that he won't live for Jesus and worry that he probably would if he had his godly father who loved us. I think AJ probably carries with him a form of loneliness for a daily man in his life. I fear because it's really hard for AJ to look around and see everyone with their dads, while he doesn't have one.

I'm studying 1Peter right now with some ladies from my church. 1Peter 1 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. I cling to it, because it helps me to battle my fears. That I don't have to fear, because my hope is not in a man but in God, who never fails us. My joy runs parallel to my sadness. I fellowship in the present with God. His fellowship feeds me, quiets me, and gives me great joy. And 1Peter 1 reminds me of the great hope that I have even deeper fellowship ahead of me with God in eternity. 
AJ and I at a Red Bulls soccer game
I have to pray pray pray that God will meet AJ in all these areas of need. God promises that He is a Father to the fatherless and a Husband to the husbandless. Please also pray for us!

After we got home from our dinner at Café Habana, AJ said, "Mom, I forgot to tell you. I wanted to say thanks for taking me out tonight. I had a good time and I love you." He grinned at me.

Friday, January 06, 2017

12 Things I Love about A.J.

When A.J. turned 12 yesterday, he asked me what I gave to his dad for his birthdays.

"Oh!" I suddenly remembered. "For his 24th birthday, I wrote your dad a list of 24 things I loved about him." So I decided to write 12 things I love about A.J. here:

1. A.J. is always thinking about other people, their needs, and how he can care for them. His grandparents actually call him when they need help with something. He'll rake and throw out the garbage for them, go with my mom to Costco and bring her groceries in. His servant-hearted tirelessness reminds me of his dad.

2. He loves to cook. And when we've made a bunch of food, he'll say, "Mom, we should ask Lola and Lolo (the Filipino terms for grandma and grandpa) if they want us to bring some over. Maybe they'll want some."

3. He holds the door for strangers and brightly says hello to them. They warm up to him in surprise, especially because I had just mumbled a tentative, eye-averting hello to them.

4. I love how rich his eyes are.

5. I love how passionate he is about soccer. He constantly has a soccer ball between his feet, or is reading a book about soccer, is studying videos on technique or watching professional soccer on T.V.

6. He's a really fast runner. And he is always moving. That kid's got energy.

7. He talks constantly and has always been that way. It tires me out, but I love that his heart and his thoughts are never hidden from me.

8. While he's very mature about caring for others, he acts very much like a kid. He loves to play with his friends. And if he starts to act up, it's usually because he needs a weekly date with his mama. He needs my undivided attention once in awhile. We'll usually do something simple like take a walk at the mall, buy a frozen yogurt, and walk around the bookstore. Then outside we'll kick the soccer ball around, while he attempts to teach me some soccer technique like a "rainbow." Or, he'll run errands with me, like at Trader Joe's. We'll walk beside the Hudson River and he chatters the whole time about past observations about animals, insects, books he's read about space, or some object he took apart (I hear that his dad was always taking things apart too when he was a kid figuring out how they worked). When I'm undistracted and able to enjoy him (and not worry about all the things we have to do and activities to drive to), in that moment I am struck: "I have the best kids on the planet! Jesus and my kids. I don't need anything else." And I sigh full with happiness.

9. He's quick to forgive. And he asks forgiveness easily.

10. He has always loved the Bible since his youngest years. He supplements our family Bible reading with his own Bible reading with very little prompting. When I asked what he liked most about youth group, which he just started this year, I thought he'd say playing with his friends. But he said, "The Bible teaching." He also started sitting through the main service this year, as Sunday School only goes up to 5th grade. When I missed the message to serve in the nursery, he later asked, "Mom, have you listened to the message yet? It was really good." I asked him what he liked about it. "Pastor Won explains the Bible in a way that I understand. And he's really funny too. He kept talking about sheep."

11. He fixes things for me. Ikea furniture? I hand it to him to figure out. The clasp on my purse that came loose? "Mom, can I fix that for you?" The moment I gave him permission, he disappeared for a plier. I walked away and later found it all fixed. I wear that purse every day now.

12. He is still obsessed with turtles. This obsession has been at least since first grade, maybe even  
      earlier than that. (In fact, his sister and I so associate A.J. with turtles, I almost think "A.J." is

Found this photo on my phone that A.J. recently saved
synonymous with "turtle.") Perhaps it's because every spring when they were little we would watch a family of turtles sunning on the logs in the pond a few steps away from our house in Minnesota. We'd tell stories about the grandparent turtles (the 2 big ones) and parent turtles (the medium ones) and the baby turtles, as the littlest ones plopped into the water. "The grandparents are too tired to swim in the water!" Perhaps because we would watch turtles shimmy a hole into the grass on our front lawn, hide their eggs in that hole, and then carefully return the grass so that it looked identical to its original state. And now, when A.J. gives a presentation on turtles for multiple weeks (without regard for what the actual assignment is), and he makes his classmates listen to him for 10 minutes instead of the 3 minutes, I tell myself, "Well, maybe he'll get his PhD in turtles one day."

I love that kid. Whether all the things above change, I love A.J. because God gave him to me, made him, and made him wonderful.


As the second entry ever of this entire blog inspired this post, I found myself looking back on old posts. While in recent years I have often struggled with deep discouragement and felt so weary as a single mom, I am reminded that wow God was so faithful to my kids when we were in the depths of cancer (according to one commenter back then, A.J. was an energetic runner even then).

God made Our Little Blessings a joy to us in the midst of the darkest days. And years later the Lord continues to be faithful to my children and I.

(If you've never read this blog before, or if you'd like to remember past posts, I've linked to three entries at the beginning and end of this blog entry about Andrew and then my kids when they were little and their parents were dealing with cancer.)

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Hard Mother's Days

Mother's day has usually been agonizing for me ever since Andrew's death.

I think it's because Andrew told me he was going to teach my kids to honor their mama on this day, just as his dad taught him to make breakfast in bed for his mom when he was a kid.

I think it's also hard because he was the only one who loved my kids as much as I love them, and we used to enjoy them so much together. But now as a single mom, it's just SO difficult. It does not get easier after all these years. It just changes. And while people try to help me, I honestly don't understand my boy's mind anymore or how to help my son become a man.

I think this day also spotlights all the dashed dreams we had for what we thought would be our growing family.

I think this is the first year I've been able to articulate why Mother's Day is one of the top three triggers a year for me. Perhaps it is because my church publicly prays for those who are having a hard time today. And also because when they see my tear stained face, friends at church will gently probe and ask the uncomfortable question of what exactly is it that makes it so hard for me on this day.

I appreciate that while my church celebrates mothers, they also acknowledge those who are hurting on Mother's day. Below is a video they played this morning:

Sunday, February 07, 2016

7 Years and Newness

Seven years after my husband's death, I live a new life now in North Jersey, just a few minutes outside NYC. It seems apropos that my church, Maranatha Grace Fort Lee is celebrating it's 6th anniversary on Feb. 7th. My husband died on Feb. 7, 2009, just one year before Maranatha's birth. The shared date seems like a kind of resurrection for me. When I became a Christian at 12 years old, I prayed that the Lord would provide a church that would be a family to me and that I could go to freely and serve at. When I was 18, the Lord picked me up and brought me 3,000 miles away to Grace on Campus at UCLA, an incredible fulfillment of 6 years of prayer. After I graduated, I lived all over the place, but always a homesickness aching in my chest. I got so used to the ache, it no longer occurred to me that moving back to NJ would do the trick. Besides, what church would I go to? But eventually, as a single mom desperate for family support, I finally did move back to NJ. And someone from Grace on Campus (GOC), though she graduated years after I did, left a comment on a blog post to visit the church plant that she and a bunch of others from GOC were a part of. This church embraced me from day 1 and cared for me as if I were family. This church was 15 minutes away from the house that I grew up praying since I was 12 years old for a church family. I finally feel more at home than I ever have in my life. The homesick ache is finally gone. I finally live near my family and have a church that is my family as well. I remember I wrote in a survey in college that my dream place to live would be where my family and Grace on Campus were in the same place. I have never experienced such a deep sense of community since Grace on Campus until I came to Maranatha. It is amazing to me that the Lord made what seemed only existed in a fantasy so many years ago a real place, though I had nothing to do with it coming about. My family and my church family are now only 15 minutes apart.

I wish everyone who knows me now could have known Andrew Mark, the person who shaped me and taught me so much. I wish they could have known the father of my kids, who together with me laughed at and enjoyed them when they were little (not my size) and irresistibly adorable.
So at the very least, I'd like to share this three minute video of us back when the sun was shining down on us. When the world was all as it should be. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

A video of my interior world for the first year after Andrew died:

I've lived so many places now. At GOC, I fell in love with Andrew Mark. That was the last place I felt like people knew us as individuals. In WA we were the newlyweds. And then in Minnesota, we were the family with the young husband who has tongue cancer. And then I was known as the sad young widow. Now back in NJ, at my church (of 1.5 years), Maranatha Grace Fort Lee, they know me simply as Grace. She has two kids who are pretty much as big as her. But she's just one of us, or so the twenty-somethings treat me. It's funny, here in the Northeast, 80 percent of NYC is single. People's priority is their career. They get married much later. So the idea that in other parts of the country (such as the Pacific Northwest or the Midwest), people might have 3 kids and a mortgage by the time they're 28 years old is absolutely foreign to them. It occurred to me today that by East Coast standards, it's like I lived my thirties when I was in my twenties. And now I am living my twenties in my thirties. I hang out with my twenty-something friends in NYC while my parents watch my kids and I feel carefree, something I never really experienced post-college until I moved back here. I wanted to share with you this video that memorializes Andrew's life. I think you'll enjoy it.

This past fall, I posted a link to a letter Andrew wrote to be read posthumously. Someone from Maranatha Grace Fort Lee said, "It's funny. You've lived this whole other life before you got here and we don't even really realize that about you." But I wish they could know that about me.

I love my new family at Maranatha. Tonight, two friends asked if they could come over because they wanted to be there for me on the weekend of the anniversary of Andrew's death. Earlier in the week when they kept asking me what I wanted to do this weekend I was pretty unresponsive. I didn't know if I wanted to do anything. The pain has blunted. (Although being a single mom is just as agonizing as being a single mom is. The pain of raising my kids without a loving dad continues to be awful.) But they continued to pursue me. And they said, "Well, if it's okay with you, we're picking up dinner and coming over."

After a yummy meal, they let me show them videos of my life with Andrew. I wish everyone at Maranatha could have known Andrew Mark. They would have loved him, as those of you who knew him did. They would have known him as one of the most humble men with a pure love for Christ, who as a former prodigal son grasped the gospel better than most of the people they've ever encountered. And as a result, he was incredibly gracious, patient, and forgiving.

There are those of you who knew him before his overnight transformation, and those of you who knew him only afterwards. But I think both of those groups knew him as the guy who was always genuinely interested in the person he was talking to. His friends were creative and interesting in every variety. He was always curious about each of them and the things that excited them. I wish those of you who know me now, could have known the person who, other than my mom, impacted me more than anyone. Who shaped me and taught me so much of what I know. I share this video below not because I haven't moved on with my life. I absolutely have. But Andrew, the father of my children, was a huge part of my life and why I am who I am today. Just as I would never forget my family, who shaped me, I will never forget Andrew. I will always be grateful to God for our six years (5 years married) together. And I think I might always want to share him with everyone, because if he was here, he'd be greatly impacting you today. By continuing to share about him, I think he will still sharpen you in your love for Christ and the gospel more. In this video, I made all the cuts according to the lyrics in the music--the music is so apropos in retrospect. This is the original post for this video that explains the video more:


If you'd like to watch his memorial service, it is here:


Love, Grace

Friday, September 11, 2015

Andrew's 34th Birthday

Today Andrew would have turned 34 years old. Rather than sad, I'm usually thankful for Andrew's birth on this day. I find myself eating Vietnamese food. Probably because Andrew and I used to get pho on date nights when the kids were babies. It used to cost us $13 total in Everett, WA. So today we got pho again. It hit the spot. I felt just fine. Then I went home, sat in a bath tub, and cried my eyes out.
This morning, I met another young widow. She unexpectedly lost her husband over a year ago. She has one little boy. I've met a lot of young widows over the years. One thing I see in them is the grace of God sustaining them. And though it's unimaginably difficult to be a single mom, she smiled through tears and said, "But we do not grieve as those who have no hope" (1 Thess. 4:13).
Tonight at small group we sang a praise song. And I thought, "I wish Andrew was here so I could sing this with him." And then I thought, "I am singing this with him. Except he's standing before Jesus doing this!"
Sometimes before bed, 9 year old Gracie Olivia sits up in bed and looks at me. "I just wish I could remember something about my dad!" She was 2 when her father died. "But the one thing I do remember is that I loved him with all my heart." She bursts into tears when she says this, usually once a year out of nowhere. It's a sad cry that I never hear her cry except when she thinks about her dad. I hold her and we cry together. Then we watch videos of her dad from our blog together. After this happened again last month, we took a walk, my arm wrapped around her shoulders, her arm wrapped around my waste. She said, “I’m happy. I mean, I’m not happy that papa died--I’ll never be happy that papa died--but I’m happy that you watched videos with me of him.”
AJ still shares with me memories of his dad. He was four when his dad died. AJ grieved for a few years. He's okay now. But it has never been easy for AJ to not have a dad or to not have anyone to teach him how to be a man every day. 

Tomorrow Andrew will be re-buried in Princeton, NJ. (His parents, who also live in NJ, asked if they could move him from MN). In light of that and that it's Andrew’s birthday today on September 11th, I thought I’d re-share the letter he wrote for us to read at his funeral. I hope it blesses you 
smile emoticon

Monday, August 17, 2015

My First Publication!

AHHHhhh!!!!! My first publication ever!!!

I have wanted to be published my whole life. When my kids were babies and I only had 45 minutes a morning to write, and I was too scared to dream anymore, Andrew kept telling me (and I later found in his journals) that he really believed that I should be published one day. And this is my first step in the publishing world! My short story--a true story--just came out! 

Two months after Andrew died, my purse was stolen on a trip to Florida. Read about how God was a Husband to the husbandless and my miraculous encounter with my thieves in my short story, "A Bible for a Thief."

My story is included in James Stuart Bell's Anthology, Encountering Jesus (published by Baker/Bethany House). Buy your paper or digital copy of the book at Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Five Years

This is a big anniversary—5 years since Andrew went home to be with the Lord. This means I have been widowed for as many years as I was married to Andrew. Normally, this time of year, a heavy fog smothers me.

My friend, who was a young widow, told me that it took her five years to feel normal again. I was fearful that this would not happen for me. But it turns out, for the first time, I am okay on February 7th.

I made sure to be home in America at least a week in advance of the anniversary. It's important to me to slow down and remember him on this day. But maybe it helped that I wasn’t in the country during the weeks leading up to now. Or maybe it’s because last year the month preceding the 4th anniversary was horrible. Maybe all that sadness got out of my system then.

Sometimes, I’ve heard families talk about a beloved father who passed away years ago. They do not pretend he never existed or that he didn’t raise and nurture them. They speak lovingly and wistfully. When you lose your husband, it’s similar. My love for Andrew didn’t die when he died. I will always love Andrew and I will always miss him. And just because pain may come with his memory, I will never pretend he didn’t exist or that I didn’t live that portion of my life with him. That would not honor his memory. And I’m sure you wouldn’t want your loved ones to pretend you didn’t exist either when you die.

I may not talk about him as often, because remembering the loss of him may always be painful. I may not live my life in reference to Andrew anymore. But when I do smile at the good memories and talk about them, I will never apologize for it. My time with Andrew was the most alive years of my life, and I will never apologize for them. Rather, I celebrate that God gave us that time.

Also, my children are the fruit of those years, and I am grateful. They need to know they had a godly father who loved Jesus and loved them.

When Andrew Mark was 20 years old, he turned from a life of rebellion and living for himself and fell in love with Jesus. No one could deny his overnight transformation. Something unheard of and only miraculous. Many of you witnessed this and could confirm it.

So conscious of God's forgiveness and mercy to him, he exercised the same to me and our children everyday. His life became a picture of the gospel--its power to forgive, save, and to transform.

Five years ago today, Andrew went to be with the One he loved more than anyone, more than me, more than our kids, more than this beautiful planet made by his Maker.

I loved Andrew and I always will. Always miss you, love.

Watch videos of him and check out this video of his life:

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Four Years

Thought I would re-share this video on the anniversary of Andrew's home-going:

Music by Ingrid Michaelson, Sort of

And this was the message preached the day after Andrew died, Sunday, called "Reflections on the Suffering and Death of a 27 Year-Old Man." Over 100,000 people came through here and listened to that message. Yes, 100,000 people. Curious yet? Or if you've already heard it, it'll benefit your soul to refresh your memory. Click here 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! 

AJ, Gracie, and I have had an eventful year. After living in Minnesota for 5 years, we sold our house and moved to New Jersey. Now, we live 9 minutes from one set of grandparents and an hour from the other set. Minnesota was a wonderful place filled with wonderful people, but also the place where we experienced the hardest time of our lives. This new start has been just what we needed.

AJ is in 2nd grade and will turn 8 years old this January.

Gracie Olivia (she’s decided to go by her middle name of “Olivia” in school) is in 1st grade. 
The schools in our town of West Windsor/Princeton Junction (the town has two names. It’s weird like that in an old state like New Jersey) bus the kids to different schools throughout the town. We did not do this on purpose, but rather than the school down the street from us, the town happens to bus both the children to Dutch Neck Elementary, the same school that their father, Andrew, went to as a child.
It's been 14 years since I left North Jersey, where I was born and raised, for UCLA. After all these years, New Jersey no longer felt like home. Plus, we live an hour from old friends and my numerous relatives. But as time has passed, I’ve experienced how wonderful it is that they are a car-ride away, rather than a yearly plane ride. We do miss Minnesota’s snowy wonderland, but not the biting cold! Saying goodbye to those we love in Minnesota was hard, but AJ and Gracie say that they are so glad that we can see their grandparents all the time now. After these years of being a single mother, this makes my heart so relieved and happy. We are also making new friends here, causing it to feel more and more like home—a new home, not one of my old childhood nostalgia or yesteryear, but a new home. Please keep in touch. And if you are in the area, we would love to see you.

With much love,

- Grace, AJ, and Gracie Olivia Mark

Tuesday, August 07, 2012


I've made a decision. And in the past few weeks everything has come together very quickly for this decision to be fulfilled.

The children and I are moving to New Jersey.

I do cry a lot about leaving Minnesota, which felt truly like home to me. But I am convinced that, regardless of my emotions, returning home to New Jersey is the best place for my children right now. I know their eternity is at stake and they need more than one stretched-thin mama to pour a heart full of love into them. Andrew's family adore AJ and Gracie and have that additional love to give that my kids so desperately long for and need. Also, I can see that though Andrew's parents and siblings no longer have Andrew, they do have my children as an outlet for their love and commitment to Andrew.

This has been a very difficult and emotional decision for me, as there are many of you there that I love and am terribly sad to leave. I feel, too, I am saying goodbye to Andrew, at least in the way that my home is a picture of the life I thought we would have together, but cannot.

A few weeks ago, the children and I went to the apartment building I had chosen that is less than ten minutes from Andrew's parents. As I sat with the lease before me, suddenly, my brain slowed. I held the pen in my hand and stared at the line where I was to sign, but I couldn't remember the question I was about to ask the customer service woman who was helping me. I heard my breath as I inhaled and exhaled. And then images flashed before me. I saw Dr. Yueh when we met with him in his clinic. It was January 2009, after we returned from our two months of alternative treatment in California and a giant hole had opened on Andrew's neck. And Dr. Yueh said, "We have now reached the end stage of your disease."

I looked down at the lease. My throat was closing. I saw the blackness behind my eyelids with each blink. "I think I might pass out," I said. The customer service woman ran and got me some water. I closed my eyes. It is so clear that this is what is best for the kids, I thought. It was time for me--and healthy for me--to start with a clean slate in a setting that does not continually remind me of loss, suffering, and utter disappointment. I signed the lease.

My house is all staged to sell. During my phone conversation with my real estate agent Sunday, I took a walk.

"I'm going to list your house on the market tomorrow," she said.

The air outside was hot and still.

"This has got to be hard for you, Grace," she said. "Of course you might feel panic, because you thought you were going to raise your kids in this house and live with Andrew in it for always." And suddenly, she had put words to feelings. An image flashed through my mind of children playing in our yard, the sun glinting off their soft hair. For always. Words Andrew and I said to each other years ago during engagement whispered: "I can't live without you." My chest burned. I held my breath so that she didn't hear me holding back tears.

That night, I put the kids to bed and fell asleep. Shortly after, I awoke, not breathing, my chest tight. "Lord," I called in the dark, gasping for air. "I don't want to die yet! I'm not ready to die yet! Please don't let me die!" And then I wondered why I thought I was dying when I was now breathing. I realized I had been dreaming about the last few minutes of Andrew's life, when his family and I surrounded his hospital bed and the last minutes in which he gasped for breaths.

How strange, I thought, I don't think I ever dreamed about his death until now.

I didn't know how to tell one of the most special friends I have ever had, my neighbor Melissa, that we were moving. She is like the female version of Andrew to me--stable, rational, loving, encouraging, and so much fun. We always laughed together, she always got my humor, and she always worked to imagine  herself in my position so she could understand what I was going through. Even recently, she said when her husband goes away for a few days, she always tries to imagine what it is like for me.

When Andrew first died, she'd call me every day to check on me and take the route that was past my house when she was driving, just to make sure no one had broken in or anything was awry. She hardly knew me, but she said she begged God to show her how she could serve me. She said God had given her such a heart for me. After the kids' nap, when the hollowness could have eaten me, knowing that Andrew wasn't coming home for dinner, in desperation, I'd risk slumping onto her doorstep with the kids. It was a busy time before dinner, but she would invite us in.

Weeks after Andrew's death, when the house was empty again and both Andrew's and my parents had returned to New Jersey, Melissa drove by and invited us to make snowmen. I was frozen, still unable to grasp what had happened to our family, and she was holding my hand and showing me what a normal mom--not a caregiver with a dying husband any longer--does with her children.

I always admired how capable she was, how her emotions did not overwhelm her during the day, so that she could stay on task; but how she didn't compromise caring for others for her task-list. She was rationale, but never cold, rather one of the most relational, loving people.

She tried so hard to love me and be a compassionate listener when I was most in pain, when at times I was almost in despair. It would have been so easy for her to get frustrated with me or to give up on me. I kept expecting for her to tell me to buck up, but instead, she exercised love and gentleness through it all. It couldn't have been easy for her. Other times, when I was confused or overwhelmed about anything and couldn't think through my emotions, she spoke loving words of reason and truth to me.

I saw her do it with her other friends too. When a friend was going through difficult times, she would tell me how she thinks what her friend needs most of all is for Melissa to love her through it and pray for her.

When I finally told her that we were moving, she said, "I had all these dreams of homeschooling with you down the street together next year."

"I know," I said. "I'm trying not to think about it though." I blinked the image out of my mind and tried to imagine positive images to look forward to in New Jersey.

"I guess some dreams have to die," she chuckled.

I snickered. "Yeah, some dreams just have to die. I should put that up as a sign in my house. That probably would have helped me."

We laughed.

I remind myself that just because I'm going to miss a lot of people and cry about all the things I love in Minnesota, it doesn't mean God isn't calling me to move back to New Jersey. Being sad to say goodbye is a natural part of moving and a good thing. Being sad means you've been blessed by special people, blessed to live in a wonderful place. And so, I have to hold onto what is clear thinking--and that is that my children need their grandparents and those that adore them in New Jersey.

Love you all.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Toads, Grasshoppers, and Fireflies

I like for my kids to spend as much time outside as possible. Aside from how stimulating it is and how good it is for them developmentally and creatively, the sun and fresh air is the healthiest thing. I also love how much they learn from their explorations. During the school year, AJ in particular spends hours outside exploring with our next-door-neighbor, Adrien, finding various subjects to study.

This past year, the Lord often had AJ's discoveries parallel what we were studying in homeschooling. For instance, one week we got a bunch of books out on frogs and toads. And then the Lord sent a tree frog to sit on our window and croak at us two days in a row. The kids were climbing over each other to watch it on our window. Below, AJ found a really large toad in the backyard:

There's Gracie in the background eagerly watching over her brother's shoulder.

Another week, the Lord sent two different turtles to lay their eggs before the children - one in our backyard and one in our front yard. We found the one in our front yard just as I was going out to pick up Gracie from her morning kindergarten bus stop. We were mesmerized by how deep the turtle wiggled its legs into the dirt as it dug a hole. And then how the turtle replaced the dirt and grass on top of the hole, so that you couldn't even tell that the grass had been messed with. This makes sense in terms of camouflaging the hole from predators. 

For a few weeks, AJ was obsessed with studying and watching ants. So we got a couple of books on them and anywhere we were, even if we were inside a building, AJ would notice an ant and tell me what he read about ants in his library books. And as he would hold my hand as we walked to the backyard together, he would say, "Mom, have you ever noticed how the dirt around ant hills are different than regular dirt?" And he explained how the anthill bricks you see outside an anthill is dirt mixed with ants' saliva (I think?). Anyway, I love to listen to AJ explain to me all these amazing things about the world around us, even if I don't retain the infomation as well as he does =P

This week, AJ found a grasshopper. While I was in my room changing, apparently, he ascertained a water bottle, inserted the grasshopper, and I found him outside with a fork, poking holes into the foil he had covered the top of the bottle with so the bug could breath. Since we were planning a library trip for that day anyway, he then begged me to immediately take him so he could find some books to tell him what he needed to feed the grasshopper. (Don't worry. We did release the grasshopper by the end of the day.)

And in July in New Jersey, one must always catch fireflies! We caught the male ones flying around and Gracie found a couple female ones in the grass. And the fireflies lit up for each other, as we watched them before bed.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Portrait

The other day, I was playing the Moonlight Sonata (mostly because there aren't many pieces of music I still remember) on the piano at Andrew's parents' house, where we are spending the summer. The Moonlight Sonata's notes always unfold a story to me of a man who lost his love and the agony he endures after her departure. As I played, I looked up at the family portrait hanging above the piano. It was a blown up picture of Andrew's parents with Boaz (their dog), Jon (Andrew's brother), Jen and Mike (his sister and her husband), and Andrew and our family as we sat before a glowing white background--blankness behind us.

The portrait was taken at the beginning of January 2007, days before we would fly back to Washington state, where we were living at the time, and Andrew would receive his tongue cancer diagnosis. It was days before our reality would be exploded by pain.

As I played the piano, I stared up at Gracie, sitting on grandma's lap. Gracie was nine months old at the time, in shoe-less white stockings and a dress with a black, velvet bodice and red satin skirt. Her feathery hair had only grown as long as a boy's but a little pink clip accessorized it. What a loud voice she had at the time! I would get frustrated when she'd scream, so persistent, but Andrew would say, "Maybe she'll be a singer one day." She was Andrew's girl. "She's so sweet," Andrew said. And he would hold her, nuzzle her, and she would always surprise him with a peck on his lips. She reserved those pecks on the lips for Andrew alone.

Andrew sat beside his mother. AJ, nearly two years old, stood between Andrew's legs, while Andrew held AJ's little wrist. Andrew smiled, his chin up, his mouth partially open, so characteristic of him, the flash of the camera hitting his arm, casting a glow behind him. Andrew was the only one with that glow, as if the glow would soon overtake him and he would be the only one leaving the picture.

And then I looked below the Mark family portrait at the pictures crowding the top of the upright piano. Framed pictures of AJ and Gracie as babies when our lives were sweet and typical, pictures of them as preschoolers in the frozen months after Andrew's funeral. And beside them were pictures of their little cousin, Ethan, Andrew's sister's son, who is now the same age as AJ was around the time of the family portrait. Ethan's parents call him, "little man," the same nickname we used to call AJ when he was a baby. And Andrew's sister, who looks like like she could be Andrew raised from the dead, only with long hair, smiles with her husband at Ethan like he must be the most amazing, cutest baby on the planet, just as we looked at AJ, and just as most parents look at their babies. The Moonlight Sonata ended with its dark, lonely tones. In moments like those, I see a picture of what we lost--the four of us; a whole family, warm in love with each other.

Most of the time, I find my inner chatter whispering: "Buck up. Don't think about it. It's not that bad (...or is it worse than you'll admit?)" But in moments like those, in inconvenient moments like weddings, where that atmosphere of love and excitement saturate the air, it all rushes at me--all the hope and excitement I had felt only to end in utter disappointment. The Lord uses those times to show me what's really in my heart. And that "Buck up. Don't think about it. It can't be that bad," isn't rejoicing evermore. In fact, it's not Christian at all. But it is very American. And it is very self-reliant. After all, we are a nation that built itself from self-reliant immigrants. People who left behind their parents and cousins and grandparents in the old country to escape harsh governments and trampled economies to provide a better life for their children. America attracts people with incredible determination, who are willing to work for what they want. That is the culture a democracy like America propagates. And we take that self-reliance and apply it to our Christianity.

But in self-reliance, if we aren't honest about what we're really thinking or feeling and what's really going on in our hearts, we can't drop it all at the foot of the cross. We won't cry out to Jesus for rescue from our hopeless situations, if we convince ourselves we aren't hopeless, but can handle it all ourselves. Christianity is not an excuse for ignorance or telling ourselves just to shut up and stop using our brains.

Most of you aren't young widowed, single moms. But in reality, you are in a "hopeless" situation like me. The Lord says, "Be holy for I am holy." And He says, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and with all your strength." And He says, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Well, have you done that perfectly today? No, none of us can even approach infinite perfection. "No one does good. Not even one." That's why we need the cross. Because only Jesus has done that perfectly. So I'm not the only one who has to lay out my hopeless--as far as it depends on ourselves--situations at the cross. We all do.

I'm still struggling. Please pray for me to hang onto what is true. To trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding.

And that the Lord would continue to meet my children as He promises that He is a Father to the fatherless and a Husband to the Husbandless.

The Questions

Since looking at our 2007 family portrait the other day, questions have been bubbling in my heart--Are you really going to continue to believe this Christianity, no matter what happens to you? No matter how long you hate that your kids don't have a dad? No matter if even more difficulties occur?

And, Do you really believe in hell? Do you really believe that people who reject Christ will experience worse than what you've experienced without even the hope of death to end it?

But then what immediately came to mind was, I could have said 5 years ago that I didn't believe someone would be widowed, while she had two small children that adored their dad--in fact, I think I didn't believe God would allow that to happen to us--but that didn't stop it from happening. Being in denial, doesn't make something untrue. Just because we Americans love our air conditioners, fresh towels, and instant comfort to cushion us from the harshness of outside, doesn't mean that in many areas of the world there aren't orphans kneeling on the dirt eating grass before they starve to death. Just because we choose to be in denial of pain doesn't make pain un-real. Reality does not depend on us to believe in it.

We Americans, so self-absorbed in our comfort, may be afraid to ask difficult questions, may be afraid of reality, but God made reality, He's not afraid of it. He can handle our hard questions. He's the only One who can answer them. And stuffing them down doesn't mean they're not there. Those questions, though unspoken, will still flavor all the choices we make. So why not bring them to the Lord to purify and grow us in our faith?

This morning, during my private worship, I had to confess to the Lord that I felt angry and bitter. The only way for those feelings to change is for us to repent of them, so that the Lord might cleanse, purify, and change our hearts.

I often think of a couple at my old college Bible study, the Clarks, who when pipes were bursting in their home and everything was going wrong one week, they made a list entitled, "Things to Consider All Joy." And underneath they wrote down all the things that were going wrong. I also often think of how the Bible says "Give thanks in everything." So sometimes, when I'm struggling, I will make two lists. Here is mine today:

Things to Consider All Joy/"Everything" to Give Thanks in
- that my kids don't have a dad to love on them and teach them all kinds of things (...This might sound silly but when AJ uses the men's restroom, I worry because I can never go in there and teach him how to use a urinal).

Things to Be Thankful for
- that my kids do have a godly grandfather and uncles that adore them, who do play ball with them, though they're dad cannot
- the gift that Andrew's family is to me
- for the safety that I feel when I'm with them
- for my children. I adore them. They are so wonderful.
- though my feelings may say otherwise, the truth that He promises never to leave nor forsake me
- that Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Though Andrew is gone, I am very close to his family.They still include me in everything and treat me as their own. His family has stepped in as much as they can. Unfortunately, we live very far away from them in Minnesota, while they live in New Jersey.

Andrew's parents always visit us every year for Gracie's birthday. They would come for AJ's birthday in January, but we are usually visiting them in New Jersey or my parents and I are visiting my brothers in California around his birthday. In past years, sometimes my mother-in-law (I still call Andrew's family my "in-laws," as I'm not sure how else to refer to them, at least in a succinct manner. I mean, I wouldn't call them my husband-who-died's-family...I don't even think that's proper English.) would even come to our house and help for a couple weeks in the summer. But now that Lydia lives with us and can watch my house, we have been spending summers with Andrew's family in New Jersey.

All of the young widows I know, or know of, throughout the country (only a handful) returned to their parents when their husbands died. It is so incredibly difficult being a single mom, while both my parents and Andrew's parents live in New Jersey.

As I've mentioned before, I stayed in Minnesota, because Andrew told me before he died not to sell our house. At this point, it's been 3.5 years since Andrew died. Andrew and I usually moved every two years. So, I think if he were here, for all I know, we might have already moved, perhaps not outside of Minnesota, but moved nonetheless. So I think we'd be free to move to New Jersey if we chose to. It's just complicated now that we've built friendships, routines, and a life in Minnesota after sticking it out these past few years. We have neighbors my kids climb trees and look for bugs everyday with, our lake that we love to walk around, and a sense of community. I love Minnesota and how it's a great place for my kids to grow up. In fact, our town of Eden Prairie was voted by Money Magazine as the #1 place in America to live in 2010 - due to affordability, proximity to a city, community-life, etc. Minnesota feels like home.

They're such amazing children. And they should feel that by being surrounded by tons of love, not just by one stretched-thin mother. The kids' uncles and grandfather teach them about what it is to be a man, play catch with them, and treat them with love and affection. I have always longed desperately for that type of love to be a regular part of my children's lives. I long to be not the only person that loves them sacrificially and with all my heart. It unburdens my heart when I see how eager they are to hang out with my kids and that they love them nearly as much as I do.

My children's best interest is what's most important to me. Please pray for wisdom for me.

Above, Andrew's brother, Jon, is alternating between playing catch and baseball with the kids.

AJ has turned away from the game to take a picture of the sunset. 

Andew's sister, Jen, stopped by with her baby, Ethan

Running from cousin Ethan

Thursday, May 03, 2012

We Started Homeschooling! Wait, Seriously?

This past January, I started homeschooling AJ. Since I only have one child in my class, it only takes a fraction of the time that first grade would normally take. So, while Gracie is in morning kindergarten at Prairie View Elementary from 9 to noon, AJ and I do school.

AJ and I are loving our mornings together. It is such a blessing. I feel as if the Lord has given us back our lives.

Homeschooling has definitely slowed down the revision process of my book, but I still progress with the book slowly but surely. I have to trust the Lord with His timing, and am convinced that if I maintain His priorities for my life, I can trust Him to take care of the timing of whatever He calls me to.

Some people imagine as a single mom that homeschooling will add an impossible amount of work on my plate. I was nervous about that myself, but I have found it to be quite the opposite. When you have your children in school full-time, you still have the same responsibility of training your children as those who homeschool, you simply have less time to train them and at a time of day when both you and your children have already spent the bulk of your energy.

I should stop to say I'm not one who thinks everyone has to homeschool. I am extremely grateful for the schools my children have attended. I believe the schools my children attended last year saved my life and was a wonderful blessing to us. Additionally, it's not my business to criticize people's school choices. After all, there is a very good reason why Jesus commands, "Do not judge lest you too be judged." There may be caveats to that passage in regards to being a discerning person and encouraging others in ways they need to honor the Lord, but I think people love to come up with far more caveats to that verse than they ever adhere to that command at all. I think the profuse caveats are often an excuse for arrogance and self-righteousness. It's amazing that in our arrogance, we can simultaneously disobey that very command while telling others everything they are doing wrong.  So you won't be hearing in this post about me telling everyone to homeschool. Most of the people I know are dying to themselves every single day as they seek to honor the Lord in their parenting, regardless of what type of schooling they have chosen. As an older woman at my church has wisely said in an attempt to explain why one should live their lives before the face of God, regardless of what others think of them: "I have invested my whole life into my life. So, who is another person to walk in, see only a snapshot of my life that I've invested my whole life into and think she has anything to say." And so this post has nothing to do with others' schooling choices. It is simply an update about what I've chosen to do this year in the unique situation of being a young widow and single mom.

Back to homeschooling. As a single mother the past few years, I have learned my limitations and how to manage them. I am on all the time. Their dad doesn't come home at 5pm. Not ever. So there is no tag-team parenting. There is no parenting together. There is no consulting one another about how we should handle a certain parenting issue. No phone calls to him. No emails. No texts. It's just me. And it's always just me, at least humanly speaking. I may get sitters, but I'm still the only parent. I'm still the only one who has to stand before God for them. And I'm still the only one who loves them to the degree a parent loves a child. And since 4pm has always been my lowest energy time of the day, when AJ was returning home from school at 4pm, I had nothing left to give him. And so in my particular situation, I find it more restful to have parented and trained children, who feel that they have had enough of their mother's time and energy and thus feel loved. For me personally, I didn't feel I could do a sufficient job of parenting AJ after 4pm by myself. It may sound like having my son in school 7 hours a day would be a break, but it was not restful for me to be away from my son the whole day, only to feel incredibly frustrated that he was not happy and not getting the energy and parenting he needed from me.

At the same time, don't worry, I do get breaks. I still have Lydia, the college student who lives with us. She babysits 10 hours a week. And if I need more, I have another babysitter that I hire.

Our family has obviously been through a lot. And now that I have been doing better this year, I began to desire to homeschool. This is the first time since AJ was 15 months old that he gets me to himself this much. This is the first time since Gracie was 9 months old (she's 6 years old now) that my parenting has not been incredibly distracted by cancer or grief. So I am incredibly grateful that I get to be a mama - a real mama, who is so much more mentally present for my kids than I have been in a long time. I am so grateful that my children seem relatively happy and content. That's not to say that I don't still encounter grief or sadness or difficulty or frustration to distract me from them. I live with the consequences of my children's fatherlessness every single day. I experience the consequences anew of our loss every single day. But I am more emotionally here, more mentally present, than I have been in as long as I can remember.

While AJ had a wonderful school experience in half-day kindergarten last year, being at school 7 hours/day this year was just too much for the both of us. Now that AJ feels he has what he needs from me, he is so much more happy and content than he was this past fall. And he is flourishing! I praise the Lord for His Spirit's leading and His faithfulness to our family. I think His leading in this way and how he has caused this decision in our lives to bear much fruit intellectually, relationally, and many other ways, is another example of how He has been a father to the fatherless and a Husband to the husbandless.

I get to be a mama again. A present mama. The kind of mama I had longed to be, but had always been distracted from due to the horrors and turmoil of the past several years. And for that reason, I feel as if the Lord has given us back our lives.

Never Met Anyone Homeschooled?

For some of you, homeschooling may sound completely alien. But when we lived in Washington state for 3.5 years, all of my friends homeschooled. And so from early on in my pregnancy with AJ, the desire to homeschool was already being planted and began to seem very normal.

I love homeschooling for a few reasons. One is that I've always had a passion for my children's education and instilling in them a love of learning from their first breath. And so homeschooling is really what I've been doing since their birth. This is just the first grade version now.

But I also love homeschooling because I love books. Books have always been a refuge for me. Going to a book store and being surrounded by books is refreshing to me like sitting beside the ocean.

And so we use Carol Joy Seid's curriculum, which is made up of reading real literature to teach not only reading, but science, history etc. Teaching AJ from real literature, stimulates and refreshes me, rather than wears me out. It makes me so excited!

For math, Carol Joy Seid's curriculum recommends Math-U-See, which uses manipulatives to teach math concepts. Definitely a different way than I learned math as a child, but I think it is so much more effective. It also comes with DVDs that we can watch, if I prefer to use those rather than the teacher's manual.

I have to say, homeschooling has been one of my most favorite things in my life. It is up there with writing and dancing. My children are my passion. Learning and books are my passion. Teaching my children about the Lord is my passion. And homeschooling combines them all.

I'm not sure what we'll do next year yet. I get nervous that homeschooling two children will be a world of difference from homeschooling one child. It may not be simultaneously exhilarating and restful like it is right now. In which case, I have to evaluate whether such demands may exceed the limitations the Lord has given me as a human being, so that I can be a sane mama for my kids. But right now, both children are telling me they want to be homeschooled next year. We'll see how the Lord continues to lead. Please pray for wisdom for me as I seek to parent my children.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Three Years Since He Left

Feb. 7, 2012 marked the 3 year anniversary of Andrew's death. I bet many of you, like me, can hardly believe so much time has passed.

Grief is a funny thing. It is unpredictable and whenever you think it's been gone so long, maybe it'll forget to return, it shows up. Then, instead of a few minutes, it stays several weeks. And just when you've come to expect this unwanted guest is never leaving, you wake up one morning, and it has taken off in the middle of the night. The air is clear again and the suffocating fog it brought with it has lifted. You look out the window and you say, "Oh! that's what the sun looks like. I almost forgot."

Now that I am feeling better after a difficult month (the weeks before and after the anniversary of Andrew's death), I'm finally posting the blog I wrote about it last month:

People ask me if the holidays are difficult for me. The holidays aren't particularly difficult. But,

- weddings (for some reason I still go to all of them, though inevitably they remind me of my hopeful day and how all those hopes were dashed to pieces)
- the weeks surrounding Andrew's birthday/September 11th
- my birthday/Mother's day,
- and Andrew's death day

are the difficult parts of the year for me.

The weeks leading up to the anniversary of Andrew's death were difficult and emotional for me. My Pastor Warren said that I should expect it to still be difficult for me, because anniversaries like this tug on the scar tissue. He said he always compares emotional injuries to physical injuries. So if I had been in a severe car accident three years ago and had suffered a spinal injury, I might still be in a wheelchair, still making my recovery.

Most of the time, nowadays, I know 3 years has passed. I know all the events that have passed throughout these 3 years and all that we've made it through. I know how much I've changed in the last three years.

The distance that three years has provided means all the memories I blocked out, that I couldn't face remembering the first few years, I am now able to remember. Because I've processed a lot of my grief and memories, I am now able to access the beautiful memories - I am able to be honest with myself about the profundity of my loss. I no longer have to minimize it to myself in order to cope. Strangely, the more time and distance that has passed between now and Andrew's death, the sharper the pain is when it does come. The sharper the realization is of the profundity of my loss.

And so sometimes, a beautiful memory of Andrew will fly at me all of a sudden, and my heart longs to be near him desperately, more than it ever could the first year of his death. In that moment, suddenly, I remember what it's like to be in love - though I had blocked out that remembrance the first year. Being in love almost does feel like magic - the way you feel like you belong together. A connection that goes beyond a list of things that you like about each other. It's just like you're two puzzle pieces that are made for each other. And in that moment, I remember that "I can't live without you," is not just a sentimental line from a movie. And in those moments, suddenly, three years have disappeared. I feel the knife stabbing my heart relentlessly and I cry out, "God, I can't do this! I'll never survive this!"

And then, it will come to mind, "Wait a second, Grace. You have survived this. He didn't die two weeks ago. It's been three years. You and you're children are still alive. And you are all moving on with your lives. The kids are doing well and so are you. You made it through the worst part. Obviously, you can manage as a single mother. You have survived this. Just keep doing what you're doing. Keep going."

Now that I am here at the 3 year marker, it is interesting to see the differences between where I am now and where I spent the first 2 years after Andrew's death.

In retrospect, that first 2 years, I lived every single day with pain. I felt like I daily was managing my pain. I had to "manage" my pain, because if I didn't control it and didn't pace myself, the pain was too excruciating to confront all at once. This was my way of coping. Honestly, I have only sobbed about three times since Andrew died. Yes, I did cry every single day the first year, but not uncontrollably. More like a faucet. Not a fire hose. Whatever didn't come out in tears, stayed in all my muscles. So then, I returned to my old love of dance and found some dance classes, in order to deal with the grief that was stuck in my muscles. I had heard physical activity was an important aspect of dealing with grief. In fact, until I finished the first draft of my manuscript in August, if you pressed on my shoulders, it would have literally felt like putting your finger on a hard rock.

My muscles did not release until I had laid down the burden of my memories and my story into the first draft of my book and looked the beautiful memories of our love story in the face. My muscles did not relax until I had reached the point in my grief process where I could look those memories in the face and finally grapple with them.

The way I dealt with my grief, I suppose it would be like if you were giving birth, would you want to have contractions over a few hours or over 15 minutes? Many of you might say the latter. But as someone who had a normal birth with my first-born, AJ, and an unexpected 15-minute labor with Gracie, it is a terrifying thing to make all that progress in labor in only 2 major contractions. The two contractions feel like you're a bomb exploding over the course of a few minutes and you expect you are going to be splattered all over the wall in the explosion. So in my grief process, I didn't explode in a short period of time like a bomb. I had to leak the nuclear waste (my sadness) over time, so I could maintain my sanity and keep my hands moving and making sandwiches for my children at lunch time. It would have been too unbearably painful to sob uncontrollably on a normal basis. My chest would have exploded and my children would have starved.

I always imagined that I could last as a single mom on my own for 1.5 years. Then, I figured God would just have to provide some unexpected means of grace once my strength ran out. Just as my strength ran out, AJ came out of his grief. And the Lord provided Lydia, a college student from our church, to move in with us. The kids were happy - no longer grieving, which I wanted them to get through before I could check out - I had help, and I finally checked out for a year.

I am a testimony that God's grace is sufficient. I saw a movie this summer where this woman has a nervous breakdown. I had to turn it off half-way through, because her behavior in the days leading up to her breakdown reminded me too much of myself. It caused me to realize that before the Lord provided Grace Lindeman last fall and then Lydia (as I talked about in my entry, "I Grace Have Risen from the Dead"), I was probably 2 inches away from a nervous breakdown. I had no experience with such things, so I didn't know what a nervous breakdown looked like until I saw that movie. Between trying to manage the pain, not accepting I was a single mother and so still living like my husband was just on a business trip but just hadn't returned yet, I had worn myself out. Having help move in was an acceptance that Andrew was never returning. Having help move in was a realization that I had to change my life and I couldn't keep living like I only had to hold down the fort until my husband returned any day now. So I am incredibly grateful that The Lord certainly did provide the grace I needed and faithfully protected me from going over the edge into a nervous breakdown.

Every year, on the anniversary of Andrew's death, I have someone take my kids for the weekend. I did this the first anniversary, because I suddenly found that there was no way I could "manage" my pain at the anniversary. I did it again the second year because since my Fall 2010 meltdown, I thought things were only getting worse, so I feared the 2 year anniversary would be even more unmanageable than the 1 year anniversary. But when I had the 2 year anniversary weekend by myself, I was able to realize the progress I had made since the 1 year anniversary. The Lord used that anniversary to show me that hitting rock bottom in the fall had been my getting worse before I got better. And I was getting better. At the 2 year anniversary, the Lord showed me He had freed me. I felt resurrected. And that was the turning point. And thus began my upward recovery.

So last winter, spring, and summer, I continued to recover. I put both the kids into school 25 hours/week. I had Lydia's help two nights a week and one Friday-Saturday a month. And I hired a babysitter an additional night of the week. I did have every morning with my kids at least for an hour or two, read the Bible to them, and did chores with them. They enjoyed our morning routine, as usual, and found security in that, as usual. They also still had time with me whenever they were home and there was no sitter. While physically I was still present, and went through the motions when the kids were around, for the most part, I completely checked out. And then, over the summer, finishing the first draft of my book was a significant part of that recovery.

And so, this fall, I returned to my body, so that it was no longer a moving shell, but actually contained Grace in it.

"Moving on" with my life has been such a difficult thing to do, because I didn't really know what it meant to live without my life entirely in reference to Andrew. We still lived in the same house we had lived in with him. I was still surrounded by all the furniture I had chosen and/or put together with him. Everything reminded me of him. But Andrew had said to stay in our house, rather than move, after he died. Nothing changed in my life, except that he was gone. "Nothing" changed in my life, except that everything changed in my life. I had no idea what "moving on" looked like. I may have thought it was going back to how life was before Andrew. But before Andrew I was in college and had no children. This Grace is a totally different Grace than the one whose face turned red as she spoke to Andrew for the first time in that large auditorium at Rolfe 1200 after Bible study in the Fall of 2001 (His first memory of me was "red." I said that makes sense, because I was wearing a burgundy shirt and my face probably was bright red). That Grace was in the past.

I can't reference the pre-grief/pre-cancer-trial-Grace in order to recognize that Grace has returned to her body. I was 26 when cancer first descended upon our household, January of 2007. I'm 31 now. Too much has happened since then. The Grace I am today is a completely different Grace even than the one that stood over Andrew's casket as he was lowered into the ground. That Grace entered the casket with him. So what would the post-Andrew me be?

My personality is still the same. I still find all the same things funny, come off as shy when in a new situation, but am always dancing around while talking incessantly when I'm comfortable. My personality is still me, but the person that I am is not the same.

I used to say that I was the right leg and Andrew was the left leg of the relationship. We were such extreme people, we wondered how we ever survived before we met each other. We thought we couldn't survive without each other. Andrew had said in one of his letters, "Any time you don't know what to do in a situation, just think 'what would Andrew do?'" I did that a lot the first year. And now after 3 years of having to survive without my other half, I would say I am a full person. But it is because of Andrew. Really, I am Grace/(Andrew). He is a part of me and always will be. I learned so much from him. He was the practical one, anchoring me, as I always had my head in the clouds. He was the steady one, while I was the roller coaster (which he got a kick out of). I focused on the details to the point of myopia and slow-motionness, while he loved the bigger picture and was super-efficient - he taught me to run from the car to the supermarket, instead of walking like a snail (hey, I was preoccupied with figuring out how to turn the walk into a story. The sun glinting through the trees made the leaves look like dangling coins. The beauty was distracting) as one time-saving tip. He taught me when I got to the dwindling hours of the afternoon, to consolidate the last few things on the to-do list to somehow get them all done at once, instead of leaving them to the next day(s) to finish. Like, instead of running errands at 3 different stores 15 minutes away when you only had 30 minutes left, just do the next best thing and pay $2 extra to get everything all at Walgreen's on the corner (He said, "Time is money").

But more than all those practicalities, Andrew embodied the gospel more than anyone I have ever met. I think many of you who knew him would agree with me. He grasped better than anyone what a wicked sinner he was and how gracious God was to save someone like him. We all are wicked sinners; he just grasped it better. Most of us don't want to admit just how bad we are, how we judge others, but don't see we do the same things. Even if we are moral on the outside, we won't admit to ourselves how capable we are of wickedness, the stuff that's in our hearts, even if we successfully don't show it on the outside. That humility is what gave Andrew the ability to love me so constantly, so persistently, in spite of my continual sinfulness.

I would not have been able to survive as a single mom had he not taught me and demonstrated the multitude of those things first. It was the 5 year apprenticeship I had with Andrew that prepared me to live without him. He gave me my left leg.

The Lord's Faithfulness at The 3 Year Anniversary

Just after Andrew and I left our UCLA fellowship group to move to Washington state, we heard a new woman had joined the fellowship group's staff. When a friend visited us in Washington and told us about this new woman, I heard she was a young widow in her late-twenties. I remember as a newlywed trying for one second to imagine what that would be like. And after that one second, I shook the idea out of my mind and said, "How horrifically unimaginable" - meaning it was too painful for me even to think for one second about it. So I didn't.

After Andrew's death, as I visited friends in Los Angeles, I heard after 8 years this young widow - I'll call her "C" - had re-married. It turned out when she got re-married, C had moved to Minnesota shortly after Andrew and I had moved here (Fall of '07). I lived 35 minutes away from C, but I never met her.

Finally, last spring, I emailed C. I wanted to learn from someone who had been a long-term young widow and survived. Though she had never had children with her first husband, I thought she might still be a resource. I feared she might not want to meet, since I might trigger too many hurtful memories for her. But instead, even though she was sleep-deprived, having just given birth to a second baby a couple weeks earlier, she was eager to meet right away. Since then, we've continued to get together.

During our times together, I loved that rather than fearing memories of her old hurts, she had a heart for young widows. I loved that I could ask her all kinds of questions that I had always wondered. I loved how honest and open she was. I loved that I could tell her anything and rather than be surprised or judge me, she completely understood. I loved how when she spoke Biblical truths about God's faithfulness to me, she wasn't preaching to me. She wasn't being glib. She was testifying to what she had experienced first-hand. I loved how when she spoke those truths to me, it was in a non-condemning, non-judgmental tone. It was a gentleness that could only be the fruit of having experienced profound hurt over a long period of time.

When C came to visit me a few weeks ago when I was struggling, I didn't know what I was feeling. At least if you know you're sad, you can just have a good cry and feel better. But often, I don't know what I'm feeling. And so I just feel like my insides are about to burst. Like each of my cells are a bomb. I'm unable to cry, because I'm still not convinced it's because I'm sad. Since very early on after Andrew's death, I've always been hard on myself - "You're not still sad about this are you?" I'd tell myself. But then if I'm able to talk about it with someone who has already lost a spouse, then they can validate my feelings and then I don't feel crazy.

C said to me, "People often don't realize that sometimes you still feel like you've been torn in half."

And I felt like, "You mean it's normal to feel that way sometimes still?" By her expressing my feelings in a sadder way than I thought I was allowed to feel - and that was if I admitted to myself that I was even sad - took off the pressure for still feeling that way. I felt relieved.

And she said, "And that on those 'torn-in-half' days, you feel like you are walking through wet cement."

"Yes! That's exactly it!" I said. The craziness I was feeling began to subside.

The first two years after Andrew died, basic tasks were difficult. Andrew said in his letters to put one foot in front of the other. Putting one foot in front of the other, one day at a time, was like crossing an Indiana Jones rickety bridge over a vast chasm. I couldn't look down. I couldn't think about what was lost. I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I couldn't panic. I couldn't give up and fall off the bridge. I had to stay alive for the sake of the kids.

But now that I have crossed the bridge, putting one foot in front of the other is simple. Walking is a basic task. Walking across a rickety bridge over a vast chasm is not. Rather, it is the greatest challenge of your life. When you are crossing a rickety bridge that is so long you can't see the end of it and is so long, you've forgotten that real ground exists, basic tasks like getting out of bed, making breakfast for my kids, eating a meal myself - what huge tasks they were! (Food was difficult in particular, because Andrew had not been able to eat the last 11 months of his life - and if anyone loved eating, it was Andrew. Not to mention Andrew and I got to know each other over apartment dinners with all our friends. I associated loss and stress with food).

Yet day after day the Lord helped me to accomplish my tasks. But how there was no room left in my brain for other things! And how incredibly exhausting it was. While neighbors were planting gardens and having friends over for dinner, those tasks seemed like monumental impossibilities to adding to the one-foot-in-front-of the other task of now-it's-time to-make-lunch. I remembered how Andrew and I always used to have people over for dinner, not only when we were married, but before we were together. And I wondered how I ever had done such monumental impossibilities.

Wondering such things, while not realizing I was not doing regular walking but one-foot-in-front-of-the-other-rickety-bridging, I added guilt to the weight of crossing the bridge.

And, on top of grief making basic tasks difficult, it was so hard being a single mom, particularly of little children who had just gotten out of diapers. Pastor Warren told me that he is always telling everyone that being a single mom is the hardest job in all the world.

When C arrived at my house, my cell phone rang. While I was distracted, Lydia told her which coffee shops were nearby. Normally, I never remember Dunn Brothers Coffee. While I used to like Dunn Brothers, I stopped going when Andrew died. It was down the street from the cemetery. And while I occasionally found comfort visiting Andrew's grave, I also associated the cemetery with death and sadness. And so, due to its proximity, I now associated Dunn Brothers with death and sadness. When I went to coffee with friends, I wanted to relax, not be haunted by the idea of the cemetery down the street. When I got off the phone, C said Dunn Brothers was her favorite. So we went. And as I drove, I mentioned that Andrew's grave was down the street.

She said, "Maybe if we finish coffee early, we could visit Andrew's grave?"

Nobody, other than family, had ever asked me that before. It had never occurred to me that that would be something I would even want. But when she said it, it sounded like it might just hit the spot. So I said, "Okay."

At his grave, having her to stand beside me, and just understand, I found myself beginning to feel better.

On the actual weekend before the anniversary of Andrew's death, the one in which I always send my kids to someone else's house, I usually like to be alone. I don't want the anniversary to pass me by unacknowledged without having to take the time to remember Andrew. Ignoring my grief doesn't make it go away. If anything, it makes it linger. And it makes it attack me at inopportune times. At least if I take the time to deal with it, I can have some say in the timing. I don't want the anniversary to pass me by, while I find myself distracted talking about pancakes or something with friends. But it kept coming to mind that this year, I should not be alone. I found myself only wanting to be with people who knew West Los Angeles, where Andrew and I had fallen in love.

And so C came to see me again. In spite of having two small children and living 35 minutes away, C came to see me a lot during those difficult weeks. She understood what a difficult time I was having.

The second person I wanted to spend time with the anniversary weekend was someone who had just moved to Minnesota - I'll call her "J." J was a freshman at our fellowship group when I was a senior at UCLA, so I did not know her very well back then. But since I was the only person she knew in Minnesota when she moved here in the Fall and her husband's job kept him away most of the time, we got together regularly.

Her husband - I'll call him "K" - had just gotten a job with the Timberwolves. So on the weekend of the anniversary, after spending the afternoon together, J took me to a game. Afterwards, I finally met J's husband (he had been so busy with work, I had never met him before). They invited me out to eat with them after the game.

As we sat at the restaurant, when I mentioned in passing that it was the anniversary of Andrew's death, J's husband mentioned that his mom died of cancer. J had told me this a few months before, but I had forgotten. J was very close to K's mom, even before they were married, so both J and K grieved the death of K's mother. Realizing his mom had died of cancer and at such a vulnerably young age for him (college), I sensed that it was safe to talk about Andrew, rather than needing to hold in all that I was thinking. I could be myself and uninhibited, and they would not cut me off to judge or correct me.

J and K had been married for three years. Andrew and I had been married for three years before his first cancer diagnosis. I found things J and K said kept reminding me of stories of Andrew before cancer, and I found myself sharing those stories with them, as well as stories about grief and loss. It was obvious that talking about such things did not scare them, nor stories about the good 'ole days with Andrew. As I told them all about Andrew, most of the stories made me laugh and smile - something that I could not do in earlier years of grief.

At the end of our conversation J said, "God answered my prayer from earlier today." She said, "I prayed that memories of Andrew, rather than make you feel sad, would cause you to smile." And those memories did make me smile.

How Am I in General?

At three years, I do feel a lot better. In fact, there are many times where I will say this is the happiest I've ever been in my life. I feel God has freed me so much from so many things. I'm grateful for all the ways the Lord has stretched and grown me through profound pain and all the accompanying challenges. I'm grateful that I can testify firsthand that God is and has been a Husband to the husband-less. I love the closeness with which the Lord walks with me. Honestly, I wouldn't change what I've been through for anything, because the fruit of it is worth it.

So I've experienced profound pain. Even if I had experienced all of human suffering in all of history put together all in one (and obviously I haven't), compared to the glory of God, it's depth is just a pin prick.

Life is short. Before we know it, we'll blink, and people will be at our funerals. Ask any 70 year old. They'll tell you they were 25 years old a second ago. In light of eternity, whether you die at 27 or 99, there's not much difference. The only thing that matters is God's glory. And in some people's lives, God gets more glory when that person dies young. David Brainerd was 27 when he died. I am eternally grateful that Jesus died at 33. So, in light of that, well, this pain, now that I'm out on the other side of it, I am able to say it was worth it. I'm grateful.

I will probably always miss Andrew. And I will probably continue to write about missing him and the accompanying trials. At times, I still live with weeks-long periods of pain, such as these recent ones. During such weeks, I just know that pain is a regular part of my life and I co-exist with it, as I go about my day and my responsibilities, even if it does make basic things, like cleaning up after dinner or (not so basic things) like wrestling my manuscript into revision - like walking through wet cement. I get less done and what I do get done, I get done slower, but I get done the important things that God both calls me to and gives me the grace to do.

During the first year of my grief process, at times the periods between pain was a few seconds. Sometimes, they stretched to a few minutes or a few hours, then a few days. Now, more and more time stretches between the episodes of pain. This year, there are several weeks between periods of pain. Even months between periods of deep pain, though there is always more mild intermittent pain and missing of Andrew. The fact that the time between pain is longer than the weeks of pain, means that pain is no longer the dominating emotion of my life.

I wrestle with these simultaneous feelings - gratitude and relief that the Lord has rescued me in numerous ways from myself through my trials, while at the same time I still experience profound hurt. How does one feel grateful for pain (due to the fruit it has produced), while at the same time still cry over the pain? How does one feel one wouldn't change the past because of its fruit, while at the same time it is still so painful that all I have to offer my children is me and not me-and-Andrew. While there are times I miss him so much it could kill me?

I wrestle back and forth between these two profound feelings. Gratefulness for the fruit of the pain. And longing for the past before the pain. Both legitimate. Both valid. Both real.

My Pastor Warren says that Psalm 139 says, "I am fearfully and wonderfully made." He says he takes that to mean how incredibly and wonderfully complex the human being is. He said human beings are capable of feeling completely opposite feelings at the same time. Knowing that has helped me, as it takes so much of the pressure off. It means I don't have to wrestle between those opposing feelings. I can simply embrace them.

I am excited for whatever the Lord has in store for me and my children in this next year. I am excited to see what God will have done at the 4 year anniversary. Andrew wrote in his letters, "Smile at the future. The best is yet to come." I smile a lot now. I love my life. I love my kids. And for the first time in years, because I'm finally happy and secure, I am excited for whatever unknown future the Lord has in store.