Sunday, December 06, 2009
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
My first trip ever to the Philippines was after I graduated from UCLA in 2002. I lived in the city of Bacolod for six months as part of the staff of Campus Bible Fellowship (CBF), a college ministry. My second trip there was a year later on my honeymoon travels with Andrew. Every trip I take to the Philippines, this having been my third, is life-changing and amazing.
After I arrived in the Philippines this time around, I discovered I had forgotten my journal, something I have never forgotten on a trip before. When I searched around for something to use instead, I found at the bottom of my backpack something unexpected.
It was a brown journal that I had used in 2003-2004. It began at mine and Andrew's engagement and ended in the Philippines during our honeymoon.
During our honeymoon, Andrew and I had traveled from January to April 2004. After a week in Kauai, we spent nine days in Hong Kong and nearly three weeks traveling throughout the Philippines, which included Manila, the capital, Borocay, a white sand beach that was the closest place to heaven on earth, and the city of Bacolod, where Campus Bible Fellowship and my friends and relatives were.
Since Andrew died, it has been strange returning to so many of the things that identified me before he and I were married and settled down in one place, like ballet or trekking through the Philippines. It is like my five years married to him were a mere hiccup, always meant to be temporary, like high school or college. As if I was "Grace" all my life, then I thought I would be "GraceAndrew" for the rest of my life, but instead I'm back to "justGrace."
This makes me feel sad, incredibly disappointed, and foolish reading journal entries from our engagement about how I had finally found the one I would spend the rest of my life with.
Borocay, Philippines. 2004.
I thought I would share with you some of my thoughts from our earliest days of marriage. On February 19, 2004 during our honeymoon excursion in the Philippines, I wrote:
"Fellowshipping with the Campus Bible Fellowship staff was incredibly refreshing, invigorating, and sharpening.
"My closest friend, Shubie (Anne Juliet) asked me what marriage was like. I said sometimes it's so wonderful, you think you must have exceeded the human capacity for happiness. And sometimes, it's challenging and difficult as you work through sin together.
"Sometimes Andrew and I are so happy together, I just don't know what to do with myself. I didn't know it was possible to love someone so much that being near him, nothing, feels like enough. You imagine the only suitable thing would be to crawl inside his lung cavity and sit there, if it were possible. Missing him, especially last year while I was waiting to return to him from the Philippines was like missing my left lung. It was difficult to breathe. Difficult to remember to breathe.
Above, Andrew is eating balut, a nearly developed duck embryo that is
boiled and eaten in its shell that CBF uses to welcome - or rather challenge -
all their international guests. You can feel the fur and wings when you bite
"Sometimes I don't know what to do with all the happiness. Praises to my lover. Kisses, hugs. Tell everyone I can about my love for him. And yet with marriage, it seems propriety must reduce, must restrain our words. So then you write about it. And then that way not only can you tell all you feel, you don't have to confine it to only the people you know, but to strangers and to any you have known but haven't seen in ages."
The engagement/honeymoon journal ended in the middle of the book, so that half of it was blank. So I used it for my journal while I was in the Philippines this past October 2009.
And so, the brown journal ended in the Philippines at the beginning of our marriage in February 2004 and picked up again in the Philippines October 2009 after our marriage had ended.
Five years after the last entry above, after all the loss, my first day in the Philippines in 2009, I wrote in the same journal:
"Apprehensive, as usual this year about a trip, knowing I didn't have any idea what to expect. Getting onto the airplane Friday night seeing the expansive interior of the airplane, I was struck that this was the first time on that type of international plane since I traveled with Andrew for several months after we were married.
"Everything had seemed so new and unreal back then, like a dream. I was always afraid that I was going to wake up. I mean, who gets to marry their obsession? Now, it is as if it really were a dream, ephemeral, the bubble popped, and he is gone. He is only a dream to me. Our past together is only a dream now.
"Struck again when I arrived at an internet cafe to check my email after several days of being cut off from the rest of the world. Struck that the last time I was at an internet cafe was with Andrew on our honeymoon. And the time before that was when I was writing to him while he was in Los Angeles and I was in the Philippines. And I would tell him everything about this third world country that was so new and different, it felt like being born all over again and America had only been conjured up as a fantasy based off a Coca-cola billboard. And he would tell me about his lone Saturday early mornings on his motorcycle, singing worship songs as he rode into the mountains. He said when he saw God's creation, no one could ever tell him that God was not good. I fell in love with that man.
"When I am feeling fine about Andrew, it is like I have a black screen inserted, like one of the screens they use in a bee farm, and it as if I put that screen down in my life to block off all the past. That if I look back, all there is is a black screen, so I can move on and feel okay.
"This is really funny because I have lived all my life with a backward glance. The past was always so significant to me. I think that's why I loved history so much, because it was my extended past, whether Western history, or the history of Southeast Asia or the history of the Philippines. Or it was simply the history of people, and I am related to all people, and their cultures, and their history have always been so poignant, rich, and significant to me.
"So much about what Andrew and I would write each other in our 6 page single-spaced emails was about the 21 and 22 years previous to meeting each other. Somehow, all our childhood and past experiences meant so much to us. We were giving our pasts to each other.
"When Andrew died, as little by little I put his things away, I found myself putting away all my old clothes with his. It hurt to look at them. The pink blouse I wore to his graduation, the long denim skirt with black lace stretched over the front denim in a big triangle that I had bought during a missions trip to Thailand in the midst of my 6 months in the Philippines that he liked, my old jeans. The person who wore those clothes belonged to Andrew and she died with him. I wanted to give my whole self to Andrew, to abandon my heart, my past, my devotion, everything to him. And I did. And I'm thankful. And he took it with him and it was buried with his body.
"So maybe there is some relief that my past went with him. Because I don't need it anymore. The stories no longer pursue me. They belong to him. And I'm grateful the Lord ever gave me someone to give it to."
Friday, October 30, 2009
China Airlines. On flight from Taipei to Anchorage.
I had originally gone to the Philippines, because my parents take a trip there every year, and before Andrew was diagnosed the second time in March of 2008, my parents had offered to take us with them to the Philippines. So I thought even though Andrew was gone, maybe the kids and I could go. I thought it would be a nice time to relax as well as visit with old friends and relatives.
Old friends from Campus Bible Fellowship during their college
retreat. Many old CBFers have started their own CBF's throughout the
Philippines, and the retreat ended up being a reunion for those old
It turned out to be way better than that! While originally my friend, Shubie, had asked me to share mine and Andrew's story at Campus Bible Fellowship's annual retreat, after we arrived in the Philippines, one of my aunts also asked me to share our story at her church and another aunt asked me to share our story at a luncheon at her resort she had thrown for many of our relatives and friends of the family. Finally, my friend Ryan, a fellow 2003 Campus Bible Fellowship staff member, asked me to share mine and Andrew's story at his Bible study.
"Every trip I take to the Philippines is life-changing and amazing. Asolutely loved getting to share mine and Andrew's stories a total of four times. Awesome ministering alongside Shubie and Manong Errol, like a tag-team."
This may sound strange to some of you that the highlight of my trip was speaking to audiences of cancer and losing my beloved. But it wasn't just that. It was about Andrew - and I love talking about Andrew - and it was about Jesus and His faithfulness, and His forgiveness, and His kindness, and His mercy, and that in the end, this will have all made sense. The Bible promises that our suffering, that everything that happens to those who love Jesus, is for our good and for His glory. We will see that when we see Jesus face to face. But for now, so much of that is just believed by faith. And so it is so gracious of the Lord that He would provide opportunities for me to see with my own eyes even in this lifetime that Andrew's life and suffering and death was not meaningless but is impacting people for Jesus even now.
I am so grateful to my many relatives, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, my parents, who came to hear me speak at those events, sometimes multiple events.
"And while Shubie (Anne Juliet) was my best friend before, and I enjoyed our friendship, it has been even more enjoyable after a five-year interval of being apart, yet experiencing God's faithfulness in our lives through massive trials for the both of us to burn away the dross. Absolutely fascinating to me to see the notion that as we get holier, good relationships get even better due to the sanctification that God brings about through the very means of trials. Holier people means holier relationships means happier, more enjoyable relationships."
Amazing that God would provide a glimpse of the reality of James 1:2-4: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
Amazing that Jesus graciously provided a glimpse of the reality rather than merely having to walk only by faith all the time. It makes me really want to actually consider my trials "pure joy." To actually rejoice in them as He commands.
Because trials, through all the pain, make you more like Jesus, and thus make life more enjoyable, even in the midst of all the hurt and pain and suffering and misery of living in a fallen world.
How the Philippines Impacts Me Here in Minnesota
Yesterday was a really hard day, full of failures and sin, frustration, and impatience with my children. Rather than cry out to Jesus, I just cried, hard-hearted and wanting to be left alone by my kids and God, because I was tired of difficulty. I was tired of God having His way, because His way only proved hard and impossible.
But when I see suffering Christians more joyful than anyone else, because they're not surprised by suffering and they don't resist their suffering but embrace it, this gives me hope. It encourages me that I don't have to be frustrated and that I can have their joy too. Because I already have their Christ.
Shubie says, "Why not embrace suffering, because to embrace our suffering is to embrace Christ."
I'd have to say that the over-arching emotion that still pervades our home may be disappointment. But after the Philippines, I am encouraged to press on. And that through Christ, it actually may be possible to rejoice and pursue joy even in the midst of my suffering and broken-heartedness.
I mean, who actually thinks it is possible to rejoice after the loss of their love or rejoice when left unexpectedly to be a single mom? To rejoice when the life she had built for her husband - her home and her children - when the very one for whom it was a gift, is gone?
Yet through Christ, all things must be possible. In Philippians 4:13 Paul says, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength." He is referring to being content in all circumstances, and exhorting the Philippians to rejoice always.
I want to be like Jesus. To be sorrowful, yet still rejoicing. I want Him to glorify Himself through my life. That is why I became a Christian. Because there is no other life to live than one spent for Him. There is no other life to live than one in which Jesus is conforming me more into His image. And the more that He makes me like Himself, the happier I will be. And so if I want to be like Jesus, and if Jesus promises that suffering makes us more mature and complete, then I can count it a privilege that God would be so faithful so as to hurt me to make me more like Him so that I can be happier in Him.
Our American culture may say, "Pursue comfort. Pursue ease, otherwise you're just gonna waste this life. Pursue comfort, because you'll never be happy otherwise." These lies pursue me every day, and when I give into them, I only end up frustrated, because I am living in a broken world with a broken heart.
But Jesus offers me hope. I may never have what America worships, comfort and ease, but Jesus offers me something way better - Himself. I'm so thankful that Jesus forgives me every day, though I fail constantly, and go after other things to satisfy me rather than Him. That just as His death has paid the price for my sin, His resurrection offers me hope of change. That while I struggle to rejoice in my difficulties, He can grow, even such a wretched sinner as me, to more and more be able to rejoice in my sufferings.
For more pictures and details about our trip to the beautiful Philippines, go to: http://www.graceandrew.shutterfly.com/. Check it out!
Tuesday, October 06, 2009
Alongside her dresses, she has been begging me to take ballet. She has always loved dancing. Even before she could walk she was swaying her hips to the music, and for as long as she could form just a few words, she would always ask Andrew and I to turn up the music in the car. So this month she started taking a 45 minute dance class once a week down the street that is half tap and half ballet.
Me and my girl with our tap shoes on.
Before her class, I couldn't help but whip out my college tap shoes, turn on some jazz, and show her some stuff. I forgot how fun it is! I think the last time I put my tap shoes on was in college. This reminded me of how all our college Bible study's apartments (typical Westwood style was 5 roommates to two bedrooms, so there were a lot of us to cause mayhem) used to get a kick out of tormenting each other, everything from brutal balloon fights to all kinds of pranks, including one apartment frying my gold fish and sticking it to my door. Thus, I got a kick out of practicing tap in my kitchen every night for apartment 101 below to listen to and enjoy for 20 weeks. After awhile they said they could hear I was improving.
The next day, Gracie was wearing a flamenco dress, which I had brought back originally for my niece, Zoe, when I had studied a semester in Spain nine years ago. We like to flamenco dance in our living room to flamenco music.
She loves wearing my flamenco shoes.
Our neighbors showed up, so she got too shy to show us her flamenco arms. She's really good at it though, so I will eventually try to get a picture up of her at it. They tried dancing with her to get her to loosen up, to no avail.
My girl's 3 year-old amazing dancer foot.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Though I probably cried daily the first few months, it really wasn't that bad. When I wasn't having a good, quick cry, I was often fine. As summer began to approach, however, this began to change.
At the end of May, I wrote in my journal, "Gracie asked me to sing 'the church song' tonight as I laid alone with her on mine and Andrew's old bed in the red room." Gracie had been sleeping alone on our old bed every night, and I had only come in there to pray with her and sing to her.
"I sang I Will Glory in My Redeemer, and for a moment, as my mind began to wonder into the lyrics themselves, into other thoughts outside of the room, it was as if thoughts of Andrew began to float away from my head. Then, the usual panic, the 'No, how can I not keep him sealed in my head? He might float away into heaven, and become a distant memory, hard to be plucked out of heaven and into my head as the daily hubby, my Andrew.'
"I continued to sing to Gracie, my thoughts returning to the room and all those times I had sung this song in it. He always wanted me to sing to him, the only tangible thing to soothe and comfort Andrew in his lonely muteness and suffering."
I thought of how worshipping God through song had gotten us through so much of our trial together and how particularly he had craved it in the hospital for his previous surgeries or at his worst times. And so we had sung to him the last three days on his deathbed in the hospital day and night, my sister and I, or just me, or me and his family, or with David, our worship pastor, and his guitar, and Bob, my brother-in-law/pastor/professional singer. It was as if the molecules in his room were full with worship, a bubble around all of us undulating with sound. When Andrew's hospital room was awash with worship, the other patients, who could walk, all gathered at Andrew's door.
We sang to him, knowing the morphine could not reach his heart, singing, knowing he had always longed for the music like David's harp to Saul's demons.
"As I lay next to Gracie, I had trouble with the humming part of I Will Glory then, sobbing for Andrew and those sweet moments of singing to him in that very bed, loving him, and trying to comfort him."
Soon after that entry, as thoughts of Andrew faded just a bit like it had for that one moment in our old room, I forgot to wear my wedding ring for a whole day for the first time in 5.5 years. Literally the first time. In 5.5 years.
Then, it was as if I lost him in heaven.
This is when the pain began to truly start. I realized that I was not a wife learning how to live without her husband while he was away in another country. I, in fact, was no longer, a wife.
As June and July and August wore on, the misery grew more and more unbearable. Dinner time was the worst. Before, dinner had always been the climax of the day. After missing Andrew all day long, in our split-level in Washington when we would hear the garage door open for Andrew's car driving in, the kids and I would rush to the top of the stairs. Each night, I would hold Gracie, who was still a baby, on my hip, while AJ clung to my other hip. Andrew would ascend the stairs and we would exclaim, "Welcome home, Papa!" Looking tired after a long commute, he'd look up at us, and his face would light up. Soon after, we'd sit to a candle lit dinner and leisurely catch up on each other's days while the kids, still unable to talk, sat quietly nibbling on their food.
Now, however, there was still the expectation of the climactic dinner of the day, yet Andrew never came home. With each dinner, playing music that made me think of him, as we sat the three of us at our dining room table, alone, quiet, the misery grew worse and worse. It was the supreme anti-climax of the day, of the month, of the summer.
I wrote on Aug. 6th in my journal, "I had been following after him through the gold cobblestones of heaven, got distracted, and lost him. Since returning to my own country, it's like each layer of my skin is falling off, and with the loss of each layer, my body feels more and more raw, sensitive, and excruciating until it feels like there will be nothing left but a giant hole where my heart used to be. But perhaps after the de-skinning, maybe the skin will grow back new and fresh.
"Today I put my rings back on having forgotten too much to wear them all summer, hoping that maybe my absent rings were the source of my unbearable pain. Maybe if I just put them back on, the misery might relent just a little.
"With them on my finger, I was surprised how shiny my engagement ring was. Caught off guard by its beauty. Yet, in a way, it felt as if it didn't belong to me. Not that I don't belong to Andrew anymore, but more, surprisingly, like he doesn't belong to me anymore." The ring, which used to be a symbol to me of Andrew's ardent devotion and love and commitment, now was empty, only a symbol of how he no longer belonged to me.
The misery was so profound and had lasted so long, those months of summer, I found myself growing more and more cynical, not sure I even believed in the concept of "happiness." I couldn't imagine ever not being miserable, because I couldn't remember what it felt like to be happy. I wasn't sure if I had ever been happy my whole entire life. I thought, "Does happiness really exist? Other people look happy. Maybe I'm just not capable of happiness."
Then the Lord had a little surprise for me, a ray of hope. Aug. 10th: "Last night watched some videos from my camera that Andrew took while he was carving a pumpkin with the kids and I was preparing lunch, shortly before we had left for two months in California. I hadn't really been paying attention when he had laid the small, digital camera flat on the counter and recorded it, so I hadn't expected to find those videos of the mundane in our lives. Seeing those videos, I realize even though I looked old, stressed, and worn out, it was still a happy time of life together. God had graciously given me hope and kept us unaware just how near his death was. As a result, I was able to enjoy that time of him, with him.
"We looked happy in our fourness. I've forgotten what it was like to be happy and find it hard to imagine me ever having been happy. But in those videos, I sense a sweetness amidst the suffering, just being the four of us. And there was an intense security for the kids in the love and affection of their father, which I enjoyed too. It was like Andrew and I were the bread holding the sandwich of our family together, the children looking so warm and comfy in our abundant love. Now, it is like I'm a lone piece of bread hanging off a ceiling and the children are miraculously sticking to their mom-bread by the invisible God-husband. But we feel confused, lonely, dobutful, bewildered, yet held up nonetheless."
"How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart all the day...?
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death...
But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.
"Help me to believe Your promises, Oh Lord. I confess to You not trusting You, calling You a liar in my heart. Not believing You will rescue this time or heal my broken heart. Thank You for showing me those videos, reminding me that I am capable of happiness. I have been in such dark places. Places of despair."
Long Beach Island
My sister-in-law said I should come with the kids to New Jersey mid-August when they came from California and rented a house on Long Beach Island for a week. She and my brother offered to fly the kids and me out there. I had been avoiding New Jersey, fearful that the memories there might destroy me once and for all. At first, I thought maybe I would only stay the week at Long Beach Island and take off for Minnesota right from there, avoiding any places that might contain memories with Andrew. But I could really use the help with the kids and had no other plans, so I decided to stay a few more weeks in New Jersey after Long Beach Island until September.
I wrote on August 25th:
"Whenever I've found myself in a jam the past six months since Andrew died, I've often thought, 'This time the Lord is not going to come through (even though He always has in the past). I'll be left on my own to rot.' But every time, the Lord comes through. He is re-building my faith. Last week at Long Beach Island was the most restful, refreshing, pressureless vacation I've had since my honeymoon. It was a dream. Perhaps a lot of what was making me so hopeless before was a combination of overwhelming, relentless lonliness, and the ensuing exhaustion from relentlessly battling lonliness amidst the everyday demands of a life as a grieving widow and single mom."
On Long Beach Island, we had stayed at a beach house on the water with my brother and his family, my sister and three of her kids, and my parents. It felt so safe and secure and cozy to go to sleep and wake up each day in a house surrounded, smooshed in by my family. I had not been in New Jersey since Christmas of '07, just before Andrew's second cancer diagnosis and our lives fell apart. I had forgotten how good it felt to be home in New Jersey. Most of our relatives lived a half hour away and they also came and filled the house with themselves and lots of Filipino food. The kids had six of their cousins to play with every day, plus my own cousins' kids too when they came.
My journal continues: "While I was in Long Beach Island, I thought of the rest and fun, which up until that point I couldn't even remember the definition of 'fun,' as being like Tylenol - numbs the pain. But I realized, Tylenol is not necessarily a bad thing simply because it only deals with the symptoms and has no ability to heal. What it does do, though, is provide enough rest from the pain to provide enough relief to the body so that it is freed up to rest and heal itself. Maybe all I did need was some rest, a break in the pain, Tylenol, provided by God, to heal up a bit."
Remember in an old entry I had said that I had always wanted to be stolen away on a vacation if Andrew died? I had wanted that because I had read on Anne's (http://anneofavenel.xanga.com/weblog) blog that her brother had taken her and her kids to his beach house as soon as her husband died of cancer, May of '08. The pictures looked so restful and so perfect, her kids actually smiling, despite what had just happened, with their hair blowing on the beach as they ran towards the water. I had thought for some reason they had gone to Long Island, rather than Long Beach Island, so I hadn't realized that the very specifics of my dream had come true until I got to meet her and talk about it a few days later. I, too, had been stolen away by my brother to Long Beach Island.
After Long Beach Island, I was able to spend a few days in Manhattan with the kids and my close cousin, Kathy, at her apartment near Wall Street.
I wrote in my journal August 25th while in Manhattan, "During my private worship today, whispered, 'Lord, I give you my broken heart.' Immediately what interrupted my thought was one of the songs from our wedding:
"Lord, I give You my heart
I give You my soul
I live for You alone.
Every breath that I take,
every moment I'm awake,
Lord have Your way in me.
"Said, 'Lord, even though it is You that has hurt me,' and I began weeping, 'I still believe that happiness can only be found in You and living for You, because You are the only Way, the only Truth, and the only Life.
"Lord, please make me live only for You every day for the rest of my life."
Afterwards, about 10 days into our trip, I drove down to Andrew's parents house in Princeton Junction. As soon as I arrived, I dropped the kids off and left for a dinner. I had set up to meet with two fellow New Jersey Christian bloggers. Mutual friends or acquaintances had sent us each other's blogs when all of our spouses were still alive. We had all lost our spouses within six months of each other and had been following each others blogs. I felt like I knew them already and really wanted to meet them in person and switch notes, since I had never met anyone else who had lost their young spouses to cancer after a brief marriage. Anne (mentioned above) is a single mom of three and Rupert (http://rupandesther.xanga.com/), lost his wife, Esther, July of 2008. Meeting the two of them was another extraordinary part of my time in New Jersey.
We must have been at the Thai restaurant nearly an hour, while the waitress had dropped by already 4 or 5 times before we could stop talking and look at the menu. In the end, Anne said she was tired of making endless decisions, and I said, "Me too!" as the single leaders of our homes. So we left it up to Rupert to order all the food. Then, fulfilling our gender stereotypes, Anne and I continued to talk endlessly while Rupert ate most of the food. Afterwards, we got to get my favorite, which I was hoping to find during my time in New Jersey, bubble tea. There are two things that make me happy every time, no matter how things are falling apart - ballet and bubble tea.
Our conversations were such an example of how true it is that "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man" (1 Cor. 10:13). Having been through such similar circumstances, being our spouse's caregiver 24/7, loving them, and losing them, we all experienced the same struggles and thoughts. When they spoke, it was as if they were quoting my own thoughts, even if I had not opened my mouth.
Princeton Junction at Andrew's boyhood house was hard. And visiting Princeton, the next town, was like a knife in my chest, as Andrew and I had spent so many sweet moments there during our engagement and when AJ was a baby. The quaint college town with all its colonial exteriors looked the same as always, and I had to keep reminding myself that it was, indeed, 2009, and that if I turned my head, no, Andrew would not be sitting beside me.
If you've ever been to Nassau St. across the street from Princeton University, you may have seen a bronze statue of a man reading a bronze book sitting next to a real tree. AJ and Gracie threw themselves upon it and, clasping its neck, screamed, "Papa!" AJ asked me to read to him what the book the man was reading said. I read the first line: "All our dreams have been dashed to pieces."
In Pennsylvania, I visited Julie and Sarah for a couple of days. We had been a threesome at our childhood ballet school. They both happened to move to the same part of Pennsylvania.
Since April, I have been able to take ballet again regularly for the first time since college. For my 1.5 hours in a ballet studio, I hurl myself fiercely into that activity and nothing exists outside of that room.
Sarah, too, recently started dancing again. We went to her ballet school and she and I got to take ballet - en pointe - for the first time together in probably 15 years (the last time was probably when we were 14).
I was ecstatic.
In the end
My 23 days in New Jersey was a dream.
I had been apprehensive about visiting New Jersey, but in the end, the Lord knew that that was exactly what I had needed. His Word continues to show itself to be faithful and true, "The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18). Our trip was so refreshing body and soul.
I love the LORD, because He has heard
My voice and my supplications.
Because He has inclined His ear to me,
Therefore I will call upon Him as long as I live.
- Psalm 116:1-2
We returned to Minnesota, Sept. 5th, in time for AJ and Gracie's preschool to start the following week.
For what would have been Andrew's 28th birthday, we threw a very last minute dinner party on Sept. 11th. The kids and I worked all day to prepare. My sister asked AJ if he felt sad that day, and he said, "No, I feel happy. Everyone's happy in our house. We made cake."
Despite sending out an email invitation the afternoon of Sept. 10th, nearly 30 people showed up that Friday night. I made a bunch of dishes Andrew liked and the strawberry shortcake (Betty Crocker, "super moist," white cake with homemade whipped cream) he had every year of his life from the time he was in his mother's house through our marriage, except for the last year, when he was not capable of eating through his mouth. It was the first time making dinner for guests since Andrew had been diagnosed the second time March of '08. I was definitely in over my head, but I think that's what I needed. I find that whenever I do a hobby nowadays, I always throw myself in desperately, an outlet to turn all my hurt into something positive.
The next day we passed by the cemetary to vist Andrew's grave. It had been really hard to visit it prior to the arrival of his headstone in August, because all I could do was stand over the raised soil over his grave and think, "This is something I never imagined myself doing." To think of his bones beneath the ground, that I could never hold his hand again, or put my head on his chest, because it was disintegrating beneath the ground all felt so senseless to me.
But, now, seeing his name, "ANDREW W. MARK," inscribed on the headstone was like the next closest thing to seeing Andrew himself. I ran to it, as if running to him.
His mom and I had chosen black granite, because black always was the color he chose for things. We kept it simple, straight-forward, in Andrew's efficient style. It said, "Beloved," on one line, because that is what we called each other. On the next, it said, "Husband, Father, and Son." But the following was for me and others, an abbreviation of one of the phrases early Christians inscribed in their catacombs:
"In Christ, Andrew is not dead but lives with God."
Monday, July 06, 2009
A friend told me that if my car ever broke down during a frigid Minnesota winter, we could die. So I was counseled to sell both my mini-van and Andrew's CRV to buy something newer, more reliable, and something that as a single mom will cause me as little hassle as possible.
Since my mom works for a car dealership in New Jersey, I asked her to keep her eyes open for what I was looking for at a particular price. Two Christmases ago, three months before Andrew was diagnosed a 2nd time with cancer, Andrew and the kids and I flew one-way to New Jersey. The plan was to drive back to Minnesota with a 2004 CRV my mom had snagged for us at the price Andrew wanted after the holidays. Andrew chose his usual color scheme - black exterior, dark interior. This color choice in his Acura Integra in college looked very cool and very cute. But I had felt uncertain about the same choice in this car, saying that a single-toned black CRV looked less to me like a sport-utility vehicle and more like he was driving himself in his own stubby hearse. Nonetheless, he chose the black on black.
Last Thursday my mom found a great deal for the type of vehicle I was looking for. Friday I looked at it at a local dealership and today, Monday, her manager in New Jersey negotiated with the manager at the local, Minnesota car dealership on my behalf. He was able to get the price for me here as I would have gotten at my mom's dealership so I wouldn't have to spend the money and hassle to fly to New Jersey with the kids and drive the vehicle back with them, especially since we had no plans to visit New Jersey this summer.
I took the kids this afternoon to the dealership to fill out the paperwork, and we drove the new car home together. The Lord provided for me as my Husband. It was the quickest, easiest car purchase I had ever experienced. And yet, it was terribly depressing to me. This was the first time I had ever purchased a car all by myself.
I have no control over day after day passing, acumulating since I last heard Andrew's voice calling me "Precious," or saw his wide almond eyes looking at me rich with love. It's like rowing a kayak and you drop your paddle into the water. You grab for it but it drops just beyond your reach. You grasp further and further, but it continues to sink lower and lower until finally the murky waters swallow it, and it is gone.
In the same way, as I struggle to put one foot in front of the next, the steps accumulating, the kids and I are inevitably moving on. I have no control over us moving on, paddling my arms across the water, one stroke after the next, lest we drown if I don't keep swimming. I keep looking longingly back, but forward we go. I keep reaching for Andrew, but he is already away. The black, short hearse no longer applies, the foreshadowing already fullfilled.
The CRV must go, along with the champagne Chrysler Town and Country mini-van that was like a second home to the four of us when we lived in Washington, so far from family and home. We drove the 1998 champagne Chrysler up and down, back and forth from Washington the 12 hours to San Francisco, visiting my brothers; and back and forth the two hours north to Vancouver, B.C. to get Andrew's beloved authentic food and dim sum, nearly as good as that of Hong Kong; and finally we drove the two thousand miles east to Minnesota. The hand-me-down mini-van that his parents had bought when he was 17 with its luxurious leather interior and heated seats that I thought fell from heaven when the van arrived, heating me so sore with nine months of carrying a truck on my front - I mean Gracie - during my pregnancy. The champagne Chrysler Town and Country that was too good for us but so good for us.
The life-saver champagne Chrysler we often drove the forty minutes just to get bubble tea in Lynnwood, WA as our 3 month-old and 18 month-old fell asleep in their car seats during their bedtime and Andrew and I could have a date in the last row behind the two babies in their captain's seats. We sipped the sweet purple, taro milk tea or smooth, almond milk tea with their tapioca bubbles through the giant straws, giggling like we were on another date back in our dating days, sitting on the tan leather row as excitedly as if we were sitting on one of the couches in the tea house without children. Our van was where the kids were safely strapped in and quiet, looking out the window at Washington's evergreen trees or enjoying Mozart on CD or sleeping, giving Andrew and I hours of time to talk and laugh as we drove even the 45 minutes each way to visit Seattle. It was our portable babysitter, who's only cost was the gas.
Goodbye champagne Chrysler. Goodbye stubby hearse.
I'll see you soon enough, my love.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress;
My eye is wasted away from grief, my soul and my body also.
For my life is spent with sorrow
And my years with sighing;
My strength has failed because of my iniquity,
And my body has wasted away....
As for me, I said in my alarm,
"I am cut off from before Your eyes";
Nevertheless You heard the voice of my supplications
When I cried to You.
O love the LORD, all you His godly ones!
The LORD preserves the faithful
And fully recompenses the proud doer.
Be strong and let your heart take courage,
All you who hope in the LORD.
- Psalm 31:9-10,22-24
Friday, May 08, 2009
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
I had mentioned to a neighbor, Melissa, who was really trying to reach out to me as Andrew was dying, that if he died, I wanted to be stolen away for a few days for a short vacation. I had more expected to go with my mom somewhere. But, Andrew ended up dying mid-winter, and anywhere local to Minnesota in February was icy tundra. When things began to settle down a bit, Melissa kept mentioning going on a vacation somewhere. She lives down the street and I only met her in September. I was surprised she wanted to go with me, considering it wasn't until Andrew died that I even had the time to start to get to know her, but really appreciated her kindness. Melissa loves Jesus and she has had such an eager heart to be there for me. So Melissa and I planned a trip to Florida. At the beginning of April, I went with the kids, Melissa, and her daughter to Clearwater, Florida for a short vacation.
In the meantime, around 6 weeks the daily crying began to subside. I had been surprised that the pain I was feeling was less fresh and sharp. It was about 7 weeks since Andrew's death when we left for Florida. And so I thought I would be fine when we arrived in Florida, as it was one place I had never been to with Andrew.
As we rode on the airplane, AJ suddenly looked very downcast sitting in the blue seats of Sun Country Airlines. He said, "I just feel so sad because I don't have my Papa." It didn't matter where we were going. We were in the blue seats without Papa.
I was completely unprepared for the memories that would blast me in Florida. When we arrived Wednesday evening, I couldn't figure out what was so familiar about standing outside the airport in the humid air amidst the palm trees. Was it LAX it reminded me of, all those times flying in and out of the Los Angeles airport to return home to New Jersey or arriving back in LA for school? And the last several times being joined by my new love as we travelled to our homes in New Jersey together? How could the Florida airport remind me of that, if LA is dry desert and Florida's air was thick with moisture?
We arrived at my aunt's condo right on the Florida gulf and instead of feeling I was in unexplored territory that could not remind me of my love, every memory I had of every vacation I had with Andrew flew at me. They began to coincide into one memory, so that I would have to think through them, separate them, organize them into the proper time and place. My aunt's condo was right on the beach with a beautiful view of the water. Andrew loved views. The time we accompanied him on a business trip to Coer D'Allaine, Idaho and stayed in a hotel over the blue lake when Gracie was three months old and AJ was 18 months old the summer of 2006 melded into the memory when just he and I stayed in a hotel that overlooked the Pacific Ocean in Canada just after he recovered from his first time through radiation and chemo in the summer of 2007.
I had brought with me the book Heaven by Randy Alcorn. As I read from it each night, I began to long for the beautiful, vivid place my love was already enjoying. I read the part that said, "Perhaps you're afraid of becoming 'so heavenly minded you're of no earthly good.' Relax...On the contrary, many of us are so earthly minded we are of no heavenly or earthly good. C.S. Lewis observed, '...you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles...all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth 'thrown in': aim at earth and you will get neither.'"
On Saturday, it was a clear sunny day. The water had a gorgeous greenish-blue tint and the sand was white. It was our day to spend at the beach behind our condo. While we were leaving the condo, I discovered that I had been missing my purse since the night before. I had gotten distracted by the kids and was desperately missing Andrew, laid it down somewhere, and didn't think of it till morning. After realizing where I had left it and checking all possible lost and founds, it became obvious that someone had taken advantage of the opportunity and stolen my purse.
The most distressing thing about it was that I needed my license to be able to fly back to Minnesota Monday and I needed my cell phone that was in the purse because there was a voicemail on it that I had been saving for over a year.
The voicemail was of Andrew telling me about a conversation he had had with AJ, when AJ had told Andrew that he wanted to pray that Jesus would save him. A month after Andrew left that message, he was diagnosed with cancer for the 2nd time and our lives never were the same again. I called my cell phone company about suspending my plan until I switched it to a new phone. They said that if I switched my plan to a new cell phone, then my voicemail would be lost forever. I felt so hopeless and longed for Andrew to return to me so much that it felt like I could reach my hand through the veil of eternity and touch him.
That afternoon, I couldn't stop thinking about the movie Prince Caspian, that we had just watched with the kids the other night. How the kings were too proud, self-reliant and had too little faith to go to Aslan (the Jesus figure) with their hopeless situation. But when they were finally at the end of themselves and went to Aslan, Aslan simply roared and it was so easy for everything to obey him to defeat the enemy.
I cried out to God that He promises to be a Husband to the husbandless, and that He knew this would never have happened if I had had my husband. I told the Lord that I was in a situation that was too big for me but was so easy for Him to handle. Using Melissa's cell phone, I called my cell phone several times for about the 20th time that day. A minute after praying, Melissa's cell phone rang saying that "Grace" was calling. I immediately answered like a small animal that had just been run over and was gasping its last word: "Pleease," I answered the phone with. "My husband just died and I'm really having a hard time. Pleeease, I just need my license and my cell phone back. Pleeeease."
My sister had specifically been praying that they would have a change of heart, and, indeed, that is what had happened to these teenagers. They said, "Yeah, we'll return your stuff," acting like it was the most normal thing in the world. In God's sovereignty, He hadn't allow me to cancel my cell phone. If I had, they would have never been able to call me back on Melissa's cell phone.
At the end of the conversation I said, "Can I ask you why you want to return it to me?"
They said, "Why? Cause it's the right thing to do."
The Lord gave me a heart of compassion for them, and I felt moved to bring them something that would tell them about Jesus. I had them meet me at the security guard.
When I arrived to meet them, the security guard was already grilling them. They said it was their friend who had stolen my purse and they were just returning it. They gave me back my cell phone and wallet containing everything in it, complete with $2 bill and gift cards. I had brought Andrew's Bible with me to meet them (it was a cheap pew Bible that he had bought last year and he had carried around with him ever since then. He had written his name in thick black ink). I handed it to them and said, "My husband died two months ago at the age of 27 from cancer. If you had known him 10 years ago, you probably would have been friends with him." I told them to read the book of John or Romans. They lowered their chins and looked up at me, slowly nodding.
They felt so bad that they returned again to the security guard with Andrew's Bible, a few hours later and confessed to me that they were the real thieves. I made them keep his Bible and told them that's what Andrew would want them to have. They said that every lie they had said felt like a knife stab.
It was like the Lord had pursued them like an angry husband who was looking out for his wife, only this Husband was omnipresent and could follow them in their car and could influence their consciences.
What kept coming to mind as I stood before them was that nothing anyone could do to me, no matter how horrible that day was, could compare to what I did to Jesus on the cross, nailing Him there daily with each of my sins. I had been reading the book of Luke, and so many of the passages kept flying to mind.
"And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, 'Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?' And Jesus answered them, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance' (Luke 5:30-32). What does this passage mean when Romans 3 says that "There is no one righteous, not even one." If we don't see ourselves in the same category as "tax collectors and sinners" and thieves who are all in desperate need of Jesus' mercy, then perhaps it is not because we are not sinners, but because we are in the same category as the self-righteous Pharisees, which Jesus thought was even worse. We are all tax collectors, sinners, and thieves, even if our sin takes on a different face. Before God, we are all guilty. I didn't feel angry at them, because Jesus wasn't angry at me. He forgives and accepts me every day. That was something Andrew had taught me by his own eagerness to forgive and accept me every day.
I mentioned that I forgave them to which one of them exclaimed "YOU DO???"
They said they had never done anything like this before and that they had stolen from the wrong person.
I said, "No, God allowed this to happen so that you could hear about Jesus and give your lives to Him." I told them that at the same time, though, God was not pleased with what they had done and that they would have to stand before God - any moment, we couldn't know when - and answer at His Judgment throne for stealing my purse from me. I said, "This isn't the first sin you've committed in your life -"
"No, it isn't!" one of them exclaimed.
"You have sinned against God your whole life. And you will either have to pay in hell for all eternity, or Jesus can pay for all of your sins for you if you ask for His forgiveness and submit your lives to Him. Then you can enjoy Him now and for all eternity."
I kept telling them about Jesus and that they could only find relief from a life of guilt in Him."Okay, we want to do that now, then!" one of them said. "But you pray for us," he said, "since you know how to do that."
I prayed for them - with my eyes open - again explaining how one can know Jesus. I said "Dear Lord, I pray for these young men, who's real names I don't really know -" they interjected their real names - and then I continued.
When I finished, I said, "Now, I can't save you. Only Jesus can. You will have to give your lives to Him yourselves. But there is a price. Any one who follows Jesus is promised suffering. But Jesus if far better than anything you are pursuing here. He is far better than any pleasures you are living for."
I shared with them Andrew's testimony and as I kept telling them the gospel in many different ways, one of them began to look increasingly angry, while the other one looked increasinly wide-eyed and attentive.
Towards the end of my conversation with them, I showed them in the Bible where John and Romans were. The attentive one said, "I've never read a book in my life, but I will definitely read this one!" I gave them my email address if they had any questions about what I told them to read, but that I wouldn't have internet access until I returned home.
When I arrived in Minnesota Monday evening, there were three emails from the particularly attentive one and that he had started to read the Bible. He said he didn't really understand it, but that he would keep reading it over and over until he did understand, like I had told him Andrew had done.
Eventually, he mentioned that his grandmother, who he lived with, goes to church (I looked it up and it is Southern Baptist), and she had helped him by telling him just to read and a passage would stick out for him.
I looked up some churches in the area and sent him to a Sovereign Grace church. He actually went on Easter! Please pray that He would give his life to Jesus.
Monday, April 13, 2009
I began to wonder, "Did Andrew really love me? Or did he just love me in obedience to God? Did he still have anymore real affection for me, even after five years of marriage had passed together? If he did, wouldn't he have written specific things he loved about me, rather than just saying the three words?"
I went upstairs to look at old cards Andrew and I had given to each other over the years. He had gathered them and put them in a file box of keepsakes before he died. I even found an old birthday card I had sent him two weeks late, September of 2002, in a shy, yet verbose, attempt to communicate with my secret crush. (It didn't cause him to suspect I had liked him, since, as I had witnessed, he thought birthday cards from random girls were the norm at the time. Apparently, he preferred my three-page soliloquy, cause it made it past the trash).
Even though I had looked in the box since Andrew died, I had missed something. Amidst the cards there was a sealed envelope: "To Grace and kids," it said on the front. "Only open if something happens to me."
Inside were three letters, one for each of us. I vaguely recalled that he had written them before his last surgery, March of '08.
My sweet sweet Grace. I love you so much. There is no other woman in the world like you. I wish we could take another walk together and hold hands like we used to do at night around the apartments at UCLA. I love to hold your hand and swing it back and forth and just listen to you talk about everything. I love watching you read your script off the top of your eyelids and all the facial expressions and body movements that help express your feelings. The amazing thing is that you somehow are able to get all of those rich expressions and emotions onto paper when you write. Keep writing and publish our book.
I love your smile, and your lips...You are such a great mom. Keep loving our kids and training them and teaching them about everything. When you correct them, remember that it is a gift of love to our children just as cancer is a gift of love to us.
I love you so much. I wish I could embrace you right now. Know that I am with the Lord rejoicing and praising God without the pain of sickness. Go on living like normal. The Lord will take care of you and the kids. He is a faithful, loving Father.
"Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand."
- Isaiah 41:10
Tuesday, March, 18, 2009
Dear Andrew David Mark,
I'm going to have surgery this Thursday and I wanted to write you a letter to tell you how much I love you. The Lord has blessed me with such an energetic and curious young boy. I hope to be able to see you grow up into a strong young man. You have such a tender heart towards other people and I can see it in the way you love your mom and your sister. Today Gracie was going up the steps into the mud room and she dropped her cup. Since she has difficulty going backwards on the steps and we were all waiting for Gracie to get out of the way, you reached down and got her cup and handed it to her with a big smile so that she could continue up the steps. I also love how you pay attention to details like when you were just 2 years old. I kept calling you "Superman" when you were wearing a Spiderman outfit, and you politely corrected me. Or the time I put you in the wrong car seat and you kept saying, "I want that one," pointing to your car seat on the other side of the car. You're always paying attention!
I also love how you have so much energy. You wake up early and play in your room. When Mama gets you up, you run downstairs and get a pull-up and run back up and put it on yourself. Today you had so much energy, you were running in circles downstairs from the kitchen to the living room, to the foyer and back to the kitchen.
I can already tell that you are a very talented person. Keep your head on straight and keep working hard even if things seem to come easily to you. Stay close to the Lord, and pray a lot. Take care of your mom and yours sister. Love you so much.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your body
And refreshment to your bones.
Honor the LORD from your wealth
And from the first of all your produce;
So your barns will be filled with plenty
And your vats will overflow with new wine.
My son, do not reject the discipline of the LORD
or loathe his reproof,
for whom the LORD loves He reproves,
Even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.
Dear Grace Olivia Mark,
You have always been a bundle of grace in my life. Since the day you were born, I could always look at you and know that God is good. The first time I got to cuddle with you in the hospital, I was so happy that the Lord had given us another child. You were such a tiny baby wrapped up that I was able to hold you with just one hand. I love your smiles and your sweet kisses. Whenever I ask for a kiss you always give me one right on the lips.
You love to cuddle and press your cheeks against mine. Just a few weeks ago we found out that my cancer was much worse than we expected. That morning you had just woken up and your mom was crying and I was feeling scared. I picked you up and you hugged me and clung to me in my lap for about half-an-hour and comforted me. Right now you are learning to talk and you make up your own words like, "Mapa," and "Dat Un," or "Down Er." Since you love to eat one of your favorite words is, "Mo-a."
Perhaps one day you will be a performer. You already love to dance and you've got a voice that carries. Most of all, love the Lord, and learn all you can from your wonderful Mama. The Lord has blessed you with a very special Mom to learn from. And if I'm not around, please remember that the Lord is your Father and your Husband. Keep close to Him and you will be satisfied. I love you.
But let the righteous be glad; let them exult before God;
Yes, let them rejoice with gladness.
Sing to God, sing praises to His name;
Lift up a song for Him who rides through the deserts,
Whose name is the LORD, and exult before Him.
A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows,
Is God in His holy habitation.
God makes a home for the lonely;
He leads out the prisoners into prosperity,
Only the rebellious dwell in a parched land.
O God, when You went forth before Your people,
When You marched through the wilderness, Selah.
The earth quaked;
The heavens also dropped rain at the presence of God;
Sinai itself quaked at the presence of God, the God of Isreal.
You shed abroad a plentiful rain, O God;
You confirmed Your inheritance when it was parched.
Your creatures settled in it;
You provided in Your goodness for the poor, O God.
Friday, April 10, 2009
April 7, 2009 marks two months after Andrew went to see His Savior face to face.
This is Andrew's last letter until the one year anniversary of his death.
His mercies are new every morning. Satisfy yourself in God’s great love for you through the gospel. You are accepted as a beloved child, and there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. I’m sure life is still a little crazy, but if you are in despair just remember that this too will pass. You’ll get through each day one at a time. Keep a steady mindset, and put one foot in front of the other.
Remember to stay on top of training the children. Most importantly they need love, but sometimes love comes in the form of loving correction. Gracie most of all needs to know who is in authority. Now that I am no longer around, the children really need to see you take my place as the ultimate human authority in the household. You need to be intentional about having them submit to your authority, and ultimately God’s authority.
With regards to balancing everything that is on your plate you will need to really step back and trust God...You are not in the same situation as other women may be in where their entire job is devoted to caring for their children and husband's needs. You have now taken on a huge job of leading the family. You don’t know what that entails yet, but it is a lot of work... So we need to do things that will get the most bang for the buck in terms of time, money, effort and flexibility.
Firstly, you’ll need to pray and trust God that He will keep your bodies healthy and free of disease. However, He may afflict you or our kids anyways just as He did to Job...If you are reading this then we know that God has chosen to take me home at His appointed time, and we know that God is in control of your life as well....
AJ will continue to need male examples in his life, but I think hanging out with Noah and Billy [A.J.'s cousins] and being around people at church will suffice for now. As he grows older he should be proactive about spending time with the men in the youth ministry helping them out on a weekend or assisting in ministry activities. Gracie has lots to learn from you right in the home.
I love you will all my heart. Be strong and courageous.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
I'm really thankful for the times we have together at night before bed. I have a lot of heart-to-hearts with AJ, and the kids really need a lot of affection and reassurance right now. At age four, I think AJ is old enough to possibly remember a lot of Andrew. I keep praying the Lord will preserve his memories. The other night he mentioned his last birthday in California and asked if I had eaten any of his birthday cake.
I said yes.
He asked if papa had too.
I said no.
He asked why?
I said, Remember? He had a feeding tube, and I pointed to my stomach.
He said, "Yeah, and he used to have one too in his nose."
And I asked when.
And he said, "'A long long long long time ago."
He was right. A year ago for several weeks right after Andrew's surgery, he had a tube in his nose to feed through before he ever had a bigger one put into his stomach. AJ remembers a year ago!
In general, all day long AJ has various questions related to death and heaven. They have been constant opportunities to talk about so many different aspects of the Lord. How He is always good, always is with us, is everwhere, anywhere we are, yet is in heaven with papa. How He hates sin, and yet is forgiving, and we are incapable of obeying Him on our own, but through His Holy Spirit He can change our hearts to grow us more like Him. How He promises to be a Papa to the fatherless and will take care of us and we can trust Him. How He is yes, even bigger than Spiderman, and can rescue even those Spiderman cannot.
I feel as if God is really growing me through this difficult time. I feel more sensitive to spiritual things than ever before. When I hear a song on the radio that mentions eternity, I listen to the words intently, looking for truthful images, wonder if it's giving me a clue into what Andrew is seeing right now. Even if my private worship (my time in God's Word and prayer) was cut short a couple of times or I even missed it, I realize at Sunday worship that my mind has still been meditating on spiritual things most of the week, because it is so easy to worship God in song with all my heart and listen to the message without being distracted, though it has always been a much greater struggle in the past.
It as if any and everything during the day makes me think about how it looks to God, how He would see it and interpret it, what it has to do with heaven, eternity.
I feel as if everything has become very clear-cut, at least for the time-being, and my vision feels clear right now too. God uses searing pain to cause everything to come into focus.
The letters of Andrew
Andrew's letters have really shepherded me so much through this time. Reading his letters almost nightly the first month, all of which I have posted so far (at least the ones I'm supposed to read. There are still the 2 month, 1 year, 1st wedding anniversary without him, and a few others as well as for watershed events in the kids lives), have guided me how to structure my day, such as using the kids two-hour afternoon nap to take care of the onslaught of paper work related to his countless medical bills, changing names on all kinds of accounts, logistical things having to do with death or not having him here (...still goin' at it). Him telling me to take a realistic time during the day to work on all those things, plus telling me not to feel overwhelmed but to take things one step at a time, have truly protected me from feeling overwhelmed the first month. God also answered his prayer that it would be easy and fun for me to take care of all of those things, which truly shocked me, because I have always despised paper work, particularly when it's related to messed up bills and insurance companies. The Holy Spirit really must have given him the words to write, because how could he know what I was going to go through and know exactly just what I needed to hear?
I'm learning so much from Andrew's leadership in his letters, despite how proud and stubborn I always was when he was actually here. I find that I always forget little things he wrote in the letters, and so certain phrases become new to me again when I read them or strengthen me anew or refocus me.
I never could imagine life without Andrew, but somehow there is. I can't explain it. How I can miss someone that I love so much and yet still be okay. My only explanation is that the Lord is really helping me.
"But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless." - Psalm 10:14
- that I would be consistent in my private worship. that the Lord would refresh me each day and continue to sustain me as a single mom. The kids were sick this weekend, so I had to say no to some invitations. Being sequestered all weekend drove me a little crazy.
- (for the same requests as in the previous post)Verse of the day
"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23).
Thursday, March 12, 2009
One thing I was forced to learn from our battle with cancer, though, was that panic, or any strong emotion related to misery, was always passing and that one should never put any stock in it. Once the panic subsided, then one could evaluate the situation, see that it wasn't completely overwhelming, and that one could then take the next step, rather than collapse in frustration. So I would breathe and wait for the contraction to subside.
My mother stayed for an additional week after Andrew passed away and I would cry to her each night. She would reassure me that indeed God was in control and I could trust in Him and rub my back like I was a little girl again and I would feel better and fall asleep. It was strange, as if I had gone from being my mom's girl, while being Andrew's for a few years was a slight hiccup, and then went back to mom's girl.
Week 3 after Andrew's Homegoing
I had bought a bunkbed from Ikea with a full-size bed on the bottom. I thought I would sleep on the top bunk, while still have the option to cuddle with one of the kids on the bottom when I felt like it, while the other one slept on the toddler bed. In the end, the top bunk always seemed too lonely and the kids always insisted I stay on the bottom. Even though they took turns sleeping on the other toddler bed, by morning, all three of us usually ended up squished together in the bottom bunk.
I put the bunk bed in their room, so the room is not too big and real cozy. I retired to the room at the same time as the kids, so I didn't have to endure lonely nights by myself and no longer had the evening bouts of misery. Even though they were asleep, I still felt comforted by their presence at night. So I started to have my bouts of grief at unexpected times in the mid-morning or after lunch. I would burst out crying, missing Andrew. The kids would each run for the tissue box, insisting that I couldn't cry, bringing me wads of tissues, their offerings to me. I would have to suck it up and hold in my tears. Since I'm basically always with the kids, I really had no opportunity to cry.
After the kids were in bed, I read for awhile, and usually fell asleep by 10. Not wanting to wake them up, I set my alarm for the latest possible time the kids might still be sleeping, assuming that I went to bed so early that I would probably be waking up way before them on my own. Not so. Grief is quite exhausting, especially if you're not allowed to express it as much as you would like to. I always woke up at the same time as them.
When I am missing Andrew, it feels so unreal that he could actually be gone. Like I'll glance a picture of him, see his familiar face, and realize, I had looked at it thousands of times, the slope of his nose, the angles of his jaw, his wide, almond eyes, the width of his cheeks. I'll think, How could he not be here anymore? He was just here. Three weeks ago. He was just here and I could look at that face any time I wanted as much as I wanted, so much and for so long, over and over day in and day out, that face, and that I thought I would always look at it. It's like saying you will never see the blue sky again. Or ever see another tree for the rest of your life. Like the mountains have fallen into the sea.
Like when some people in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11th got stuck in the elevators, collapsed down to the bottom floor and survived, but when they climbed out of the elevators, they thought they had died because they recognized nothing. The lobby was gone, ash and rubble floated everywhere like a thick fog. On the street, nothing was the same, and how could they ever imagine Manhatten could ever be recovered, restored, or look like it did just earlier that morning ever again. At that moment, the world that they had always known, was just, gone.
God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change
And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea.
- Psalm 46:1-2
When I am feeling okay, it's like standing behind the glass in an aquarium. It's really strange how it feels when I am doing okay. It is so opposite than when I'm sad. It feels very literally as if the Lord is shielding me from the onslaught of grief. When I remember the misery of the previous day, yet feel so perfectly calm and fine, it is like I am looking at that giant aquarium of water, watching the grey shark swim by, and wonder what was ever the danger of all that water to me when there is a glass wall between us.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is Your faithfulness.
I have been reading old journals of ours, trying to find some meaning, some bigger picture to the last six years. I find myself lost in Andrew's old journals that I had never read and in our old emails to each other. Reading his words make me feel like he's still human and just on the other side of a computer.
Through this trial, I have found that I don't always understand my feelings, but feel no obligation to have to be able to know what all of them are or have to explain or articulate them. But I have found that when I pray about my concerns, the Lord reveals to me what's on my heart. During small group one night when a few of us were praying together, I confessed to the Lord how I would rather read Andrew's journals than read the Bible. It suddenly came to mind then that the reason I hide myself in Andrew's journals are because I miss him so much. That may have seemed obvious but it wasn't to me until that moment. I had never known what it was to miss my husband for more than a week or to this degree. Tears gushed from my eyes.
That rhythm of daily feeling fine with an afternoon interruption of weeping continued until last week when on a Monday I noticed from across the room some file folders in our bookshelves amidst all our books, rather than in our office. "Hm. I wonder what I'll discover there," I said. And then I found photos taken of us two days after our engagement when we had gone to Joshua Tree in California with a friend. I had seen these photos months ago, but they were the only ones I hadn't reviewed since Andrew passed away, because they weren't on our computer since someone else had taken them. Additionally, earlier that morning an old friend of Andrew's had posted a memory that he had with Andrew. I had heard the story a couple of times before, but this time he added a detail I had not heard. That memory along with our pictures, just brought those years of young, healthy Andrew so vividly to my mind. I missed Andrew's old goofiness that had faded in the months just before his cancer was discovered, when he first began to get increasingly tired and more pale.
I always wanted to know more of Andrew, hold his heart in my hand, be able to grasp his essence. I wanted to ask him questions. What was he thinking that hilarious day he carried that refrigerator up the stairs with his friend? Tell me more, tell me more, tell me more about you. I never could get enough of Andrew. I couldn't even get enough of his name or saying his name. I loved the feel of his name reverberating from my vocal chords. That's why we named A.J., Andrew Junior. I had always secretly hoped A.J. would want to use the name "Andrew" when he got a little older and his little friends could call him it. Now I'm so thankful we still have at least one Andrew here.
And so all last week, I kept playing music of Andrew's that he liked to listen to when we were first falling in love and then he began playing constantly again in the last weeks of his life. He used to listen to two Third Day CD's, Time and Come Together, over and over and over again during both those times in our lives. I never understood why he liked them so much. I liked how they sounded, but I never could follow all the lyrics, so I didn't always know what they were singing about, since either my mind would wonder or the words were slurred. I wanted to ask him what he liked so much about those songs. What resonated so much with him? Why didn't I ask him before? And yet, many times I did ask him questions like that. Often, he'd say he didn't know. And that's why I never could get enough of him. I read in one of his early journals when we were dating that he felt like I understood him often better than he understood himself. And still, it wasn't enough for me. I have always wanted to understand his heart and his mind more, even though he himself didn't know all the answers. I thought I would have the rest of our lives to discover him.
I would cry to the music as it played and I prepared breakfast for the kids or lunch or dinner. I wondered why I felt so compelled to stare at pictures of Andrew, play his music, and read beautiful journals about us falling in love if all it made me do was cry. And yet, as miserable as it was, I almost relished weeping for Andrew. I loved taking care of him when he was sick. It was hard, but the Lord gave me so much joy in it. I wanted to do anything for Andrew, and now if I can weep for him, then I am thankful to do that too.
When I was de-cluttering some piles of papers, I discovered a booklet from the funeral home about grief. It said that some people think that time heals a broken heart, but that it actually doesn't if you refuse to grieve. So it recommends looking at pictures of your loved one, playing music he liked, or writing your feelings about him. When I read that, I understood then what I had been doing all that week. It really helped to have that validation. My sister told me that in the Old Testament grieving was a form of worship to God. Along with weeping and tearing their clothes, at a funeral they would even hire professional wailers.
This week, I still played music that reminded me of Andrew. Some healing must have taken place, though, because the past few days it hasn't made me cry anymore. I just like to hear it, think of him, and feel just fine.
I think about heaven all the time now, because that is where my love is, wondering what it is like there. Heaven is the intermediary state where we are spirit, awaiting Christ's return to earth when we shall all rise again with new bodies. I feel like I love Andrew even more now, because he is literally perfect now. He is literally without sin and that is how I think about him when I think about where he is now.
Having your marriage cut short so unexpectedly from what you had always assumed and witnessing your husband's life cut short forces you to see that there is only a veil between you and eternity. Life is so short, whether you die young or you have many more years. I will see Andrew soon. I know it. Maybe not Tuesday, but some Tuesday, some day after a breath of a life. And so it makes me return to my old feelings about life, before I had married and my devotion to the Lord was undivided ("But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband." - 1Cor. 7:34). That my hope cannot be in this world or this life or wasting it on a pursuit of comfort that always evades you anyway and never satisfies. Nothing is worth living for except for Christ. So if life is hard or painful, just submit to God, and let Him use those things to make you more like Him, because that is the only thing He is after - making you into His image for His own glory.
The significance of Andrew's life
Many of you have expressed how Andrew's life was inspirational. I imagine he would love for you to hear the 2nd message delivered eight days after his death and the dangers that come with finding Andrew's life inspirational:
- that I would live for Christ alone and allow Him to mold me into His image rather than resist even the everyday little trials
- that I would seek my satisfaction in Christ alone
- that I would be consistent with the children, firm, yet patient. God has called me to the impossible task of being a single mom to these children to teach them about Christ faithfully. But I think the fact that it is impossible is the point. Christ is always calling us to the impossible, which is why I cannot rely on myself but only on God with Whom nothing is impossible.
Wednesday, March 04, 2009
A.J. loves for me to read Andrew's letters to him and Gracie before bed. I haven't had a chance to post Andrew's letters from Days 2 through 4. They were short, so I'll post them all together:
I love you so much. Stay strong and be courageous. May Christ satisfy you today.
Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me; O LORD, be my helper.
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness,
That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever.
Just a quick note to tell you that I love you and that I'm not in pain anymore. Remember to rejoice in all things today. By the way, you're beautiful.
"Rejoice in the Lord, again I will say rejoice. "
The Lord will lead you just as He did the Israelites through the wilderness. Ex 13:21 "The LORD was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night."
I love you so much. I wish I could be there with you to know how you are doing. I trust that God is upholding you and others through this time. Be strong and courageous. The Lord will lead you to victory. Remember my favorite song?
E’er since, by faith, I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be ’til I die.
When this poor lisping, stammering tongue
Lies silent in the grave,
Then in a nobler, sweeter song,
I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save.
Your best friend,
Thursday, February 26, 2009
I love you. Remember that time when we went hiking in the mountains before going to the Clark’s house for dinner? That was like our second or third day dating. You must have been so happy that you didn’t realize that you were hopping and skipping along on slush and ice on the edge of a steep hill that dropped almost straight down. The path was only about 1.5 feet wide, but you didn’t care. You were practically in heaven. I was actually quite impressed with you that day because you seemed fearless and confident with each step you took. The Lord kept us safe that day, gave us a wonderful date, and even provided somebody to jumpstart my car just as it was getting dark. The Lord always takes care of us doesn't He? I want you to be fearless like you were on that date in the mountains. Don't look down, just keep your eyes focused on what's just ahead and you'll do just fine.
I’m not here to lead you, anchor you, and balance you in person anymore. But since you know me so well, step back and think about how we would work as a team in each tough situation you find yourself in. Be affectionate with the kids and remember to keep pointing them to God. If they seem to get out of control more since I'm not around anymore as the authority figure you will have to step in and take my place as the highest human authority in our home. Also, remember that they need clear boundaries more than ever before.
Friday, February 20, 2009
Thank you so much also to the many of you who felt compelled to give to A.J. and Gracie's fund. Many of you have been asking for more information on the fund. I met with some of the elders from the church last night, and we are still in discussion about what kind of fund we are going to set up. Perhaps something like a trust that they could use for college or something in the future. It still appears that checks are coming in, so our decision is largely going to depend on how much they total in the end. Many of you have expressed an interest in still giving to the fund, so here is the information.
Please make checks out to:
Redeemer Bible Church
Please put "A.J. and Gracie's fund" in the memo line
16205 Hwy 7
Minnetonka, MN 55345
Also, it is going to take a few weeks to get the video recording of Andrew's memorial service up. I really loved it and I hope we can share it with you, since it included some of Andrew's favorite songs. In the mean time, the audio from Andrew's memorial service is available here:
Part 1 - Invocation
Part 2 - Phillippians 1:12-21
Part 3 - Letter from the Doctor
Part 4 - Personal Remembrances
Part 5 - Personal Remembrances
Part 6 - Personal Remembrances
Part 7 - Personal Remembrances
Part 8 - A Letter from Andrew
Part 9 - Romans 8:28-39
Part 10 - Ministry of the Word
Part 11 - Benediction
Monday, February 16, 2009
At church yesterday, the last song we sang at church was about heaven. I pictured Andrew in heaven singing something akin to what we were singing. This made me weep. My sister tapped me on the back after the song ended and introduced me to Noel Piper. John and Noel Piper happened to be visiting our church for the first time, since Dr. Piper is on writing leave from his church and Minneapolis is only a half-hour from us. I did not know at all that they were at the church and was very shocked to be meeting her. All I could do was blubber. The Pipers had eaten dinner with my sister and brother-in-law for the first time at our house while we were in California back in November, because my sister's kitchen was being remodeled. Noel thanked me for that and said that at least in that small way they had a connection to Andrew. I simply wept and blubbered, "No, thank you for eating in my house."
A few minutes later, after I had composed myself, I shook hands with John Piper for the first time. I told him how during Andrew's last months we had listened to his sermons on Job and suffering repeatedly and how it had greatly helped and ministered to us. I said how Andrew would have considered it a great honor to meet him right then because of how Piper had impacted his life, since Andrew had a collection of his sermons that he had listened to over the years.
Later, when I told my brother-in-law about my encounter with Piper, I said, "I'm not going to feel bad, though, that Andrew missed out on that, because he's meeting with Someone way better right now."
The first week without him
Andrew was right in the letter I last posted ("Day 1") that God would give me strength I never dreamed of when he left us. I never knew it was possible to truly rejoice that your beloved was in the presence of Jesus, while mourning at the same time, for even that rejoicing to supercede your mourning.
Even though I fought his death tooth and nail, when we were finally in the hospital, the truth that the number of his days had been written before time was so real to me and such a comfort to me. I know that all the peace and thankfulness for the time I had had with Andrew was totally supernatural and not of myself.
In the following days, I was surrounded by Andrew's family as well as mine and all our relatives. I'm so thankful to all our relatives who came out to be with us during that time. It was such a comfort to me to see everyone.
Andrew's brother and sister and parents were staying in our house. As we stayed up late working on Andrew's slideshow and putting together collages of his pictures, it felt so good to look at hundreds of pictures of Andrew when he was still healthy and cancer had not yet invaded our lives. It was so fun to be able to say whatever flew into my head at the moment, while I still was processing my feelings. I'd exclaim, "I love Andrew so much!" and have someone to hear me say it. Or I'd say, "Andrew is so handsome!" and Andrew's sister's husband would say, "Yeah, he's a stud."
We still talked so much about Andrew and in the present tense, his pictures so clear and vivid, it felt like he had never left and that maybe he was just resting in his room, as he always was in recent months.
On the Wednesday evening of Andrew's memorial service as all our relatives were at our house for dinner, I began to feel anxious about what I was going to do after the mass exodus of all our relatives that evening. It was Day 5, so I read his letter for that day:
Don't fear the future. Just take it one day at a time. One foot in front of the other. Keep the big picture of God's glory in mind. Continue to serve Him by being faithful in the little things. Faithful with your time and energy. Smile at the future, the best is yet to come!
"Prov 31:25 Strength and dignity are her clothing And she smiles at the future."
Let me pray with you...Dear Lord, I thank you so much for Grace and the kids. Thank you that we got to have each other for as long we we did. Thank you for your hand which has upheld our family through thick and thin. Thank you that you will never leave us or forsake us. Thank you that you love us so much and want us to know Christ so intimately that you would take me home a little sooner than others. We beg of you to take care of this family and be a father and a husband to them. I pray that they would know your closeness in times of loneliness, and that they would run to you for their satisfaction rather than other people, movies, Internet or other things. Please help Grace to be able to handle leading this home without me. Help her to learn and do the jobs that I used to do. Please make it easy and fun for her. Please bring joy and laughter into this home, and turn their mourning to dancing. Amen.
Week two without him
Andrew's mom and my mom are still here. As everyone else has left, each day has felt a little lonelier. Last night I dreamed about Andrew for the first time. He was dressed up a little bit wearing a blue button-down shirt of his that I liked and black pants. He was standing up tall and straight, his old weight, not skinny, like he used to in his healthy pictures. We were in Target together shopping for new bedsheets, but they told us they didn't sell them. I wondered around the store feeling so confused, swearing that they always had sold them in the past. I hugged him and told him I missed him. I thought someone else had died, then realized that he had never been healed of cancer, so he would have to die anyway. The new bedsheets were to replace the ones that had been stained and destroyed when he had his first bleed.
I woke up having to reassure myself that the last six years was not a dream and that what we had was real. A.J. woke up next to me screaming. I comforted him and said, uncertain why he was even crying, "You know that Papa loves you so much, right?"
He said, "No."
I said, "Yes, he does."
He said, "No, but I don't know that he does."
I continued to reassure him. Somehow A.J. often seems to say out loud what I'm thinking too. I had to whisper to myself that indeed Andrew did love me, even though I wasn't feeling like it.
I went to small group last night and was reminded again how Andrew's suffering and death truly has affected people, which emphasizes for me that this had been the Lord's plan all along and brings me joy. As the days go on and I forget how much Andrew suffered and instead stare at pictures of when he was perfect and healthy, it begins to hurt more that he is gone and the relief that he is no longer in pain is lost. When the reality of how much his suffering and death has impacted people does not confront me as loudly, my joy also dissipates and grief replaces it.
I think it was Jonathan Edwards who described his marriage with Sarah as an "uncommon union." Even though our marriage was far from perfect (mostly because of me) that's what I think of what Andrew and I had (mostly because of him). I felt so accepted and cherished by Andrew.
When I met him in the fall of 2001, seeing him felt like coming home for the first time (even though I didn't even know him and he was completely unaware of it). When I consider living in our home without the very one who made it home, I am perplexed. But then I remember what he said, "Just take it one day at a time." And I remember how God sustained me that first week and continues to shield me from overwhelming grief. That it hasn't been nearly as bad as I had imagined it would be. And as Piper always says, if God has always proven faithful, then we can be reassured that He will continue to be faithful.