Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Purse

When I went on vacation two months after Andrew's death, I did not intend to get my purse stolen.

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

The Keepsake Box

On Saturday, I wished I could hear Andrew tell me he loved me. You know how it is, wives, how we know that our husbands love us, but we need them to reassure us and hear it often? It's like we begin to doubt the obvious, no matter how many declarations of love or how many sacrifices our husbands have made for us.

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

-- Superman

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.

Proverbs 3:5-12

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.

-- Papa

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.

Psalm 68:3-19

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.

-- Papa

Friday, April 10, 2009

Andrew's Two Month Letter

On April 7, 2002 Andrew was baptized at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles, declaring to all that he had turned from a life of sin and living for himself and instead had surrendered his life to Jesus, the One and only true God, Maker of heaven and earth.

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.

2 months

Dear Grace,

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.

-Your Love