Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Young People in Old People's Bodies

As you might imagine life is pretty busy for us nowadays. From having two energetic toddlers (no longer one little baby who will just lay in one place) and church taking a lot of our time as usual, Andrew has been taking a class on How to Teach the Bible at our church.

So, Monday evenings after dinner, Andrew studies. Tuesdays we have dinner with whoever at church, Wednesday is prayer meeting, Thursday is Andrew's class, Friday is family night or date night, Saturday night we prepare for Sunday worship, and Sunday night we go to Home Groups (Bible study). Even though we get to talk a lot during lunch when he works from home and dinner and driving to and from places, I still felt like I wanted more special time with Andrew than just date night every other week. So on Monday I sent Andrew a meeting notice through our electronic calenders that every night at 9:30 we have to have two dances together. We put on Jazz, the room is lit by Christmas lights, and we have instant atmosphere. It's been so fun! I look forward to having that little date with him all day long.

I can't believe our four year wedding anniversary is coming up this January. I mean, can you believe it? So much has happened. Our wedding pictures used to be on my screen saver until I got a new laptop this September. We used to say, "'Isn't it funny that one day we will look at these pictures and say, 'Look how young we looked.'" Ugggh, that day has arrived. (I thought I wouldn't say that till I was 60.) Not only that, but two weeks ago, when I was looking at the emails Andrew and I used to write each other when I was in the Philippines for six months, I thought, "I can't believe how young we were back then!" We were so clueless about just about everything. I used to read those old emails all the time, and they never seemed silly to me before. How did I suddenly get so old so recently?

As busy as the children keep me and as much as parents tell me it will get easier once the children get a little older, sometimes I wish time would go slower. I don't want to get any further away from our wedding day or from the days our babies were born, because I imagine the further we get, the memories will become like faded photographs. Like looking back on your childhood, and all the clothes are out of style and you cannot re-visit those times. Everything has changed, the people, the places. But I wish our memories could always look vivid and current. I wish we had camcorders that recorded in 3D and we could go back to our wedding reception and stand among everyone on the dance floor and do a 360 of the room, see what people were doing at the different tables, catch new details. I don't want to long for my babies to be my babies again. I want them always to be my babies!

Nonetheless, I think having toddlers is the oldest age there is. Because my sister is 7 years older than me, but her three kids are ages 7 to 11, and she feels younger and better than she ever has. I talk to the older ladies at church who are in their 70's, and they say their only reminder that they are actually old is their reflection in the mirror. They feel like young people in an old person's body. On the other hand, I have a 24 year old friend, and she has two babies one year apart. She feels really old.

Does life seem to be moving super fast for any of you? I know different people of all different age groups read this blog, so it would be interesting to hear the different view points depending on what stage of life people are in.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Minnesota Snow

Well, what we have been anticipating since our arrival has finally alighted: Minnesota winter. And with winter has come the snow. Growing up in New Jersey, I loved snow, because to me, it meant no school, which of course freed me up to see the beauty in it. I loved how the snow silenced everything, carried your whisper across the yard, and blanketed everything in white. It was so serene. I knew that the fact that I had never had to drive in it, though, was probably a luxury that preserved my love for it and was the difference between my opinion of snowstorms and that of adults. I only had my license for one winter before I moved to California for college, and I don't think my parents let me drive in the snow.

I went to Ladies Bible study this morning with the kids. Afterwards, as we left the church, snow was falling fast and was covering the ground. What wasn't obvious was that it was sleeting at the same time. So not only was snow all over the roads, piling up faster than they were continuously plowing it, but ice was mixing in with it. So far, all four of the people I talked to today slid out of control, either doing a 360 or driving off the side of the road. Needless to say, I did not enjoy one of my first experiences driving in the snow. I am so thankful that the Lord really took care of all of us.

Knowing how dangerous it was to drive outside, today I am feeling the way I did right after Andrew finished cancer treatments. I feel so sensitive to how blessed we are to have our two children and for Andrew and I to be together, all of us are healthy, and still alive. It feels like a celebration just to be together and I just wanted to sit and read books to the kids, hold them, and keep telling them I love them. I always want them to know that. If there is one thing they remember from this early time of their lives, I hope it is that I love them with all my heart.

Just now, A.J. ran up to me screaming, "Hugs! Lot of hugs!" They have just returned with Papa after playing in the snow, filling A.J.'s dump truck with it. They love it. So, as long as I can avoid driving in it, I think we as a family can continue to say that we love it and it's beautiful.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Autumnal Check-Up

This morning we drove through the University of Minnesota for Andrew's check-up. As Andrew inched over the crosswalk to take a right, I yelped, "Kiddie! Kiddie! There's a kiddie in the crosswalk." Andrew braked as a student wearing a backpack emerged from the left.

"Did I just call a college student a "kiddie?" I asked. "That means we're really old now. Is it just me or do these people look too young to be college students?"

"I think it's just you," Andrew said.

We proceeded to Andrew's check-up with Dr. Bevan Yueh (Pronounced "You." As in "Who me? Yeah, you.") Until this September, Dr. Yueh was a head and neck doctor with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center and the University of Washington in Seattle. He was best friends and colleagues with our brilliant life-saver and surgeon, Dr. Futran. Dr. Yueh now heads up the Head and Neck department at the University of Minnesota. This was his first day having clinic since moving here. I hope it was comforting for him to see us his first day, cause he said he almost thought he was back in Seattle reading through our records written by all his friends.

So far, Andrew continues to look healthy. Praise the Lord! When Dr. Yueh examined Andrew, he said Andrew was "a really good healer." Yes, the Lord is an awesome Healer and has greatly blessed Andrew and us! Dr. Yueh was really impressed at Dr. Futran's job.

Andrew started to say, "Yeah, we've heard Dr. Futran is - one - of - the best..." stumbling over his words, careful not to offend Dr. Yueh.

Dr. Yueh responded, "Dr. Futran is the best. He is the best. If I had cancer, he would be the one operating on me." Every doctor we meet, even when we visited the Mayo Clinic here in Rochester in October has heard of Dr. Futran and the incredible doctor he is.

We are continually amazed at how the Lord's perfect sovereignty moved us to Washington and then kept us there for cancer to be treated by Dr. Futran. That in itself is a miracle; His perfect working in His sovereign plan. We cannot even imagine what could have happened had we been somewhere else and stumbled upon some lesser doctor. It's not like we were experienced and knew what we were doing when Andrew was diagnosed. Thank the Lord there is God's sovereign plan and only God's sovereign plan.

The other thing that we loved about the University of Washington (other than it's writing program) is how concerned the doctors seemed to be for us. Considering that between the two of us, we've probably seen more doctors than anyone we know, such concern is a unique thing. I'm sure the doctors were accustomed to seeing patients die, but they were so concerned that Andrew was only 25, at his prime, just starting life. They must have propagated this culture of concern, because Dr. Yueh was so warm, kind, and concerned for us too.

On another note, we are really enjoying the cold weather here. Granted, it's not really "cold" yet. It's only been in the 30's and 40's, and maybe by February we'll be singing another song, but we find the cold to be so cozy. We haven't experienced Autumn in almost a decade since moving from New Jersey. It feels like we are finally home again.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Pictures

Eating lunch at the park


Looking at animals at the apple orchard


Sporting the shirts from Grandma and Grandpa


Gracie slid down the tube all by herself!


Potty training A.J. last Saturday


Spiderman and the ferocious lion


"Don't worry. It's just us."

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Pigtail Dancer

Last night, while Andrew went to his class at church, the kids and I went to my sister's house. The Glenn kids were so excited to have A.J. and Gracie to play with for the whole night. A.J. ran downstairs with Noah to the playroom while Gracie stayed in the living room with the girls. Zoe, 9, and Joy Joy, 7, played with Gracie's hair putting pigtails at the bottom of her head. They picked her up from my lap and brought her to the mirror. When they returned her to my lap, they tried three pigtails. They continued this pattern of bringing her back and forth from the mirror until finally the pigtails were at the top of her head.

When Zoe practiced the piano, Gracie rested her fingers on the piano bench as she looked up at her, enjoying the music. Later, while Noah was practicing his French horn, he put a CD in of the music he was supposed to be learning. I started clapping to it so A.J. and Gracie could hear the beat. Gracie swung her hips side to side like the pendulum of a clock. We all jumped up dancing. Joy tipped over into a headstand and A.J. tried to copy her. After falling over, he started rocking out, lifting his knees high and raising his fists up and down like a runner to the beat of the music, but Gracie stole all the attention because A.J.'s been a professional comedic dancer for some time now.

I didn't have a camcorder at my sister's, so this is Gracie dancing when my mom visited last week:

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Noah's Bagels. I Mean, Ark.

One of A.J.'s favorite Bible stories is Noah's Ark. He's been having a little trouble adjusting to the nursery being at a new church, so I sat in his Sunday school for a few minutes until he got a little more comfortable there recently. They sang some songs. A.J. looked around the room with a stiff face not participating. And then, the teacher began to talk about Noah's Ark. A.J. perked up. The teacher said, "It rained and it rained and it rained. It was like a big lake. Has anyone seen a lake before?"

"Yes, I-I seen a lake," A.J. said. He pushed up from his sitting position on his little rug so that now he was kneeling. "And there was, there was boats or something. Boats or something."

She talked about the animals and then when she was reaching the end, A.J. brought up his typical question during Noah's Ark. "Where was Jesus?"

My answer has never seemed to suffice: "Jesus wasn't born yet."

"Oh oh Jesus wasn't born yet," A.J. always repeats.

I flip through our Bible and show Him how Jesus' pictures don't show up until the latter half of the Bible, while Noah's Ark is in the beginning. Children don't seem to have much of a sense of chronology though, not even seeming to understand that yesterday was the past.

Probably feeling the same as I always do when A.J. asks me that, which is, How do I answer that? she simply said, "Jesus wasn't there."

The Diet on the Ark

At dinner last night, I told Andrew about the pet store that the children and I had visited during our walk earlier in the day. I said how A.J. told me: "Oh, the lizards eat lettuce. The lizards eat lettuce."

"They feed them the same salad that we eat," I laughed to Andrew. "I thought it was really neat how A.J. observed what they ate. You know, that some of them eat the same things as us. Or, 'Oh, look at that snake. They eat live worms. Hmmm...we don't eat live worms...although is that what spaghetti is...?'"

Then A.J. pitched in: "All the animals in-in Noah's ark." He has no trouble speaking to us about the day-to-day things. Like, "Mama, please drink. Mama, please more. Mama, I all done. Mama, Gracie fussin." But he was really making an effort to communicate what was on his mind, making up new sentences rather than memorized ones that I taught him. He was squinting his eyes, looking to the side every time he had to form a new phrase.

He went on for a few minutes telling us all about the animals.

"Oh really, A.J.? There were giraffes on the ark and elephants?" I said.

"Yeah. Yeah. And Jesus was the door."

"Jesus was the door. Hmmm...I think I heard something like that before," I mumbled to Andrew, wandering if A.J. had better theology than me. "In a way, that's definitely true. God sealed the door and protected them from the flood."

"Yeah. Yeah," A.J. said breathlessly. "And. And they ate bagels inside. The animals ate bagels inside the ark."

I turned from Andrew to A.J. "A.J., did you just say bagels?" I said. "The animals ate bagels inside the ark?" I looked at Andrew like, where did he get that one from?

Andrew thought hard for a few moments. "Noah's Bagels." He started laughing. "A.J. must have heard me mention it when we went to the supermarket the other day. Remember, we saw Noah's Bagels?"

We did our best to stifle our laughter, though we laughed really hard.

"Yeah," A.J. finished. "The animals ate - animals ate bagels in the ark."

Friday, September 14, 2007

Return to Eden (Prairie)

GRACE WRITES:

As the day approached for us to leave Washington, despite the slow housing market, I said, "Why hasn't our house sold yet? I would buy our house. What's wrong with it?" We had said that if our house sold before we left on Aug. 27th, we would probably stay the extra month until it closed. Andrew said, "Watch the Lord sells our house right after we leave. Maybe He just wants us to move first, so that we won't delay our move."

Well, our buyer arrived on Tuesday, Aug. 28th the day after we drove off to Minnesota, and made his formal offer by Friday morning. He even wanted to close quickly, by Sept. 26th. We are amazed at how the Lord has continuously answered my prayer that if He willed to move us to Minnesota, that it would be quick and easy. Wow. (If you've been keeping up with our blogs, you know of all the ways things have worked together from my recent blog, "Movin'!").

The Drive

Despite how I don't like road trips, somehow, it was quite painless, yes, quite fun to drive to Minnesota. The children did shockingly well. I think A.J. even enjoyed it, looking out the window at all the new landscapes and pointing out all the different kinds of trucks. Gracie didn't even fuss that much and when she did, it wasn't that bad. That was the best the kids have ever done on any kind of a car trip. Clearly, the Lord was answering all those who were praying for us.

The first morning we left before 7am and met up with our friends the Wards, who were driving back home to Minnesota with us after their vacation visiting family in Seattle. Between our two children, the Wards' four children, 7-month pregnant Sherry, and the rest of us adults, we stopped every 45 minutes the first day. Usually, we'd all end up getting out and all of our children would run around playing together. Somehow, though, we made it through the whole state of Washington, Idaho, and into Montana by 7pm that night. (We didn't even speed).

Tuesday, we took a break and a tour of Glacier National Park. It was really beautiful and we really enjoyed it.



Wednesday, our family split off to visit a college friend in Billings, Montana. We weren't sure if we'd be able to meet back up with the Wards, but it turned out they were driving through the city we were eating dinner at just as we finished up and were buckling our kids into their car seats.

Thursday, we drove through North Dakota and the landscape became more and more beautiful as we approached our home, Minnesota. We arrived at my sister's house by 9pm that night.

By Saturday, we were able to start moving into our apartment in Eden Prairie.

Redeemer Bible Church

Our first Sunday at church was wonderful. The teaching and preaching was so convicting and we are learning so much. My brother-in-law, Bob Glenn, is a really really gifted preacher. I rate him among the top preachers of our day (apparently so do others cause you can find him on http://www.monergism.com/ listed as R.W. Glenn).

Everyone was so friendly and open. People we didn't even know approached us to tell us they felt like they already knew us, as they have been keeping up with our blog and praying for us. Many of the elders and their wives also approached us to welcome us and tell us how they had been praying for us. Aside from Andrew's cancer, I think we have been on their prayer list for months, if not years, for us to be able to move here. During worship, we sang the Lord's praises in awe of who He is and all that He's done. Andrew said he was so excited to be there, he just wanted to run out into the street and shout at the top of his lungs.

Wednesday was prayer meeting. I had been cooped up trying to settle into our apartment, and despite my sister dropping by daily, I was beginning to feel lonely. It was so good to be able to go back to church and see everyone again.

At prayer meeting, after everyone shares their prayer requests to the church, we break up into small groups and pray. In the past, I always prayed with someone else, but this time I asked my sister if I could be in her group. She had Joy, her 7 year-old daughter in her group and Joy's friends. Each of them asked for prayer for things like that they would obey their mom or not fight with their brother. Gayle knew each of the little girls very well, and I was so impressed by how she took the time to point each one of them to Scripture, diagnosing their sin issues with the Bible. She said, "You know what James says about why we fight don't you?" She didn't dumb it down for them. She asked, "Do you desire to fight with your brother?" The little girl admitted, "Well, sometimes..." Gayle said that we should pray that we would really hate our sin. It was so sharpening to talk about our sin and pray for each other that we would hate it and love God instead.

We feel so challenged by the teaching and by the brethren, who are so transparent about what God is teaching them and what they are struggling with, that we feel like we want to be at church every day, sharpened to love God more, do all that His Word says, and to hate our sin. That is our greatest longing - to love Him more and to do His will, and to hate and kill our sin. When we are with the brethren, who help us to worship Him more, it is a shadow of what it shall be like to worship Christ the way He designed us to, with all of our hearts, and one day without sin.

Jersey People

On the same day of our arrival, the Smerillos arrived from New Jersey. They are a family that have known Bob and Gayle since college. The church hired Chris Smerrillo as their church administrator. The Smerillos have desired to move here for just about as many years as we have. On Saturday, Bob's sister, Kate and her son, Billy, arrived from New Jersey to move here. Both Billy and Noah Glenn are 11 years-old. Billy and Noah get to go to school together, be in the same classes, and share the same locker. On Sunday we were all at church, and it was amazing how the Lord has brought us all here from New Jersey, the Glenns, us, the Smarillos, Kate and Billy, and the Wards. It's neat how all the cousins can be with each other, my nephew and nieces with Billy and our kids.

There are still lots of people that before we moved we knew we would miss and wish we could take with us. A.J. walks around saying "Rhonda, Rhaaanda, Rhaaaaanda," all the time, though he knows her as "Mrs. Luse." I miss Lisa and a whole host of other people. We also knew we had a very unique set-up on our block. Our next-door neighbors, The Coopers, were like-minded believers whose children would run out and play with our kids nearly every day whenever we were outside. We really liked all of our neighbors and don't expect to ever have a block like that again, where we're all in similar stages of life and enjoy each other's company. There were so many very special people that we really enjoyed and miss all the time.

But we are also very grateful for the Lord fulfilling our long-awaited desires and bringing us here. Little by little we are settling in and look forward to see what the Lord has in store for us on this new adventure.

AJ enjoying the view at Glacier

Long Days for the kids

Andrew's 26th Birthday Party at the Glenns'

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Rear View

ANDREW WRITES:

People say hind sight is 20/20. Perhaps there is some truth to that.

As this chapter of our lives in Seattle is coming to a close, I wanted to take a moment to glance in the rear view mirror and reflect on the past 4 years of my life.

Grace and I got engaged on Sept 19, 2003, about 4 years ago. Since then we've gotten married, moved to a foreign country - I mean, Washington, made new friends, said goodbye to old friends, went through 2 pregnancies, bore 2 children, bought our first house, fought cancer together and the list could go on and on. In all of this, my faithful wife has clung to my side sometimes laughing, sometimes singing, sometimes crying and sometimes dancing. When looking back the temptation sometimes is to play the game of "what if" and dwell on the negaitive. What if we had lived here, or worked there, or bought that house, or did this differently?

The reality is that I can't change the past, but I can change the way I see it. History can be used as a tool to help me properly focus on the future. I don't mean focusing on the next place to live, or the next place to work, or the next house or any of that. What I mean is that I should use the past to help me set the direction and vision for the future. The next place to live, and the next job, and the next house will naturally fall into place within that vision.

If I'm driving a car down the freeway and I keep my eyes focused on the rear view, I will inevitably end up in a wreck. But if I use the rear view properly, I will glance back every now and then to see my position, and then refocus on the road ahead so I can make it safely to the destination.

Here are just a few things that I have learned, and resolve to do better looking forward:

1) Love and obey God with all of my heart, not just with my actions. It would not necessarily please God if somebody asked me why I gave money to a specific need, and my answer was "because the bible says so". Doing Christian things in and of themselves don't please God. But serving God joyfully from the heart does. God has really taught me a lot these past 4 years while attending and serving at Grace Bible Church. I especially think of Dave and Gale Light who were always there for us. Spending time with them over dinner, or after bible study, or after Sunday school and seeing how they didn't just want to do the "christian thing". They wanted to understand the bible and obey God from the heart, even if that meant that people would call you crazy.

2) Be a man. Providing for the physical needs of my family isn't enough. I need to lead my family and point them to Christ as their sufficiency. I need to be a husband who really knows my wife and children and desires to shepherd and protect them. Having lunch with the Luses after church, or observing Chris Green bring his sons with him to work at the memorial store, or watching Jesse Germick interact with his children in our kitchen are just a few examples of how I've learned so much by seeing the bible lived out through families over the past 4 years. I trust that the Lord will continue to grow me in this area while living in Minnesota.

3) Live rich. Those who know the Lord intimately, know that God teaches His children so much through trials. The past 4 years has had some difficulties, but each of them has been a rich blessing from the Lord. Yes, even cancer. I don't ever desire to go through treatment again, and I wish others never did either. But if you've read our cancer blogs, you've seen how much we've grown through it. It has been good for our family to rethink our priorities, and focus on what really matters in life. Our hardships have not made us rich in wealth, but rich in love for God, and for people.


Dave Light, Gracie and I at our going away party



Our Sunday School Table

Our last sunset

Our last dinner with the Abbotts

Monday, August 13, 2007

Movin'!

First Exposure

Days after Sept. 11th, I drove across the country for the first time with my brother, Romeo, and his family. Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco was one of the planes that had crashed Sept. 11th. Romeo and his family were scheduled to take Flight 93 Saturday, Sept. 15th, rumors still coursing that that was another day of threat. I, too, needed to return to Los Angeles for my senior year to begin.

When we crossed the St. Croix River from Wisconsin to Minnesota, I was awestruck by the beauty of the grey fog floating above the snaking river. As we drove on, the landscape stretched into flat fields of green grass. Bursts of yellow sun pierced through the white clouds hanging against the periwinkle sky. I loved Minnesota.

The next day, when we reached the endless yellow fields of South Dakota, I was homesick for Minnesota, though it had been my first time there. When I returned to California, I wanted to apply to graduate school at the University of Minnesota, but someone mentioned that there were tornadoes there. With no relatives or roots anywhere in Minnesota, I dropped the thought.

And Then There Was My Sister

My sister and I have always been extremely close ever since we became Christians when I was 12 and she was 19. Though we couldn't stand each other previously, our new love for the Lord drew us together in a tight bond even until now. Her family took me in as part of their family. I loved her three children like my own, and her husband, Bob, was as my own brother. They always said I needed to move in with them in New Jersey once I graduated from UCLA. They joked that I needed to find a husband that would take me back to New Jersey.

Lo and behold, when I arrived in Los Angeles from my drive across the country, one of the first people I laid eyes on was someone new at the Bible study I attended, Andrew Mark, a super-cute guy from New Jersey of all places. For the rest of my senior year, I watched him from afar and exchanged casual conversations with him. Despite all my efforts to the contrary, convinced that he was all wrong for me, and though I would never have admitted it even to myself at the time, somehow, I was falling hard for a guy I hardly knew.

The summer after my senior year, Andrew moved across the street from where I lived. He invited me and a bunch of friends over for dinner for the first time. Hours before dinner, my sister called with completely unanticipated news: Bob had received a pastoral position in Minnesota and they were moving.

I cried. They were going to live and die in New Jersey, remember? And I would be there for some of it. Not to mention, I laughed through my tears, I finally found a New Jersey guy!

Soon after, I left Los Angeles and eventually did live with my sister and her family in Minnesota for two months, which is when Andrew and I started a long-distance dating relationship. He came to visit me there and after meeting my brother-in-law, Bob, began calling him once or twice a week for counsel ("Without consultation, plans are frustrated, But with many counselors they succeed." Proverbs 15:22 ).

Eventually, Andrew and I got married. Andrew had a job offer in Washington, D.C. and the state of Washington. Our counselors encouraged Andrew to pursue the job that would best suit his talents, since we already knew that there were good churches in both locations. And so Andrew accepted a position as a systems engineer with Motorola, and we moved to Snohomish, WA, despite our longings to return to family. We decided to make it a priority to be able to visit family in New Jersey, where both our parents lived, Minnesota, where my sister was, and California, where my brothers were. As time went on, we continued to bring our desire to live near family before the Lord, expecting Him either to change it or fulfill it.

Then, this past January, A.J., turned two. I wondered what the Lord would do, because it basically meant the end, or at least a huge reduction of us travelling to visit family, since A.J.'s plane fare would not be free anymore. If we lived in Minnesota, both sets of our parents' plane rides would be reduced to two hours instead of six and we could potentially even drive the 19 hours to New Jersey once in awhile.

This past November, Bob called Andrew. They needed more men, more leaders for their growing church. He asked Andrew to join them.

Free to Go!

After three-and-a-half years living in Washington, the Lord has fulfilled our ever-growing desire to move specifically to Minnesota. In July, Andrew's boss gave him the go-ahead to work from home, even from Minnesota! We could leave any time we felt like.

And so I prayed that if the Lord, indeed, willed for us to move to Minnesota, that He would make it easy and fast, so that Andrew wouldn't have to worry about anything, considering all that he's so recently gone through with cancer. Here are the ways in which He has answered exceedingly and abundantly more than we asked or imagined (Eph. 3) so far:

1. As we considered our options for moving our stuff, they were all expensive. Since we had always hoped to move, everything we acqired here was either free or next to free, so that we could leave everything behind. The few things we needed to bring with us, we didn't want to spend much to move. Then, our friend, Steve Hickok, approached us at church. He was moving his mother-in-law from Wisconsin to here. So he was going to drive an empty truck and trailer there. He would be driving through Minneapolis, would we like him to drop off our stuff for us in ten days?

2. Then we thought maybe we should wait until Andrew's scan in August to make any decisions. We asked the Lord to make His will unmistakably clear to us. A couple of days later at his July appointment, Dr. Futran felt into Andrew's mouth and throat. He said, Andrew's healing looked ideal and he was fine to move. Dr. Futran said he does not expect cancer to return.

3. Additionally, Dr. Futran almost took a position at the University of Minnesota this summer. His best friend and colleague, Dr. Yueh, took it instead. Dr. Yueh was one of the people on the team who had had made the decisions on Andrew's treatment back in February. Though we hadn't really looked for Dr. Futran, he is probably one of the best surgeon's in the world for oral cancer (I mean, how many double MD's have you heard of?), and now we have this other super doctor, who already knows Andrew's case as well as Andrew's doctor, and will be moving with us! He will be twenty minutes from where we will live.

4. So then Andrew was concerned about working long-distance indefinitely. Though there is virtually no travel necessary, Andrew eventually wanted to be able to work on local projects in Minnesota and have local co-workers. So Andrew called up the Motorola manager over Minnesota, with whom he was acquainted. It turns out that someone was actually leaving his group later this year, and they could use another engineer in the Minnesota office. The man would be transitioning out about the time that Andrew would be finishing up his project in WA. To sum up, Andrew will be working from home in Minnesota on a Tacoma, WA project for the next few months and then will transfer to the Motorola office in Minnesota.

5. The only real work we've had to do for our move is clear out each of the rooms in our home of anything not necessary for staging it to sell our house. That took about four days, but we really enjoyed it. We felt so grateful all the way through for the opportunity to rid unnecessary clutter from our lives and not have to take it with us! We had so many things that we thought we needed, yet now that we are living so sparcely, find that we are doing just fine without them. We are really excited not to be bringing much with us. It has greatly minimized the work moving usually requires.

6. And then we weren't sure exactly what day we should leave. Our house is on the market, and we didn't want to wait around for it to sell, in case it was like the other houses on our block that sat on the market for several months, one even waited for nearly a year. So we asked the Lord for wisdom about what day to leave. So, it turns out, Andrew's been playing phone tag with our friend David Ward. David used to go to my church back in New Jersey and now he is the worship pastor at Redeemer Bible Church in Minnesota, where we will be serving. David did the music for our wedding and one of his songs inspired Gracie's middle name, Olivia. Andrew finally got in contact with him while, it turns out, David was driving with his family to Seattle for a vacation. David offered for us to caravan back with them to Minnesota on August 27th.

Summed up, look what God has done:

1. Delivered belongings

2. Disease-free!

3. Doctor departing with us

4. Does job he loves from home, then transfers to MN Motorola office

5. De-cluttering delightful
(the only work we've had to do for this)

6. Departure date decided
(and the added benefit of caravanning with old friends)

Friends here laugh that they think the first time they met us three or so years ago, we told them that we wanted to move to Minnesota. Even when Andrew took his job, his boss knew we would only be here temporarily until we could move near family. We came here open to whatever the Lord willed for us, even if it was to stay here. But the Lord grew in us a desire to move to Minnesota rather than New Jersey. And now, He's answered the prayers for it to be fast and easy. Thank You, Lord!

We have yet to sell our house. So please pray it will sell soon. We will see how the Lord answers that prayer.

Come and visit us in Eden Prairie, Minnesota!



"Dad, what happened to my bed?"

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Collapse of the Minneapolis Bridge

Below are sentiments from John Piper to his daughter after the bridge collapse, a bridge that was very much part of their daily lives. As in the title of a book he wrote, I hope it helps you to see our unique Savior (perhaps for the first time) or savor Him again today.


At about 6 p.m. tonight the bridge of Interstate 35W over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed. I am writing this about three hours after the bridge fell. The bridge is located within sight of Bethlehem Baptist Church. Most of us who minister at the church cross it several times a week. At this point I don't know if any staff were on the bridge. Desiring God offices are about a mile from the bridge.

There are no firm facts at this point about the total number of injuries and fatalities. When we crossed the bridge Tuesday on our way out of town, there was extensive repair work happening on it, with single-lane traffic. One speculates about the unusual stresses on the bridge with jackhammers and other surface replacement equipment. This was the 40th anniversary of the bridge.

Tonight for our family devotions our appointed reading was Luke 13:1-9. It was not my choice. This is surely no coincidence. O that all of the Twin Cities, in shock at this major calamity, would hear what Jesus has to say about it in Luke 13:1-5. People came to Jesus with heart-wrenching news about the slaughter of worshipers by Pilate. Here is what He said.

"There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."

Jesus implies that those who brought Him this news thought He would say that those who died deserved to die, and that those who didn't die did not deserve to die. That is not what He said. He said everyone deserves to die. And if you and I don't repent, we too will perish. This is a stunning response. It only makes sense from a view of reality that is radically oriented on God.

All of us have sinned against God, not just against man. This is an outrage ten thousand times worse than the collapse of the 35W bridge. That any human is breathing at this minute on this planet is sheer mercy from God. God makes the sun rise and the rain fall on those who do not treasure Him above all else. He causes the heart to beat and the lungs to work for millions of people who deserve His wrath. This is a view of reality that desperately needs to be taught in our churches, so that we are prepared for the calamities of the world.

The meaning of the collapse of this bridge is that John Piper is a sinner and should repent or forfeit his life forever. That means I should turn from the silly preoccupations of my life and focus my mind's attention and my heart's affection on God and embrace Jesus Christ as my only hope for the forgiveness of my sins and for the hope of eternal life. That is God's message in the collapse of this bridge. That is His most merciful message: There is still time to turn from sin and unbelief and destruction for those of us who live. If we could see the eternal calamity from which He is offering escape we would hear this as the most precious message in the world.

We prayed during our family devotions. Talitha (11 years old) and Noel and I prayed earnestly for the families affected by the calamity and for the others in our city. Talitha prayed, "Please don't let anyone blame God for this but give thanks that they were saved." When I sat on her bed and tucked her in and blessed her and sang over her a few minutes ago, I said, "You know, Talitha, that was a good prayer, because when people 'blame' God for something, they are angry with Him, and they are saying that He has done something wrong. That's what 'blame' means: accusing somebody of wrongdoing. But you and I know that God did not do anything wrong. God always does what is wise. And you and I know that God could have held up that bridge with one hand." Talitha said, "With His pinky." "Yes," I said, "with His pinky. Which means that God had a purpose for not holding up that bridge, knowing all that would happen, and He is infinitely wise in all that He wills." Talitha said, "Maybe He let it fall because He wanted all the people of Minneapolis to fear Him." "Yes, Talitha," I said, "I am sure that is one of the reasons God let the bridge fall."

I sang to her the song I always sing:

Come rest your head and nestle gently
And do not fear the dark of night.
Almighty God keeps watch intently,
And guards your life with all His might.
Doubt not His love, nor power to keep,
He never fails, nor does He sleep.

I said, "You know, Talitha, that is true whether you die in a bridge collapse, or in a car accident, or from cancer, or terrorism, or old age. God always keeps you, even when you die. So you don't need to be afraid, do you?" "No." She shook her head. I leaned down and kissed her. "Good night. I love you."

Tonight across the Twin Cities families are wondering if they will ever kiss a loved one good night again. Some will not. I am praying that they will find Jesus Christ to be their Rock and Refuge in these agonizing hours of uncertainty and even loss.

The word "bridge" does not occur in the Bible. There may be two reasons. One is that God doesn't build bridges; He divides seas. The other is that usually His people must pass through the deadly currents of suffering and death, not simply ride over them. "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you" (Isaiah 43:2). They may drown you. But I will be with you in life and death.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life ... will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-38).

Killed all day long. But not separated from Christ. We go through the river. Not over it. He went before us, crucified. He came out on the other side. He knows the way through. With Him we will make it. That is the message we have for the precious sinners in the Twin Cities. He died for your sins. He rose again. He saves all who trust Him. We die, but because of Him, we do not die.

Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die" (John 11:25).

Talitha is sleeping now. But one day she will die. I teach her this. I will not always be there to bless her. But Jesus is alive and is the same yesterday, today and forever. He will be with her because she trusts Him. And she will make it through the river.

(Copyright Desiring God. Used with permission.) We want to hear from you. Go here to discuss this article on the RELEVANT boards.

Author: John Piper

John Piper is the Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minn. He is the author of several books including Desiring God, Don't Waste Your Life and What Jesus Demands from the World.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Bethany

Our friend from UCLA, Bethany, has had thyroid cancer on and off since 2001 when she was only 20 years old. Now, she is married and has a precious little baby named Caleb. We were so disappointed to find out that cancer has shown up again in her thyroid, but we know that the Lord is in control and good. She's started a blog that summarizes her cancer journey. Check out this precious woman's story at: http://oikodespotes.wordpress.com/.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Relaxing

GRACE WRITES:

Andrew has been doing great. He’s even gotten a lot of his taste back. When his taste first started returning after treatment, he could only taste bitterness. Now, he can taste almost everything, even sweet. He says it’s all a bit faded from what his taste was pre-treatment, but since he can’t really remember what it used to be like, it doesn’t bother him. His taste has returned so much faster than we expected, because it has been less than two months since his treatments ended, and the doctors had said it would take three to six months for his taste to begin returning. We didn’t expect much at that, since they said probably only 50% would return. One person who is very familiar with oral cancer said that Andrew’s body has recovered remarkably quickly, even several months ahead.

The only thing that affects his daily life in an obvious way at this point is just that he sleeps about ten hours a night, gets tired out easily, and needs to rest in the afternoon. The doctors say this is normal and should last about a year, as his body continues to heal from chemo, which kills good cells in addition to bad cells all throughout your body.

We are really amazed at how quickly Andrew has recovered. We see constantly how God has been so gracious to Andrew and to our family, not only prolonging his life, but blessing his recovery as well.

So, as we mentioned in an earlier post, we wanted to take a vacation just the two of us. We were looking for somewhere extremely relaxing and undemanding where we could both depressurize after the most stressful five months of our lives (I got my first white hair!). And, most importantly, restful enough to aid Andrew in his recovery, rather than cause him to over-exert himself. Initially, we decided upon Vancouver, B.C., because during the few, short day trips we had taken there, we loved it, but always wished we had time to explore it more. It’s one of the largest cities in Canada and despite its proximity to the U.S., totally feels like you are in another country, yet with the convenience of English being the spoken language. A Canadian friend also told us that Vancouver is one of the most special places to visit in Canada. Since it’s only two hours north of where we live, we could avoid plane fares and renting a car, as well as be close enough to the kids in case of an emergency. Then we thought if we stayed just outside of Vancouver, hotel rates would be less expensive. As we did our research, in the end, we discovered White Rock, a beach town on the coast south of Vancouver. .

We had a great time in White Rock. Due to my wheat allergy, we stayed in a room with a kitchenette so that we had the option of cooking, since nearly everything in restaurants is made with wheat. We ate eggs and rice in the morning on our deck overlooking the ocean. One of Andrew’s favorite things is a great view. Since we overlooked the ocean, if Andrew needed to rest, we could still enjoy the beautiful view from our room. Also, since our altitude is higher, we could enjoy the sun until after 9pm in the evenings.

Alongside the water was a boardwalk that runs for miles. Across the street from the boardwalk were tons of ice cream shops, bakeries, and restaurants. The beach town reminded us of California only not overcrowded and some of the people spoke with lilts and said things like “surrey” for “excuse me” or “gaahrage” for “gas station.” We had so much fun in White Rock, we never had need to drive the half hour to Vancouver, which probably would have been too tiring for Andrew to do the touristy thing anyway.

I had also really wanted to spend some time at a spa, because I thought that would be super-relaxing. But when we looked online a few months ago, all the spas in Canada that popped up were too far and absurdly expensive. Then, when we mentioned to someone last week at church that we were going to Canada, they asked us if we had heard of Harrison Hot Springs, where tons of people from our church go every year. I had never mentioned my initial desire to go to a spa, and yet that is exactly what it was – and, close-by and affordable.

So, after two nights in White Rock, we drove the hour and a half further to Harrison Hot Springs Resort. It is located on a large lake nestled between four mountains. The big attraction about the Resort is the hot tubs filled with water from the hot springs. They recommend only spending ten minutes at a time in the hot tubs. So we spent our first afternoon dunking between the hot tub and slightly cooler pools. It was soooo relaxing. We got to do that each day. It was exactly what we needed. Also, at the spa, Andrew was able to get an awesome massage, and a good masseuse is hard to come by! I’m so grateful Andrew was able to enjoy that.

At dinner, we faced the same challenge that always accompanies finding a restaurant for me: Can they specially make a dish that is wheat and gluten free? In addition to breads, pastas, and flour, even soy sauce, white vinegar, mayo, mustard are all made with wheat. We looked in at one of the restaurants in the resort. It turned out to be a really appetizing buffet, which meant almost certainly 100% mixed with wheat. Well, it turns out they try to be really sensitive to all kinds of food allergies. The chef took me through each of the dishes and explained that instead of mixing flour into all their sauces, they used cornstarch, and red wine vinegar instead of white vinegar. Nearly all their dishes, minus the two pasta dishes and the basket of bread, was gluten free! Even their salad dressings were all gluten-free. I have never seen so many gluten-free dishes in my six months of being off of wheat. I mean, even if a restaurant carries a few gluten-free dishes they super advertise it, but this one didn’t even mention it. Plus, gluten-free restaurants often taste like they’ve made serious substitutions, but you couldn’t tell the difference here. We ate outside on the restaurant balcony with a breath-taking view of the lake and the mountains that surrounded us like a giant alcove, furthering our unwinding.

I’m not sure we could have asked for a more relaxing vacation. Nothing on the agenda and we couldn’t even wear watches because we spent so much time in the water. The Lord also provided all our gluten-free meals for us. We got to be beach bums for five days and it was great. The Lord really provided for us as always and we are so grateful.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Slowing down

After treatment ended I was recovering rapidly and I started to feel really good. But lately I've been a little discouraged after I got off the pain killers because my body just feels so weak and tired. Perhaps the narcotics were masking how I really felt? Or maybe I was expecting the recovery to continue to proceed at a rapid pace but it slowed down. One other possibility is that my thyroids have been damaged by the radiation, which was one of the side effects they warned me about. I told my doctor today about my tiredness and he said that the radiation usually makes people feel like this for several months and that the thyroids usually don't start to fail until about 6 months after treatment.

I'm trying hard to maintain my weight by eating lots of soft and wet foods. So far I've maintained my weight since treatment ended! My mouth is still quite dry, but it seems to have gotten better over the past few weeks. One great thing is that my taste is starting to return! I had some cereal the other night and I noticed that I tasted a little sweetness. Until then I could only taste salty and bitter, but now I've started to get sweet back. My sense of taste is still very weak, but anything is better than nothing. Praise God for that!

This week I'm planning on resting as much as I can. The doctor said that my trouble sleeping and night sweats are common after-effects of long term narcotic use. So I'm hoping by next week my body will normalize and I'll start getting better sleep. If all goes well maybe next week I'll also do a little exercise. My doctor recommends some light weight lifting to build back the muscles that have atrophied over the past 5 months.

As for my speech I think it is pretty good. It has gotten a little worse over the past few weeks as the muscles have a tendency to stiffen as they heal. My doctor told me today that the best therapy is to keep stretching and talking a lot while I'm healing. So feel free to call and help me exercise my jaw and tongue muscles.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Looks as Good as New

GRACE WRITES:

On Friday, Andrew and I went to Bible study for the first time in five months. Our friend said: "Andrew, you look as good as new." That is exactly what we were praying for! I can't remember the last time Andrew seemed this healthy. Who knows how long he has been sick for. It seems like he hasn't looked this well since our dating days.

We have so much to be grateful for. That same night, I heard that a woman, who has been battling pancreatic cancer, finally succumbed to it. It occurred to me that if Andrew had had a different form of cancer, he might not be with us now. I had never realized that at the end of the five months it has been since we found out, Andrew could have been the same as that woman. Such a short amount of time. Thank You, Lord, for sparing Andrew, and letting us have him longer.

Adjusting to Normalcy

During treatment, we had only the strength to go one day at a time. We could not really set our sights to the end of treatment, because even when it was only a week away, it seemed too far away. So, we just took it one day at a time.

There was no defining day or moment when the treatment was "over." His last chemo treatment was not the end of the hardship. He still had to go through the nausea and exhaustion. When Andrew finally started feeling better came so gradually, we hardly realized it when we arrived at the end.

When I told my sister Andrew was feeling better, I felt strange when she reminded me that it meant we had made it to the end of his treatment. "It's done?" I said. "Yeah, I guess he is done with his treatments. I am only realizing it this moment." A few days later, I expressed to her how it felt like I had just gotten out of jail. Though I hadn't said that to Andrew, once he realized he was done, he later said the same thing to me, "I feel like I've just been released from jail." It's like we're finally out in the free world, but we don't know how to function in it.

It had been so long, we were almost apprehensive about all the freedom. We had been in the safety of a cacoon. For instance, we felt we had no choice but to take each day one day at a time. Yet now that the future does not look as fearful, we feel the temptation to worry too much about tomorrow. To not live in today. To even become discontent, eager to move on to other things. And so we must remember that even though we are not at the moment experiencing hardship, we are still to live fully in today. Yes, of course we are to plan, but we are not to be anxious for tomorrow or discontent with today. It's as if ease presents with it more temptations to be discontent than when you have no choice but to get really focused on being content amidst the challenges of hardship.

I don't think I felt at the time just how dark of a situation we were going through. And yet now that we are through it, I find myself not looking back at it much, perhaps not desiring to. Sometimes, cancer doesn't even cross my mind the whole day. Yet, as I realize that, I think, I don't want to forget it. We cannot forget the valuable lessons the Lord taught us through it. At the same time, I know that just because we may not be thinking about what happened, we are still changed by it. The Lord had us practice so many things day after day, we have learned them by muscle memory.

For one thing, the Lord had me practice really taking care of a helpless husband. I want to continue to take care of him in the same way, even though he is feeling better now. I am ashamed at how selfish I was before this trial, yet so blind to it. Maybe I don't need to feed him through a tube now, but if there is some other thing I may see he is lacking in, rather than complain about it being one more thing I have to do, I can think of ways that would be most helpful to him in that area. Cancer forced us to see how precious every moment together was. And so I felt grateful to be able to relieve him of pain and take care of him. Now, even though he may not be sick, I can continue to be grateful to be his helper in any way he needs me.
"It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes. The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces" (Psalm 119:71-72).

It's funny. Cancer doesn't even seem like a bad word to me anymore. The word is so common in our household now, rather than feeling foreign and awkward in our mouths, it feels like a familiar friend. The Lord has taught us so much through it. At the same time, when I heard a woman talking about her experience with breast cancer on the radio last week, and how she had had to go through surgery, radiation, and chemo, while she had a two year-old daughter at home, I cried through it. We feel grateful for our experience with it, yet when I hear it out of others' experiences, I hate it. I pray for the Lord to do away with it. Not only in our lives, but in the whole world. Piper talks about it in Don't Waste Your Life. One in two men will get cancer in their lives and one in three women. Something is wrong! This is an epidemic. Piper, himself, says how glorifying to God it would be for Christians to give their lives to science and research to wage war against disease and suffering, and thus display the beauty and power of Christ (p. 116).

Sweeter and Richer

When we first entered upon this trial, I reflected how couples like my sister and her husband say that the beginning of your marriage is the honeymoon period. But when that fades, you move into something much deeper and richer than just the fireworks and lightning of the excitement of finding each other. Before I was married, I didn't know what that could mean. At the beginning of this trial, I was like, Andrew can't leave. We've only just begun our marriage. Now, I feel like this trial was the transition into the deeper, richer part of our marriage. And it's wonderful! To think, that it is only going to get even sweeter and richer than this! Wow! I can't even imagine. To think, we are only growing into being one more and more. And yet, I don't think that is possible without putting to death the selfishness each day. Aren't God's principles so beautiful and so amazing? Die to self and then you will truly live? His principles are so contrary to what one would expect, and yet his principles are true and work!

What now?

In a couple of months, they will do new scans of Andrew to see if the cancer has returned. They will continue to do that every three months the first year and taper it gradually with each year. If the cancer does not return for the next five years, he will be considered cured.

Please pray that Andrew is completely cured of cancer. We pray that we would be able to raise our children and grow old together. Andrew is a deeply loved person by me, A.J. and Gracie, and his parents, just to name a few. We need him so much.

Friday, June 15, 2007

No More Tube!

ANDREW WRITES:

In the last blog I mentioned that I was hoping to get my feeding tube out sooner than the doctor was expecting. The other day the tube site started hurting much more than normal. I called the nurse and she explained that the red swollen lump around the tube that was causing so much pain was actually my stomach pushing itself out of the hole. Thankfully in the Lord's timing it had been just over 3 weeks since my last chemo so the pain in my mouth and throat was subsiding. The worst of the pain in my mouth is usually about 2-3 weeks after chemo treatments. So I was able to start taking all my calories through the mouth, and finally got my tube out on Wednesday. Praise the Lord! It almost doesn't feel right that I should be able to feel this good.

The other day I told Grace that it doesn't seem right that things would actually go well for me. I don't feel like I deserve to feel better, or get my tube out early. I told her that I feel like if things are going well now, it just means that something bad is going to happen soon. I guess I had gotten used to difficulty of treatment that I wasn't really expecting the Lord to bless me so much in the recovery. But then I thought to myself, God isn't like that. He is not just waiting give me another bad thing that I deserve. He isn't hateful and mean. Instead, He is gracious and merciful. Praise God for answering the prayers of His saints for my recovery!

Psa 145:8-12 The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.
All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD, and all your saints shall bless you!
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power, to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Recovery Road

ANDREW WRITES:

Now that treatment is complete I'm in recovery mode. My body is still very tired, and healing from the damage done by the radiation and chemotherapy, but I am feeling better every day.

At my last doctor's visit they said I was recovering on plan. Even though I am still on strong pain killers for the soreness in my mouth and throat, I started eating partial meals of mostly soft foods so that I can exercise all the damaged muscles. The doctors say that exercising the muscles and doing stretches during the healing process will help reduce the amount of permanent scarring.

My body is still very weak and therefore needing lots of rest. Right now I still try to sleep a lot and just do a small amount of physical activity each day like walking or some yard work. I have to be careful not to over-exert myself because I get tired really quickly.

My doctor said I can get my feeding tube out in a couple more weeks, but I'm really hoping to get it out sooner if I can manage to take all my calories through my mouth and not lose any weight.

I feel so good right now compared to how I was feeling during treatment. I'm so thankful for Grace who took such good care of me during the toughest last weeks of treatment. There were times when I just wanted to give up, but she kept encouraging me to take it 15 minutes at a time.

Thanks to all of you who have helped me make it through the past 5 months. It has been a difficult, yet worthwhile experience. As Grace said in her recent blog, we've just learned so much through cancer that we can't imagine not having gone through this.

Praise to our God who is faithful each and every moment.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Endoscopy - Like Going to the Spa

Maybe in a few months, I may look back and think I was just crazy. At the moment, it seems like the most natural thing to me that today I enjoyed having an endoscopy.

About six months ago my new allergist did a blood test to find out if I'm allergic to gluten and wheat, in order to determine if that was the source of my life-long struggles with eczema. Some people are only allergic, and if you completely exclude gluten from your diet for a few years, there is the possibility of getting rid of the allergy. On the other hand, there are those with a gluten-intolerance that actually have something called "celiac's disease," a life-long intolerance in which gluten can destroy the villi in your stomach, causing you to be unable to absorb nutrients, resulting in weight loss, lack of energy, and many other problems. Once you find out you have a gluten allergy, which I do, the only way to diagnose if you actually have celiac's disease is to have a biopsy done via endoscopy. An endoscopy is when they stick a tube down your throat until it reaches your stomach. I guess there's a camera attached and they look around with a monitor while they take samples from your esophogus, intestines, and stomoach. Andrew wanted me to get this done while his mom is still staying with us before she leaves mid-June.

When I first arrived at the hospital, they put me on a bed and two really nice nurses attended to me. They pampered me with so many questions about me: "Are you allergic to latex? Do you have diabetes? Is it difficult to find your vein whenever they put an IV in you?" I liked all the attention. As they left the room, they stuck a clipboard at the base of my bed, brushing past my feet. Are they going to give me a foot massage too?

When they wheeled me into the room where they perform the ten minute endoscopy, I was met by another really friendly, warm nurse. She told me that they were going to put a sedative in through my IV. I might start feeling 'out of it' within a minute, some people feel it in 15 seconds. They said I might not fall asleep, but I would probably forget the whole thing.

The next thing I know, the really nice nurses are wheeling me out of the room. The procedure is done. I felt like I was a child again and had three moms taking care of me. Childhood memories in New Jersey flickered through my mind, the summer sun glaring through my windows, as I lay cacooned in my bed. The shrill, vibrating of the cicadas stirring me further from my sleep. "I feel so happy," I said to the nurse. "Is that just the medicine?"

As they transferred me into a wheelchair, they said I needed to go home and take a two hour nap and relax for the rest of the evening. Life could not have gotten better at that moment. The only thing I remember saying in my delirium was, "Wow, everyone's so nice to me, taking care of me, I feel like I've just been to a spa."

Friday, May 25, 2007

Why Cancer Has Been Worthwhile

They warned us that his sores would get worse after radiation ended. A few days after he finished radiation, Andrew's sores began to continue past his mouth down into his throat. His neck started peeling, as if he had 2nd or 3rd degree burns. Thankfully, he wears two "pain patches" now, stickers he wears that provide a constant flow of pain meds, double what he had before. So, as bad as it looked, his body was numb to just about everything, including most of the pain.

Andrew had his last chemo on Tuesday. We were expecting this to be the worst one, but he said that he doesn't feel half as bad as last time. There's probably a number of factors why this one is better, but one of the reasons we suspect he has improved, ironically, is because he took only two of the four anti-nausea drugs. Andrew refused the two that keep him from sleeping at night. As a result, he basically slept 72 hours straight and he seems only to be continuing in the same pattern. He only awoke when I had to feed him or maybe to switch to another room to go back to sleep. So the nausea is much less, and any nausea he does have, he mostly sleeps through. This is just what we were hoping for.

Andrew said, 'If this is how much I actually need to sleep, you wonder why they gave me stimulants. One of the worst forms of torture has got to be forcing someone to stay awake when they're so exhausted.' The Lord really answered our prayers that he wouldn't feel so sick and unbearably nauseous this time.


Preparing before Cancer

A few months before Andrew's cancer diagnosis, it was as if the Lord was preparing me for this. A couple of times, I had this vague image flash through my mind of Andrew being totally bedridden, unable to even open his mouth to talk to me. I remember weighing it in my mind for a moment. What would I do in such a situarion? I would have to choose to love him with all my heart and take care of him, though maybe all the things I love about him might not even show through if he was terribly ill. It would be hard to not even be able to converse. I shrugged it off as fear and thinking on what's untrue. And even if there was any truth to it, I thought, it was probably not something to worry about for another forty years or more. Twenty years at the least. Hopefully.

Then, after we found out Andrew had cancer, as I begged the Lord that he wouldn't have to go through radiation and chemo, it kept coming to mind that the Lord wanted to bring us to complete weakness. He wanted to press us. He wanted me to take care of my husband, in the way I had pictured, for more than just a few days after surgery. He wanted me to practice it so that it was like doing scales on the piano day after day.

Being Stuffed into a Play-doh Press

The past few months remind me of A.J.'s play-doh press. You stuff the play-doh into the contraption. The play-doh puts up a lot of resistance, so you gradually push the handle down. When the play-doh is as compressed as it can get, the pressure becomes so great that it finally squeezes the play-doh out of the hole. I feel as if that is what the Lord has been doing to me. Andrew's second chemo, when it was so awful, was like the period when the pressure on the play-doh is the greatest, when the handle is pushed all the way down, and finally all the junk comes squeezing out. The Lord showed me what I was really made out of. Where my hope really lay. Was my hope in Him, was it eternal, or was it for here and now? Was sunshine, comfort, and ease all I am living for? Have I bought in to the American dream that much?

One of the blessings of this trial, as all the junk is being exposed, is that Andrew and I are taking turns holding each other up. "Two are better than one...If one falls down, his friend can help him up...Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken" (Eccl.4:10,12). I've never thought of myself as a particularly envious person before. Yet as this trial has worn on, I find myself struggling with envy towards nearly everyone, anyone younger, prettier, living where the sun actually shines. Andrew reminded me, I've been told a lie all my life. For all of history, life has not been easy for people. Yet only now, in modern America, where our country is so prosperous, do we expect life to be easy. Then, when it's not, we're confused and frustrated. He reminded me that I was not thinking on what's eternal, but on what's visible.

When Andrew is feeling so discouraged by his discomfort, and fears a future of continual struggles with cancer, I remind him that tomorrow is too big of a burden for us to carry. Today has enough trouble of its own. The Lord has not provided the grace yet for the unknown future, only for right now. We have to live by faith, not by sight.

But as we confess our struggles to one another and try to help each other with the truths of God's Word, true fellowship occurs. Then praise God! Let us glory in God's promises and His Word together, and if trials are what drives us to those, then thank the Lord for those trials. Because nothing is sweeter and more satisfying than God, talking about Him, what He says and does.

The Depths that Lead to Heights

After Andrew's second chemo, laying in the dark as he heaved repeatedly with nothing coming out, I thought, We are in the depths. We are finally here. Where the Lord wanted to take us. Since then, my times alone with the Lord in the morning, when I can read His Word and pray, have been what they should be, sweet, rich, preparing me for what the day has ahead, leaving my heart filled with peace so that I can approach my day undistracted by anxieties. I find contentment not in whether things are going well or not, but in my time alone with the Lord. I'm able to lay all my burdens upon Him and cry out for wisdom about all the things I'm perplexed about. And He quiets me, bringing to mind answers to my cries, correcting me and reassuring me with His Word. "Trust in Him at all times, O people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us" (Psalm 62:8)

Prior to Andrew's second chemo, I still felt a little cold in my heart, independent, self-reliant. But at the end of myself, the Lord drew me to Him each morning, and gradually turned my heart towards Him again. And now I long to flee to Him each day, unable to face the day without first carrying all my anxieties before Him. It's a life-long battle to not become cold. But in weakness, when we can no longer depend upon ourselves but on Him, He is our strength.

When I shared all these things with Andrew, he said, "Then I'm happy, now, that I had to go through that."

"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body" (2 Cor. 4:7-10).

In so many ways, we feel like we could not have done without this trial. We see His mercy in being so jealous for His glory that He would be willing to do this in order for us to grow. While we pray that these radiation and chemo treatments are effective and that the Lord in His mercy and compassion heals Andrew, we do not feel bitter for these sufferings, we feel grateful.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Update 5/16/07

ANDREW WRITES:

Hi everybody! I had my last day of radiation today!

Thanks so much for helping me make it through radiation and my first two chemo treatments. I couldn't have done it without all the encouragement and help from you all. I still have one more chemo treatment left on Thursday 5/24. After that, the radiation and chemo will continue to kill cells in my body for up to a month. Then I should start my recovery mid-June. My doctor doesn't expect me to be able to return to work until the end of July.

It has been so hard on my body, and each day is different. I'm so thankful that though the outer body is decaying, the inner man is renewed daily. The Lord has been faithful to me, as His child. Please pray for physical and spiritual strength to make it through the next month. This will be the hardest part of my treatment.

Here's a short video.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Steadfastness of the Lord

The Lord knows the weakness of my frame and I have seen Him carrying me through this even though I have often failed to cling to Him. In those times of greatest weakness, where I was too faint-hearted and cold-hearted to flee to Him, still He carried me. He is showing me how much more tender-hearted, compassionate, and gentle He is. How, now that I am His child, He does not condemn me. I keep thinking that this situation isn't so bad, that I should be stronger, yet still He treats me with such compassion. He is opening my eyes to how compassionate and gentle He is in new ways. Rereading Mark, suddenly I see as if I had been blind to how often it says Jesus had compassion. He is not like us. He is so gentle.

For instance, last night, I felt myself sinking into loneliness again. I laid down on my bed, not sure why I felt so drained. I wondered how I could be sinking again. I thought I was through this. I talked to God. I cried out to Him to help me. Just then, the phone rang. My friend, Jaime, was calling to wish me a happy birthday. It was so good to talk to her. I cried a bit when she asked me how I was doing. We talked briefly about that, but I find nowadays, when I talk to people it's not that I need to talk about how I'm feeling necessarily. More than that, I like to travel into their world. Find out funny things that have happened to them or even if things aren't going so well for them, I still want to hear about it. Sometimes, when I feel so weak, the Lord uses another believer to encourage me. How we truly need the brethren.

I'm thankful for the fellowship God provides over the phone. How hungry I am to hear what the Lord is doing in other people's hearts, to find encouragement in that. To hear what God is teaching them, thus reminding me of truths about the Lord. And to hear that, yes, God is at work. To be reminded how powerful He is as He does miracles in people's hearts to grow them more into His image.

It was really encouraging to receive a card from our Sunday School last Sunday. Nearly everyone who signed the card said that they were either praying for us daily or multiple times throughout the day every day. When I saw so many people saying that and all on the same card, it helped me to see more clearly that God truly is at work through this trial. That if He is getting so many people to be so prayerful, to feel so burdened for another brother, then He is definitely at work. It is one thing to know that during a trial, God is making you more holy. But it seems so much more necessary to go through it when the Lord is also using it to make many others more holy. Then, the trial really seems to have purpose. Then, we really feel like we have to go through this, for others' sake.

A.J.'s Prayer

This week, I've been helping A.J. learn how to pray before bed at night. At first, I told him just to repeat after me. We thanked the Lord for each person in the house and then prayed for Papa's healing. By Wednesday, when A.J. got in bed, I told him again that we were going to pray. Before I could start, he suddenly said, "Dear Lor, Papa? feel better?"

When I see the children, I just can't get away from the fact that they are sooo wonderful and so enjoyable. I cannot get away from the fact that the Lord has so blessed us with them. And then the Lord brings to mind so many of the ways He continues to be faithful and gentle with us. I mean, with Job, not merely did he suffer physically. All of his numerous children died along with all his livestock, his riches. Then, his wife, the one he was most vulnerable to, was the most discouraging of all, telling him to curse God and die. And as if that were not enough, his friends would not stop railing about how all of his misfortune was his own fault. It was one unimaginable horror after the next.

And yet, really, all that we have to deal with is only one of the miseries of job - his physical pain. Yet, in everything else, the Lord continues to pour out such sweetness. In every way, the Lord continues to be faithful. Faithful by pouring out good things and faithful by blessing us with the suffering He promises His children will go though. "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." James 1:3-4.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Second Chemo

Well, for us, no news is usually not good news.

Last Thursday, Andrew had his second dose of chemo. We thought the first dose was bad; Andrew said this was much worse. He was incredibly nauseous, despite how they had lowered the chemo dosage and given him additional anti-nausea medicine on top of the super heavy-duty ones he was already taking. (Just to give you an idea how heavy-duty, Emend, a pill he has to take the first three days when he gets chemo, would cost $100 per pill without insurance. He takes three other pills on top of that.)

In the evening, Andrew would awaken me with his dry heaves. It continued throughout the night. The drugs keep him from actually vomiting so that he doesn't get dehydrated. His saliva has turned into a thick, viscous substance more like flem, causing him to gag every few minutes. He also feeds himself purely through the feeding tube.

On Saturday, he was so worn out, he didn't even have the strength to go to the sink to feed himself his formula. Even water makes him nauseous. And since the only taste he can taste is bitterness, the only thing he can drink is orange-strawberry Gatorade. But at this point, he was mostly getting his fluids through the tube. The next day, Sunday, I was hoping he might start feeling better like last time. He said, he felt even worse. The nausea finally began to improve Tuesday, although he continues to be still nauseous today (Wednesday).

Watching your husband suffer, you suffer as well, but not in the same way. I believe that as close of a view of his suffering you may see, no one truly knows what the depths of physical suffering is except for those who have passed through it themselves. I cannot truly know what my husband is feeling, even if he had the strength to talk (which he doesn't). And if the medicines don't give him relief, if I go for a walk or leave the house, I enjoy a relief he is unable to. He continues to writhe. My distress is in watching my beloved in so much pain. My distress is when he walks up the stairs as pale as a corpse and images of him leaving us rush in.

I used to worry that if things do not go as we desire, where will we live? How can I raise our children without Papa? How will I manage everything without him? How will I sell the house on my own, etc. One night early on, I pictured building an apartment for the kids and myself in my sister's laundry room in her basement. Somehow, that lonely image is comforting to me. It's not exactly thinking on what's untrue, just as life-insurance or savings for an unexpected set-back isn't. It's not what I place my hope in, just like I don't place my hope in savings. It's just an image, a quick answer instead of questions.

The Week in Solitude

Last week was a bad week.

All the grandmas had left, leaving me with no one to talk to. On top of that, nearly everyone we knew was either sick themselves or had been in contact with a sick family member. In the push to protect Andrew from picking up any cold germs, which could turn into deathly pneumonia, we had self-inflicted isolation.

Normally, I would have at least gone to church alone on Sunday, but since I had a cold, I missed that too. Andrew was also too worn-out for us to go anywhere. And the grey skies and heavy clouds continued to mark the 10-day weather forcast. People here say that every two years, the sun only lasts from July 4th until September. I feared that the spring I was pressing on for might never come. I was so discontent, unable even to listen to light, happy music and had to change the station if a Christion song came on that college roommates used to play, because it made me so covetous for sunny and carefree days.

Talking with my friend on the phone, whose husband also had been very sick a few years ago, was the first step in helping me out of my misery. She shared with me the feelings she had gone through and the sinful responses she sometimes had. She kept reminding me of the gospel though, that the Lord wipes away our sin, and we can leave the guilt behind and start anew. It also helped just to hear someone validate my feelings, so I could sift through them and identify them so I could know how to respond to them.

It has been so long since Andrew has been available to talk much or even go for a walk that my loneliness morphed into something nearly unrecognizable for me to realize what I was feeling. Without anyone staying with us, I had no one to distract me from my lonliness for Andrew. And so, next thing I knew, I felt desperately old and ugly. I felt like I was having a mid-life crisis a few years early.

An author writing about cancer once wrote that when he was in his hospital room, looking out the window, he saw a happy couple walking into a Starbucks, and he longed to be them. I have Starbucks moments all the time. At church this Sunday, I saw a young woman walking past her husband with a pretty, new outfit on. An image of her shopping in the sun, holding hands with her husband at an outdoor mall flashed through my eyes. I had to compose myself. I had to hold in the tears. I longed to walk in the sun with my husband.

I wondered if I'm wasting away what's left of my youth in a dungeon of sunlessness. But Satan would have me complain and be discontent. But what do I want most in life? Isn't it to glorify God? And the only way to do that is to grow in godliness? And has not the Lord matured us most here? The fast track to maturity in misery. Let the Lord do as He pleases. The clouds often come before the sunshine. David was not left in the mountains forever, nor were the Israelites left in the wilderness forever. Learn the lessons, then perhaps the Lord will bring the desires of your heart. When I was single, I was not left to long for a husband forever. Then the Lord blessed me with Andrew and two children on top of that.

"Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life." (Proverbs 13:12)

And then, yesterday, was a gloriously sunny day. I was unexpectedly awakened an hour and-a-half early, so I started on my routine early. Later, I checked online and the store I had a gift card for was having a sale. After the children had breakfast, my neighbor called, who I was supposed to go on a walk with, canceling. Since I had had a headstart earlier, our morning was free. The sunshine helped Andrew, and he was beginning to feel better. He sent my mother-in-law and I and the kids off to the outdoor mall.

It was so good to feel the warm sun against my skin as we walked past the stores! It was exactly how I had pictured it, minus my husband. But the Lord provided some new clothes for me, making me feel pretty, not so old and ugly anymore. It was so kind of the Lord to provide the perfect morning for me, attending to little desires like that. The Lord truly withholds no good thing from us, even the little things. He knows our hearts and treats us so tenderly, like a husband. The Lord truly is our Everything - our Friend, our Brother, our Savior, our Husband.

For Thou has been my
stronghold,
And a refuge in the day of my distress.
O my strength, I will sing praises to Thee,
For God is my stronghold, the God who shows me
lovingkindness.

Psalm 59:16-17

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Eating

ANDREW WRITES:

Hi everybody. Here's another update video. I'm feeling a lot better this week as I started on some better pain medications and I have gotten over the cold I had last week. My next chemo treatment is this Thursday, May 3rd. Please pray for me, the chemo is really hard on my body. I'm not really looking forward to it, but I just have to do it.

I've completed 18 radiation treatments, so I only have 12 more to go. My last chemo is scheduled for May 24th. The doctors say that the effects will worsen for about a month after that. So I basically have 7 weeks left before my body will start to recover.

In the video below I'm having lunch through a tube. I get all of my nutrition from two types of formula. It took some getting used to, but now it feels pretty normal to inject fluids into my stomach. The taste function in my mouth doesn't really work anymore, but my smell does. If I'm lucky the closest I get to tasting food is injecting some tasty soup into the tube, burping and smelling it. Nice, huh?

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Any Suggestions?

GRACE WRITES:

In the midst of all of this difficulty, one of the things Andrew and I look forward to is going on a short second honeymoon, Lord willing, just the two of us, once Andrew gets through treatment and is feeling better. We're not sure where to go though. So as we were thinking through our plans, it occurred to me to ask for suggestions. Let us know what you think! Send us an email or leave a comment on the blog with suggestions.

The most important thing is that it is sunny, near water and hiking, relaxing, and affordable.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

No More Death

GRACE WRITES:

When I see Andrew in so much pain, it makes me so grateful that the Lord has mercifully saved us. What hope we have! Even if the rest of our lives we're suffering, there is no more death, no more tears, no more sickness in heaven. Just rejoicing!

At the same time, I feel grateful, because it reminds me of what the Lord has saved us from. How much worse the suffering in hell will be! And yet, there is no medicine for the pain, no TV to distract, no naps as an escape.

In just a split-second there, the misery will be infinitely worse than a life-time of suffering on this earth.

Thank the Lord that we don't have to go there! I'm so grateful Christ has provided peace with God through His death on the cross.

I'm so thankful that I don't have to make excuses for my sin to alleviate the guilt. I can flee to the gospel! My sin is so ugly, and yet Christ says: "There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ." Thank You, Lord, thank you.

How desperately we believers need the gospel every day as every day we fail to meet His perfect standard. There is no one like the Lord, who continually accepts us, because of Jesus.


A.J.'s Dealings with Papa's Cancer

A.J. has had a hard time with this whole period of Andrew's treatments. He knows that something is wrong.

Andrew, A.J.'s best friend, has not been able to pick him up very much the past two months since his surgery, lest A.J. touch Andrew's delicate neck or inadvertently pull on his feeding tube. Not to mention, there's a constant changing of the guard in the grandma role. He must be wondering who else is going to change. Papa? Mama? Why are we often gone when he wakes up from his nap?

The other day, Andrew wasn't feeling well, so I was trying to help him. At the same time, I felt worried about the children, who were probably wondering why two grandmas were giving them a bath instead of Mama.

A few minutes later, I heard A.J. screaming from his room at the top of his lungs as if he was about to give birth to a baby in the bathroom. I looked at my watch. Ten minutes to his bedtime. Someone must have put him in his crib a few minutes early not realizing we have a bed time routine. A.J. probably panicked, especially because he loves the time he has with us when we put him down.

I picked up A.J. and brought him into our room. I said, "Do you want to help Mama comfort Papa?" I sat him down in my lap before Andrew's feet.

A.J. gently rubbed his hands over Papa's feet, trying to help me. He was so happy. He crawled from the foot of the bed up to Andrew and took his hand. Then, he turned towards me and held my hand. He smiled at Andrew: "Papa," he said. He beamed at me: "Mama." He looked back and forth between the two of us: "Papa. Mama. Papa. Mama."

A.J. embraced me. He turned towards Andrew and threw his arms around him.


A Visit to One Sicker Than Andrew

On Friday, I went with my aunt to visit her brother's friend, Tito Rudy, nearby who is in the most advanced stages of pancreatic cancer.

His wife answered the door. She already knew about Andrew. Though she had never met me before, she took me into her arms, and said, "Oh, she's so young." Cancer has a way of stripping away all the superficial and unnecessary.

I looked into her face, surprised at what was going on in my mind. I was wondering how she was doing, how she could possibly be handling this, though shouldn't I of anyone know? But all the doctors had given up on her husband. I did not understand that.

Yet, her face seemed to reflect my own questions. She kept expressing concern about me. "Listen, she said. If there is anything we can do, I want you to know we want to help you," she said repeatedly throughout our visit.

She showed us to into Tito Rudy's room. Tito Rudy struggled to sit up in bed. He is a man in his sixties with white hair.

He had only met my aunt one other time, yet he hugged her and took both my hands when she introduced me.

Then, practically interrupting our introductions, he said to my aunt suddenly, "Manang Bing, will you pray for me?"

Aunty, though a little surprised, prayed. And then, while she was midway through saying "amen," she said, "Gracie, you can pray too."

I was a little caught off guard. I prayed the only things I could think of to pray, since I had just met him: the same things that I always request for Andrew. We had hardly been in their home a few minutes, yet tears rushed to my eyes as I prayed. I prayed for his physical pain relief, for the peace of Christ to comfort his heart, and praised the Lord that in eternity there is no more pain, no more tears, no more death, where we shall see our Savior face to face.