Sunday, November 21, 2010

Community

"...for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." (Matthew 6:8)

I love how Minnesota is so community-oriented. What is great is that we are only twenty minutes from Minneapolis and have all the amenities of a city accessible, but at the same time lakes everywhere (like 4 within a mile of our house), along with the corresponding walking trails and large parks and play structures for the kids. Each day you will always bump into someone from your small group from church or a neighbor at the coffee shop, the Eden Prairie Mall, the library, a lake, or AJ or Gracie’s schools.

Also, there is a culture of "Minnesota nice." People born here complain that it is artificial, which it may be, but frankly if someone is thinking mean thoughts inside, I much prefer them keeping it to themselves rather than ruining someone's day, who will then ruin someone else's day, ruining the culture in a domino effect. I really appreciate that there is a culture of kindness to neighbors, smiling at everyone you make eye contact with, and trying to be helpful. I have to say from the perspective of someone who's had a lot of bad days, a smile from a stranger on the other side of the cash register makes a world of difference.  (Actually, the first year after Andrew died, 3 different times 3 different ladies asked me if I needed a hug when they saw me crying in my car, at Ikea, and I can't remember the third place, probably a coffee shop.  I accepted.  I needed a hug.)

We moved to Minnesota three years ago last September. Five months after that, and a few weeks after we moved into our house (we didn't even have much furniture at the time, and thus had nowhere to unpack a lot of our boxes still), Andrew was diagnosed for the second time with cancer. I am so grateful that the Lord moved us here before then, because I can't imagine being able to get through the last three years without our church and my neighbors. I've talked a lot about my church on this blog, so this particular blog, I'm going to talk more about others in my community who I consider provisions from the Lord, even though they probably don't think of themselves that way.

After moving into our house, one morning, I specifically prayed that the Lord would provide a neighbor who's yard we could be back-and-forth in. A few days later, I found out Sarah was moving next door from Northern California. The first time I met her, before she even walked into her new house, she walked over to me in my backyard. I was so excited. Also, as Andrew got sicker, it occurred to me that I would no longer have time to take the kids to the park every day, so I prayed the Lord would drop a play structure from heaven, knowing with Andrew so sick, I could not even think about looking for one to buy. The next day, Sarah walked over to tell us they had just purchased a giant play structure and that they wanted our kids to always play on it without having to ask them, and even when they weren't home. Every single day, now, AJ plays with her son Adrien, who is one year older than AJ, outside after school. They are back-and-forth between our two yards, using their yard for the play structure, and our yard for the open, flat grass.

Sarah used to have the kids and I over for dinner once a week for the first six months after Andrew died. Even though she said she wanted to do that, I probably would have felt too shy to keep going, if she didn't call me every week beforehand and make sure that we were still coming.

Various neighbors anonymously snow-blowed my driveway and walkway whenever it snowed (which was almost constantly), sometimes before I even knew it had snowed. In Minnesota, this is everything, because the snow does not melt at all here until March or April or maybe even May. So if it is snowing and the snow is not getting shoveled every two hours, I'm not really sure how you'd get out of your driveway for a few months. I certainly did not know back then. It was not even something I had thought about. It was as if the Lord used tens of people to take care of us, when I didn't even get a chance to worry about what would happen if these things weren't taken care of.

Sarah also drew our neighbors together in a way I had always wished to have, but was not at a place in my life where I, myself, could organize anything between the neighbors. Sarah made sure that our four families got together once a month for dinner. This is how I met my neighbors, Melissa and Mary Anne. Not only do our families get together for dinner, but we ladies get together just us sometimes too. This was wonderful for me to have when Andrew died, because while he was sick I really hadn't had a chance to form any friendships that were based on just enjoying each other. All the relationships we had in Minnesota mostly revolved around people ministering to us in whatever ways they could find to help people they had never known previous to our trial. Nobody knew Andrew as everyone before knew him. No one here knew him as the super hotty that looked like a model (well, actually his friends referred to him as "the model," since he was asked to model for a Korean catalogue once, even though he wasn't Korean). Few here knew him as one of the most capable, efficient people they had ever met. Most people here knew him only because he was so physically weak, had speech impediments, looked much older than he was, and who's health made our family needy of so much help.

Having friends to hang out with from church or my neighbors, just us, and no children, helps me to feel human again. It helps me to breath again, recharge, and remind me that life doesn't always have to feel so relentlessly heavy, but that for a few hours, I, Grace, can still feel carefree, even though I'm not a kid anymore, and even after all I've been through and am still going through, and all the responsibilities I have. That is a provision and kindness of the Lord, who knows we are human and knows we need rest and laughter.

Aside from snowblowing my driveway, my neighbors, Mary Anne and Doug, still think of us after all this time, and if they happen to cook too much food one night, they give us a call. They are such sweet people.

Though I hardly knew her at the time, as Andrew was dying, Melissa called me and said that even though she knew I had my church to take care of me, sometimes neighbors can help in a unique way due to their proximity. The first six months after Andrew died, when the horror that Andrew would not be coming home for dinner would hit, many nights I would walk the kids to Melissa's house and knock on her door in desperation. She would invite us in to have dinner with her family. I think God has specially gifted Melissa to be a friend to widows and people who are ill. You would never imagine someone so capable and has never been through anything like this before could understand such weakness, yet it is as if as she prays for us, God specially gifts her with insights into our hurts and struggles, so that she can understand as much as one on the outside possibly could understand.

I consider Melissa to be the female version of Andrew. She's one of the most practical, level-headed women I know, yet so fun at the same time. I call her all the time for her opinion on various decisions, from small to big, and her responses always sound so logical and rational, reminding me of Andrew. It's as if the Lord has provided her to balance me, similar to the way Andrew used to.


Cooper and Kayla (Mary Anne's kids), Gracie, Avery and Isaac (Melissa's kids), and AJ.

There are countless people I could keep mentioning that I've never mentioned on this blog. Like a couple of Andrew's co-workers that live a few blocks away and would initiate coming to find things that needed repairing before I even thought about those things.

As a newly widowed mom of two very little ones, I did not have the liberty to check out in my grief. I definitely was not as present as normal people were; I was always preoccupied with Andrew in my head, but the Lord kept my hands moving, taking care of my children, and kept people coming to fill in so many gaps before I knew there were gaps to fill.

I am grateful that the kids were exactly the age they were when Andrew died - 3 and 4. They had both just gotten out of diapers but were not as independent as they are now, and most of all, they still took an afternoon nap. I could keep them as extensions of my arms, which meant they required less of my mental energy as they do now.

It is amazingly hard being a single mom. Additionally, no one takes my kids on weekends the way they might if I lived in New Jersey near my parents or Andrew' parents or the way I hear a lot of single moms have, and after nearly two years of this, I am totally worn out. But it helps me to think back to how the Lord has exercised abundant grace to me in all my needs before I knew what I needed, and that I need to trust that His character has not changed and that He always keeps His promises. "...for your Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matthew 6:8).

Melissa, Mary Anne, me, Sarah and baby Owen on Mary Anne's birthday.  So grateful for such wonderful neighbors.

The kids dancing at my church friend, Anne’s house



Don't be fooled.  I wish their relationship always looked this harmonious.  That’s why I took a picture – an occasion of picture perfect.

On Halloween day, My neighbors Melissa, her invisible husband beside her, Tom, Mary Anne, and taking every precaution during huntin’ season, Doug.  They’re awesome.



Church was cancelled today due to severe black ice making the streets like an ice rink, giving us 5 extra hours to our Sunday.  So we put on a blazing fire, hot chocolate, and decorated for Christmas. 
Only 1/4 of small group showed up at my house Sunday night.  But since our small group is 4 times larger than normal, it worked out just fine. We always have a potluck and eat dinner together. 

AJ's School

AJ's kindergarten is a few blocks from our house. I am very grateful that the school was able to accomodate us, and AJ was able to get a male teacher. It is amazing to me that for the first time in almost two years, AJ gets to have a male influence in his life five times a a week. Obviously that influence is spread out over 13 children and is not as personal as AJ had before, but it's definitely an improvement over the last nearly 2 years without any consistent male influence. Also, it is amazing to me that AJ's class is the smallest in the school; the next smallest class has 20 students, so that that attention is spread out over 13, but not spread out as much as it would be in a more average-sized class. And, his teacher is very attentive to all his students and gives each of them special attention whenever he gets the chance, kneeling to their level, looking them straight in the eye, asking them lots of questions about themselves. So AJ will come home and tell me when he bumped into his teacher before class and his teacher will sit down with him and eagerly converse for a few minutes then, or on the playground, or even when he bumps into him around town. This makes AJ so happy. Finally, his teacher has had a student before who lost a father, so he already has some experience with a student in AJ's situation.

Andrew's letters say to get as involved in AJ's kindergarten as possible. I am hoping to volunteer in AJ’s class once a week. So far, I have helped out three times. Parents are so involved that every single day of the week is filled on the volunteer schedule. Since AJ's teacher welcomes parents to come in as much as they want in addition to the schedule, when I went to help once, there were four of us parents volunteering.

AJ’s teacher gets a lot of things done with the kids in a very short amount of time. In the one hour I am there, they will do the alphabet, have a snack, play a game, work on reading, work on an art project, play outside, go to the bathroom or drink water on their way back inside, and work on learning the calendar and how to describe the weather outside. I also find it interesting that the chalk/white board is such a peripheral aspect of their learning. Instead, central to their learning is the “Smartboard,” which is like a board-sized computer that you control with your touch, like a giant i-phone or i-pad.

The most recent time I helped in AJ's classroom, each of us parents lead a small group of students read a beginner reading book. I loved being able to reinforce and teach AJ and three of his classmates how to sound out the words. I love getting to know who all of AJ's classmates are and see Andreus, who AJ calls his best friend, and Andreus’ twin brother, Matteo. We’ve had play dates with them, and I’m getting to know their family. Together, the three of them look like triplets to me, since they are also half-Filipino (they're dad is originally from the Philippines and their mother is German). The twins seem to be drawn to Filipinos, as Andreus is always approaching AJ, and whenever I come into the class, Matteo always hangs onto my hand. When I’m in AJ's classroom, he's always so excited to have me there and always wants me to stand or sit next to him, holds my hand, hugs me and asks for kisses. Kindergarten boys are at an age in their development where they need a lot of affection that they won't be as needy for later, so I love that AJ can go to school and still get all the hugs and affection from his mom that he asks during those times, since I'm right there with him.

AJ was not very interested in learning the alphabet with me last year, but he loves all the movements they do with the sounds of the letters in school. I think the positive pressure of all his classmates beside him gets him excited about whatever they're doing as well. In the clip below they are working on their alphabet using the Smartboard at the front. AJ is in the green shirt on the right side of the screen, turning around because he's looking for me.  Sorry for the pathetic camera-manship. I kept trying to bend down low behind the table, so they wouldn't notice me with the camera.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The School Bus and Blood

Well, I'm sure you've noticed the change in the appearance of this blog. For the first time since its creation over 5.5 years ago, this blog looks different. My first entry in February 2005 was about the birth of my first-born AJ (short for Andrew Junior). Well today, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010 marks my first-born's first day at real school and first time on a school bus from home to school and back.


AJ started afternoon kindergarten today. I was so proud of AJ, jumping up and down, skipping beside him as I held his hand to the bus stop.

Andrew had some words for this very occasion:

Elementary school (Kindergarten or 1st grade) – could reread this letter each year and make adjustments.

Dear AJ,

I love you so much. Going to school is a wonderful experience, but it is also a great challenge that I know that you can overcome with the Lord's help. I remember first going to school as a child and feeling a little bit afraid because there were so many new people and I wasn't with my mom anymore. I hope you're excited about going to school and meeting lots of new people. You'll make new friends and learn lots of new things. Don't ever be afraid to go to school and face the challenges God has placed in front of you. I remember when you were 3.5 you used to be afraid to go upstairs alone because it was dark. We used to tell you that it was okay, you're a big boy, you can do it. Then one Friday night we were watching a movie in front of the fireplace and Mom asked you to go upstairs and you said, "I'm a little bit big. I can go upstairs by myself because God is with me.

"Deut 31:6 " Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you He will not fail you or forsake you."

Acts 20:35 "In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"

Do all that you can to love your neighbors. Serve them and make them happy. Take care of your mom and you sister. Tonight, January 20, 2009 you and I were talking in your bed and you told me that you were very happy because you love your sister and you get to have her around all the time. That made me so happy to hear because my prayer for you often is that you will love your sister for who she is, and value her and take care of her as an older brother. I asked you what you love about her and you said that you love her because she's always there to play with a and you tell her all about what you are doing with your toys and you guys use your imagination together as you run around the house "tending" its a space ship, or farm, or train or something fun. You'll always have a wonderful imagination. You and Gracie share such an incredible life together because you are close in age. Keep looking out for her best interest, and as you get older be a help to your mom.


As a man, you need to be a leader and take on great responsibilities. If others around you sin, don't follow after them but turn away from it and get help if needed. People may not like you because you don't sin with them, but remember that you are always accepted by God, me, and your mom. Give yourself to others, and God will bless you. God is always watching you, He is everywhere and nothing is hidden from His sight.

I love you so much and I wish I could be there with you.

Love,

Papa


Like Wesley from Star Trek the Next Generation, God?
I feel as if I'm down to the dregs - the nasty, gritty stuff at the bottom of your drink that you probably didn't know was there - in my grieving process now, and the Lord has been showing me areas of grief that I've never grieved. I think I've avoided them because they are the most painful losses for me.

One area of avoided grief is the fact that I no longer have Andrew to enjoy the children with. It is probably the 2nd worst disappointment that came with Andrew's death.

Enjoying the children together was one of Andrew's and my favorite things, and one of the sweetest enjoyments of our entire lives. The children were what kept Andrew and I laughing every day, even through our darkest days through cancer.

What I wrote on a May 14, 2008 blog before Andrew died has still been my heart:

What about our kids, Lord? I don't want them to have to long for a father and be like that kid, Wesley, from Star Trek the Next Generation, who only had a hologram of his father delivering a message, and he seemed so real he could touch him, but then the holographic message ended and his father disappeared.

Come on, God, I don't want them to not even remember him or know how much he loved them
- My grace is sufficient. You know I will take care of you.

How will I take care of them? You know I will take care of you.

How will I live without him? You know I will take care of you.

I've really avoided crying about the fact that the children don't have their adored father. I think that for the first year after Andrew's death, I relied upon the Lord's promise that He is a Father to the fatherless. But after the first year, I think I've had a silent, subtle, gradually growing bitterness in my heart about it. As I've begun to realize how I have suppressed this aspect of my grief, it is allowing me to increasingly bring it before the Lord and cry it out like a mad woman.

As I had to visit AJ's kindergarten last week to meet his teacher, I cried driving to his school and back. Sad that my first-born was not the baby that I wanted to always be my baby. Sad that I was sending him off without Andrew next to me. Heartbroken about our dashed dreams to have a house overflowing with children. Flashbacks to the days of walking with my infant on my chest in Snohomish, WA when I thought I couldn't imagine a day when I wouldn't want an infant. A constant flow of little ones had seemed good to me. You can see I wrote about it on the very first blogs.

And so I have found myself increasingly bitter that bogged down by carrying the full responsibility of my family, rather than sharing it with my husband, I feel as if I miss out on fully enjoying the children during their fleeting littleness the way Andrew and I did together.

Since I've realized this subtle bitterness in my heart, I have been confessing it to the Lord and trying to be sensitive to when I feel the loss, (which is actually daily and frequently, as if Andrew's absence makes our day feel like swiss cheese without him, despite how I have managed to avoid it) so that I can cry through it and bring it all before the Lord honestly. To suppress it is just to rely upon myself. But self-reliance doesn't glorify the Lord and only bears thorns, like bitterness or (if you're good at your efforts) self-righteousness, rather than the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Only the Lord can heal and change my heart, so I must be in a constant state of confession, when necessary, and just general transparency with Him like the Best Friend I could ever have.

Are You Good, God?
I have been terrible about crying regularly since the one year anniversary of Andrew's death. Maybe the only way I don't cry is simply by not remembering how good my time with Andrew was. But when I have sudden, unexpected flashbacks, the pain nearly kills me. Perhaps one of the reasons I cried every day the first year was because if I didn't pace myself, the accumulated grief attacking me all at once would have broken me.

Andrew's birthday is in 3 days, on September 11th. Yesterday, I watched some videos of us. It seems that my coping methods are to block out how much I loved Andrew. I always find myself surprised when I see videos that we are so often looking in each other's eyes, constantly smiling at each other. I have a hard time remembering it that way, thinking such things are too good to be true and can't really exist, let alone have been something I lived. Tonight I wept like a broken animal that had been run over, wailing its last cries as I remembered those images of us smiling at each other.

And so another area in which I have avoided grieving is that my whole identity for the first three years of our marriage was that I believed I was going to spend the rest of my life with Andrew. When I changed my last name from Uriarte to Mark, my name became Grace Mark, but in my head it was: "Grace [-I'm-Going-to-Spend-the-Rest-of-My-Life-with-ANDREW-] MARK[!!!]"

I was surprised one day this summer by the cynicism of the thoughts popping into my head: "Weddings are a waste of time." "Weddings are a farce." "My wedding was all a big stupid joke of which I was the butt." To me, my wedding was a celebration of Christ sovereignly and graciously orchestrating Andrew's life and my life to bring us together at just the right time so that we could spend the rest of our lives together. My thoughts continued to pipe in: "What a stupid fool I was with that naive, hope-filled smile on my face in all my wedding pictures, because I thought I was going to spend my life with Andrew. What a big to-do about something that was never going to happen." "I thought I had no idea what life would bring us but it didn't matter as long as we were together." "There were only two things I thought I knew in my life - that I would spend all of eternity with Jesus and all of my life with Andrew. To have been wrong about the latter would almost be as bad as finding out Christianity is a farce. Talk about a paradigm shift..."

After putting the kids to bed, sitting in the darkness, I whispered, "If You were going to take him, why couldn't we have had a more average, a more lukewarm romance? Why would You give me near perfection, give me beyond what I could dare to imagine in a husband, if You were just going to take him away? Why would You make the pain all that much sharper? Why would You possibly want to do that? For what lessons? Am I really that much more horrible of a sinner than everyone else spared from such horror that I can't learn with less severe trials, with more generic trials? If You loved me, what loving Father would take a knife to His cherished daughter's chest and cut out her heart knowingly? On purpose?"

I cried my eyes out.

Then, through my hot tears, just as I was about to address God, as "God," what slipped out instead was, "Why would Jesus do that to me?" And at that name, images of my gory Savior glimmered, flashes of blood dripping down His arms, the One who died for my sin that I hurt Him with each day. The One who's blood I cry out for cleansing each day and claim as my reason for drawing near to the GOD OF THE UNIVERSE with confidence as my Papa. With those images, thoughts began to seep in: "No, He by no means seeks to harm you. He is no evil god. Just as you tenderly love your squeezable Gracie and your precocious AJ, infinitely more does Jesus tenderly love You."

"Lord," I wept. "You cause my heart to still believe You are good." An unexpected verse that I don't usually think about whispered to my mind: Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)

The questions relented. I didn't have to know why. I just have to know I'm wrapped in His loving arms and His tender lovingkindess encompasses me. And that's enough for me. I'm loved. I'm taken care of. He is good. I can trust Him, though I may not understand. His blood convinces me of His love for me.

Blogging Again
Due to a lot of people expressing how they don't know how the children and I are doing now that I rarely blog, I'm going to attempt to blog more regularly again. I am hoping that this change in blog appearance will encourage me to blog, even if the content may not be about pure misery.  If I don't blog regularly, I've opened a twitter account and will try to regularly update that instead. You can follow me at gracemark7 on twitter.com. We'll see how it goes. I'm always disappointed when a blog promises to update you on something in the next post, and then a future post apologizes for never getting around to it. So as far as blogging or tweeting more regularly, I'll just say we'll see how it goes for now =)

So grateful for all your prayers, and love, and concern for our family. It was so wonderful to catch up with so many of you this summer.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sinatra Preacher Man

Today is my brother's in law birthday. My sister was asking me to put a video up of him singing. I never got around to it, but figured his birthday would be a good time to finally do so. He is known as the Twin Cities Frank Sinatra, or as I think of him, and I'm sure many many others think as well, the next great preacher of his generation.

He is my pastor at Redeemer Bible Church in Minnetonka, MN.

I'm so thankful you're my brother(-in-law) and pastor to me, Bob. Just like your mom's card, even if I had had a choice in the matter, I couldn't have chosen a better brother(-in-law). And I don't think I would have survived the past few years without your faithful shepherding through your gospel preaching, the effect of your ministry on your congregation, and your personal ministry of the Word to our family as well.

So grateful for your shepherding and, yes, that you have incessently made fun of me since I was 12. Love you, Bob!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

"Beloved, If You Could Actually Read This over My Shoulder..."

So, I know I haven't blogged in awhile. I guess there is a certain self-consciousness that has set in, since the one year anniversary of Andrew's death back in February. Like a fear that if I mention how I still grieve Andrew that some might be like, "Oh come on, get over it already."

I only blog when I feel compelled to. I seem unable to say much on this blog about the day to day, how much joy the kids bring me, how well they're doing, or what life is like as a single mom. I seem only to be able to blog about Andrew and usually only when I'm feeling saddest. Blogging may be my verbal version of crying (and eventually preaching to myself). So perhaps this year, maybe it's a good thing that a lot of time passes between blogs, because maybe it means there are longer stretches between intense sadness.

I guess I should mention that there have, indeed, been victories. Victories, where in the midst of the hurt, the Lord has brought great joy through His fellowship and all that He has been teaching me through my sufferings. There actually was one month or so following the injury the one year anniversary of Andrew's death inflicted upon my heart, where I experienced greater joy and greater peace than I have ever experienced in my entire life, completely independent of circumstances and totally because of the Lord. I actually wrote a really long blog about it, but for some reason, haven't published it yet.

Very soon after Andrew died, I started reading the book, Heaven, by Randy Alcorn. I've picked it up recently again. Alcorn says that most evangelical views of heaven, such as the view that we will be disembodied spirits unconscious of each other or our previous lives on earth is influenced by neo-Platonism rather than the Bible. He says that there will be far more continuity between our lives now on earth and our lives in heaven, and especially our lives on the New Earth after Christ returns.

So, if you find anything I write in the following as appauling, please just blame it on my recent readings or just laugh it off. Ahem...so I thought I would share with you how I felt today in the form of a letter I wrote Andrew tonight. (Cough).

"Beloved, when I asked you once what I should do without you to confide in about everything, you suggested I could write a letter to you. I laughed, thinking it was silly, since you wouldn't see it anyway. I tried once last year, but felt too silly to take it seriously, so it ended up being just like another journal entry. So this is only my second letter to you. I suppose if you could actually read this over my shoulder, if you're aware what happens on earth the way God is, then you already know how I'm doing. I miss you like crazy. CRAZY. I hope not to discourage you by being honest about my feelings, but I'm pretty certain that you're incapable of being discouraged in the presence of Christ, and if you have any concerns about me, you probably speak face to face to our Highest Beloved concerning my well-being.

Beloved, did you see me from heaven today? Emotional and worn out. You were always so steady and would speak truth to me. And when I lost my mind to panic and feeling overwhelmed, and couldn’t think, you would tell me the reasonable plan, the next step forward.

Beloved, I don’t know what happened to all our dreams to live our lives together, to serve the Lord together, how we thought we made each other so much more effective, balanced each other. We thought we better glorified God together as a couple than as singles. We wanted to be a triangle where we sought the Lord and at the end of the day came together to convene about the things He had revealed to us. It was always so amazing that when we actually functioned like that, His Holy Spirit made us so like-minded.

Beloved, remember how you had confessed your feelings for me while I was in the Philippines for six months? We were uncertain where our lives were going to take us next or how we were going to be together. During one of your phone calls to the Philippines, you told me that you had been praying about it, as well as listening to a bunch of Piper sermons at that time in your life. And to use a phrase of his, you said, all we had to do was stand under the “waterfall of God’s grace” and just stay under it wherever it went, and that's how we would know where to go. I can’t remember if I ever told you that I loved that you said that. I loved that you just wanted to follow Him wherever He lead. His waterfall of grace moved me back to Los Angeles to you. I never imagined that once leading us together, His waterfall of grace would lead us apart; you to Christ, while leaving me behind.

Beloved, remember when we were engaged and how we never wanted to be away from each other, and I was out with one of the girls in my small group one night? Esther and I got bubble tea. You called me in the middle of my time with her and sounded like you were trying not to sound disappointed that I was still going to be a little while. Your voice was strained as if you were doing your best not to make me feel pressured to cut my time with her short. Esther and I didn’t return to her apartment until after 10pm. I thought it was too late to stop by your apartment and didn't want to bother you, knowing how seriously you took your sleep, but since you only lived upstairs from her, she kept encouraging me to knock on your door and see if you were still awake.

When I knocked, you immediately answered the door. You looked so relieved and happy to see me. You told me you had missed me so much. You told me that one of your roommates had seen you exercising earlier and had said, “What, since Grace isn’t here you can finally breathe?” And you had said, “No, since Grace isn’t here, I can’t breathe. So I’m just exercising instead.” Beloved, that’s how I feel. I can’t breathe today. I miss you soooo much.

I keep trying to tell myself that it’s just because I’m generically lonely and it’s just because my life is hard being a single mom that I feel so sad, but you were not generically lonely that time you waited for me to return. I try to suppress it or deny it, butwhen I'm honest with myself, I realize, simply, I miss you. You are my life-breath, beloved. Or, we were each others' lungs, and it's still a struggle to breathe with lung-halves.

Beloved, we had so many dreams together. How could I have been so wrong to have thought we would spend our lives together? How could I have been so crazy? So stupid? So wrong.

Beloved, last week I took my first road trip without you to my cousin Amanda’s baby shower in Wisconsin. I couldn’t figure out why I was feeling so sad while I was packing up the car, considering I’ve packed up the car so many times to go to the airport and was always excited about mine and the kids’ trips the past several months.

And then I realized, this was different. This was a road trip. And road trips were your thing. I used to think road trips were unbearably boring, but you taught me to enjoy them. You loved to drive and I loved all our undistracted time together in the car.

Oh Lord, I need You.

I know the Lord feels my pain. Perhaps more deeply than I do. In fact, I think He died for my pain. He died to get rid of the sting of death and do away with death forever.

Beloved, what will it feel like to see you again? To think, we will be far more overjoyed at our reunion than that time that I knocked, and you opened the door to me. And there will be no death or uncertainty that could spring upon us to ever disappoint us or tear us apart again.

Sometimes, eternity seems so near, I could practically touch it. What shall it be like to touch Christ? To see His face? For Him to greet me and rejoice over me with love as my Husband? How amazing is it that that actually can be? Only through His death and His resurrection has He made it possible to cleanse a sinner so He could rejoice over her.

'He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.' (Zephaniah 3:17)

Sometimes, love, when I see old pictures of us, our love was so beautiful, it almost seems like a fantasy, like it couldn’t have really happened. It felt so real at the time, yet so beyond my dreams, that I kept thinking I was going to wake up any moment.

I’ve woken up. And now you are gone.

It is interesting to imagine that how our dreams on earth to fall in love and how they were fulfilled in each other are a pale shadow compared to how seeing Christ face to face will infinitely exceed all our hopes of what heaven shall be like. It is amazing that you are experiencing that right now - your hopes infinitely fulfilled all in Christ. You must be so psyched. All the time.

Babe, I love you. I miss you. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for asking me to marry you. Thank you for giving me the privilege of being your wife. Will you ask the Lord about some things for me?

1. That I would honor Him in my mothering and how I spend my days. That the children would exceed us in their ability to glorify God all their days.

2. That somehow I would be able to enjoy each gift of today and my daily responsibilities as Ecclesiastes says to.

("It is good and fitting for one to eat and drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor in which he toils under the sun all the days of his life which God gives him; for it is his heritage...to rejoice in his labor—this is the gift of God. For he will not dwell unduly on the days of his life, because God keeps him busy with the joy of his heart" (Ecclessiastes 5:18-20)).

3. That I would be able to finish and publish our book like you said to do in your letters. The one year anniversary of your death was the most excruciating time of my entire life, and arrested the momentum of writing our book, and I have not been able to bring myself to work on it since.

I love you, Andrew. I’m so thankful for the beautiful man God made you, both in form and character.

I’ve always been convinced that it made the Lord laugh with pleasure when he brought us together. I’m convinced that the beauty of our love glorified His amazing lovingkindness that takes pleasure in bringing joy to His children.”

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Andrew and Resurrection Sunday

For some reason Easter weekend is really painful for me now. It's as if Andrew's suffering was a visual for me of Christ's suffering, and I can't stop crying. On the one hand, the pain is so awful at times, it is like the pain could turn me inside-out. And on the other hand, I feel privileged to have a special visual insight into what Christ suffered, at least physically, for our sin.

This week, as Andrew's parents came to visit for Gracie's fourth birthday and took us out for dinner, I kept remembering Andrew's last supper. His parents had taken Andrew, the kids, and I to Wildfire where Andrew ate a large steak for his last meal that he was ever able to enjoy through his mouth before his 2nd major surgery. Andrew LOVED food. I remember how loud the table of 3 next to us was, hardly taking any breaths between all their words the entire time we were there, while our table was almost completely silent. Incredible hollowness and lonliness nearly ate through me. Imagine the apostles' confusion at Jesus' last supper when their best Friend and Lord said to them, "Where I am going, you cannot go."

I remember the next morning at 5am while it was still dark, leaving for his surgery, which in many ways, is when my Andrew left me. I remember he opened the door of the mudroom and stepped down to the garage. I grabbed the door after him and saw the back of his head and his blue and grey Helly Hansen jacket that we had bought together in Washington to shield him from the daily drizzle. And then I turned back, looking behind me at the mudroom, not wanting to step down the stairs to the garage. Must we really go? I felt like I was walking to my execution. What if I lose him now - No! We must. The cancer can't stay a moment longer in his body. You don't get any other choice. I turned back towards Andrew and followed him into the dark garage.

He never looked, or talked, or had the energy like that morning again. The next 11 months was his slow death as I was forced to accept that I would never have the Andrew that walked out of that mudroom with me again.

And then I remember how as Andrew lay on his hospital bed the last 3 days of his life. He heaved, arching his back off the bed, as he struggled for one breath after the next, the tumor pressing against his airway. His body was covered with the blood that had burst from his neck wound. Having lost too much blood to ever be conscious again, his eyes were closed. The blood stains were splattered all the way down to his toes. His feet were crossed at his ankles just like the depictions of Christ on the cross. With each day, his ribs became more and more pronounced, as the doctor said that with all his systems shutting down, he would not be able to take nutrition. And there was a three-inch long, vertical scar over his right ribs that resembled what one might think a soldier's sword-piercing on His side might look like. And looking on, watching her son suffer, just as Mary did, stood his mother.

Those of us in the room, independent of each other, were all struck by how much like Jesus he appeared to us as he suffered.

For as many times as I have heard the Easter story since I was born, Easter has far more of an effect on me than it ever has. When I was thinking about that last night and separately reflecting how Jesus died over the Passover, because He was the ultimate Passover Lamb, I realized that Andrew's 2nd major surgery, in which he was never the same again, took place over Easter weekend 2 years ago.

This morning, I received an email from an old friend, in which she shared some memories from when she had visited us. To my surprise, it turned out to be Easter 5 years ago. I had not remembered any of the things she wrote about:

"I remember that we went to the Seattle Library and Andrew was carrying Andrew Jr. in a sling (I don't know what they're called) and when Andrew Jr. fell asleep, Andrew jokingly placed Jr., sling and all, on one of the bookshelves and you laughed so fondly at your husband's humor. I think you guys took a picture of it."

And she copied a passage from her journal that she had written the weekend she had visited us: "When Andrew came home from work, I saw how Andrew and Grace work so well together. I knew them as singles and never a couple. They are just very compatible and it was neat to see how God knew them so perfectly well to have already blessed them with a son."

I love to remember him. So many things I've forgotten, or were just too good to be true.

The good news, that's even better than my experience with Andrew of being too good to be true, the news that really was TOO GOOD to be true, and yet was and is true, is that JESUS ROSE. HE ROSE!

Imagine the hurt and disappointment His friends and followers felt when He left them. Gone. Forever. All their hopes destroyed. Or so they thought. HE ROSE! Beyond any hopes or dreams they had for themselves or their own people or mankind, He more than fulfilled their hopes and dreams. By taking the blame for all their sins, through His suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus provided a way for them to be forgiven, saved from hell and from themselves and their sin, and, as a result, a way for them to always, to eternally, have the closest, most satisfying relationship that could ever exist in all the universe with THE GOD of THE UNIVERSE.

Andrew died on a Saturday. Jesus rose up from the dead on a Sunday. I look forward to the day when Christ shall return and we, like the One who went before us, shall all rise.

"On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'

"....Then [Jesus] opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." - Luke 24:1-7, 50-52

Thursday, February 04, 2010

My Love's Too Big for You, My Love

Year 1

My dearest,

Continue to be strong and courageous. I’m sure the past year has been tough, but God has been faithful, right? What are you thankful for? What can we give thanks for this past year?

If you are feeling up to it you can open up some picture albums and videos and watch them with the kids. I want the kids to always remember that the time we had together was wonderful, and though short, it was exactly how much time the Lord wanted us to have in His sovereign plan. Though it is hard to be without me, God’s design is perfect and He know’s what is best for us. Let the children know that I love them very much, and I wish I could hug and kiss them right now...

Deut 31:6 "Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you He will not fail you or forsake you."

- Andrew


Sunday, February 7th - One Year Since My Love Left Me.

This year, I feel like I have seen Christ with my own eyes.

At times daily, I have often called out to God, often out loud, holding Him to His promise that He is a Husband to the husbandless and a Father to the fatherless. He has met me at my every cry and need. He has never failed me. I will say more about that at another time, when I have more words.

But in recent weeks, I have been at a loss for words. This past year has been a continual wrestling with my memories. I've spent much of the year rifling through the archives of my mind, while other times, finding myself trying to block out the past; that if I convinced myself that what Andrew and I had shared had never happened, at least not as richly, then there was not as much to lose and not as much to weep over. But the truth is, I loved Andrew with all my heart.

I hope some of that wrestling with my memory can rest now. This week, I could not help myself but spend all day making the video below. I do not have to wrestle with my memories, struggle to access them, tackle them to hold onto them, because they are here now compiled on my hard drive and the internet. I have not had words, but I now have my video.

If you press play over and over and over and over again (and then repeat that a few times while your hands make lunch for your kids), then you'll experience what many of my days inside my head have been like over this year - except I did not have the convenience of a play button or the pictures already organized or their significance already explained. The experience of having such images grazing my mind, sometimes vivid, sometimes vague, have been more like trying to sort through and organize very unwieldy and slippery, entwined, and knotted spaghetti.

Thank you to all of you for cheering me on this first year, whether you communicated it to me, or quietly did so between you and Jesus. There are times where I can feel you praying for us and the Lord sustaining me in answer.

I used to write fiction. When I was still in the Philippines in 2003, Andrew wrote me, "Will you let me read your stories some time? Will you let me into your world?" I let Andrew into my world and he was better than fiction all along, through and through. I let him into my heart and he filled it with himself, nearly bursting it. I haven't written fiction in a few years now. But welcome into my world, everyone. Here is this old heart...


Music by Ingrid Michaelson, Sort of

One more thing. That I know Andrew would absolutely want me to put here. This was the message my brother-in-law preached the day after Andrew died, Sunday, called "Reflections on the Suffering and Death of a 27 Year-Old Man." Over 100,000 people came through here and listened to that message. Yes, 100,000 people. Curious yet? Or if you've already heard it, it'll benefit your soul to refresh your memory. Click here: http://solidfoodmedia.com/messages/listen.php?id=8658eb126a771f61ab395e78b2a848c708b144c1

Please also feel free to share any memories about Andrew that you haven't shared yet in the comments section below. I absolutely love to read them, and I know one day my kids will also.

Friday, January 08, 2010

My First Wedding Anniversary Not Wedded

January 10, 2010 would have been Andrew's and my sixth anniversary. I loved him as if we would die together.

Till death do us part. Except I thought that might buy us 50 or 60 years together.

One year ago Andrew was still alive and the kids and I were staying at a nutritional treatment center in Redlands, CA. January 2, 2009 Andrew's parents, brother, and sister and her husband left from spending the holidays with us. We closed the door behind them, Andrew said he was tired, laid down on the bed, and thus began Andrew's major decline, in which he slept nearly all day and all night every day. He would only get up twice a day when I would beg him that he needed to go to the bathroom, because it would not be good for all those toxins to never be released from his system. I did not understand what was going on. He had gone through periods of sleep like this during chemotherapy, and I did not understand that this was different. I did not understand that he had even less energy than then and that his body was shutting down now.

Monday, January 5th, 2009 a few days before our 5 year anniversary, while Andrew was sleeping and after I had put the kids to bed, I left the treatment center around 7:30pm and drove down the hills of Redlands to find the Trader Joe's to food shop for my kids, who obviously were not eating the same therapy foods as their father. I had always shopped at a different supermarket, but I thought this evening, I would look for Trader Joe's.

As I drove down the hills, I was stunned by the view that clear evening of the city lights of the valley below us. It was so beautiful and reminded me of my dating days with Andrew in Los Angeles. He loved views. He loved the bigger picture.

One of the things that he loved as a systems engineer for Motorola in Los Angeles the summers of 2002 and 2003 was that he had to go to the highest mountain or the off-limits highest part of the highest building in the city where they would place the radio towers he designed for the radio systems (like long-distance walkie-talkies) for the LAPD or LAFD.

Also, while I was in the Philippines for six months in 2003, he used to ride his motorcycle into the mountains and loved the views from there and email me the pictures. The first week when I returned from the Philippines, we went hiking on those various mountains within an hour of L.A. every day April 2003. As our relationship progressed and we could not hike every day, we would still hike every weekend. And when there wasn't time to go hiking, Andrew would look for a high building in Westwood near UCLA for us to go to the top and look at the views.

I had always loved to obsess over minute details to the point of myopia. Andrew introduced me to the bigger picture.

One of our most special times together was before we were even dating, the summer of 2002 before I had left for my six months in the Philippines in October. Andrew had called me one Friday evening and said in his low voice, "Grace. You're leaving. That's BAD. I'm never going to see you again." He continued, "So the reason I'm calling is to see if you'd like to have lunch with me tomorrow."

I thought Andrew was asking me out on a date until he called me Saturday morning to ask if his cousin, Dan, could come along. Andrew and I had all the same friends and saw each other a lot that summer, and since Dan spent a lot of time with Andrew that summer, I already knew Dan. So even though I was confused and disappointed (and frustrated) that it wasn't a date we were going on, it sounded fun anyway.

Before lunch that Saturday, I walked across the street from my apartment at 423 Kelton and met Andrew in front of his apartment at 424 Kelton. The two of us walked together down to Westwood where we met Dan at Mr. Noodle. I think I expected I would go home after lunch and not intrude upon their guy time, but then Dan suggested checking out the Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art. This was very exciting for me, because aside from the fact that I had been secretly crushing on Andrew Mark for nearly a year at this point, which is a lifetime for a college student, my dream was to go to a museum with Andrew.

We had fun at the museum, then got ice cream, then I think there was this Japanese festival all within walking distance of the museum. Andrew said his lips were dry and asked if anyone had chapstick he could borrow. I handed him my rainbow sherbet chapstick, pink, orange, and lighter pink swirled in its clear circular case from the Gap, and he applied it to his lips. I didn't use that chapstick much after that in order to save it and found it one day a few months ago. I put it in Gracie's keepsakes for her to have when she grows up.

After we drove back to Westwood, I thought I would return to my apartment and they would return to Andrew's apartment across the street. But Andrew offered to make us dinner. After dinner, Andrew found a nearly empty carton of rainbow sherbet in the freezer, which I think at some point I had mentioned that had been my favorite when I was little. I think it was his too, so he offered to share it with me out of the carton. This may sound gross to some of you, or just so-clueless-crass guy, and while all of these things probably did cross my mind, the final conclusion was - flattery. How intimate. Sharing ice cream out of a carton together. And I really wasn't even sure what he thought of me.

Again, I thought I was supposed to go home. But then Andrew suggested we all take a drive to this place he knew of a few minutes away. We climbed into his beloved black 1995 Integra GSR that identified him and he drove us to a neighborhood a few minutes away and parked in a cul-de-sac. I didn't know where we were going and why we had to drive to take a walk in a suburban neighborhood, since there were suburban neighborhoods where we lived in Westwood. There was some sparse brush beside the street that we walked alongside. All of a sudden Andrew turned into the brush and we found ourselves on a dirt trail. We followed Andrew up it a few yards. Then all of a sudden, we found ourselves at the top of a mountain. Below us was an amazing view of the city lights all around us, glittering, yellow pinpricks blinking up at us from a black blanket below.

We sat down, quieted by the view, on the dusty ground. Andrew and I were not sitting near each other, probably separated by a few yards. But we faced each other diagonally, so that I saw the city lights just past his profile and behind him and he saw the lights beyond me. We never looked directly at each other. It was probably too dark. But I loved him. Silently. Quietly.

There was barking in the background. Multiple barkings and howls. Like a pack of them. The barkings and howls intermittent and slowly getting louder and closer, as if they were on the other side of a canyon, making their way up, swirling a path upwards. But I was too young and stupid to fear danger at the time and assumed - because I couldn't put my finger on it - maybe those were the neighborhood dogs? Dan spoke words of reason and said we should go. In retrospect, they were probably coyotes.

Seven years later, January 2009 I drove down the hills of Redlands and saw the quiet sparkles of the city lights blinking up at me through a clear, black, quiet night. I continued down the hill and entered the freeway. On the freeway, I found that when I reached my exit, it was closed due to construction, forcing me to exit at the following one. I tracked my way through the streets of Redlands to the area where I had originally been told to exit, but there was no Trader Joe's. When I eventually did find it, it had closed two minutes earlier.

As I drove back to the house, discouraged and overwhelmed after a night of wondering through the dark streets and freeway of Redlands, I said, "Oh Lord, I don't know why You had me come out all this way tonight, only to never make it to Trader Joe's. But I know that You are sovereign. What is it that you brought me out here for?"

The next night, I found a different scene as I descended the hills in my car. Fog covering the valley. There were no city lights to be seen.

I realized that if it was January, then it meant our wedding anniversary must be approaching, and I had not even planned anything to do. In the past, Andrew, who was characterized by his giftedness at planning, always planned our anniversaries, which usually consisted of bringing the kids to a sitter overnight and checking into a nice hotel in the closest city to where we were living at the time and dinner at a hip restaurant we had never been to. I thought, "Well, considering how poorly Andrew is doing, maybe this would be a legitimate exception to celebrating our anniversary." I still did not understand that we were approaching his death.

As I asked the Lord again, "Why did you allow me to waste that whole night for no reason, Lord?" Then, it occurred to me. Andrew may not have energy to go out for the night or even be able to eat at all with his mouth, let alone be able to eat at a restaurant, but perhaps I could drive him and we could sit in the car and look at the city lights. It'll be perfect. He'll love it!

The next day, I drove all around the hills, looking for the best vantage of the city lights on a quiet street. I found a spot beside some brush. I prayed for the next few days that the Lord would provide a clear night for Andrew to enjoy the city lights.

I remembered all the old jazz we listened to. Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Brubeck. I remembered how our first week dating, after dinner he took me on the Pacific Coast Highway and parked near these jagged rocks beside the beach. He pointed out how he used to come there during the summer of 2001 before he had become a Christian, and God was in the process of decimating him, humbling him, and he would come here to the beach and listen to the waves crash and call out to God, "If You're there God, show me!" And we listened to the new John Coltrane CD I had gotten him as he shared all these things with me.

So I thought of playing jazz while we looked at the city lights, but I realized I had no way of playing it, since the radio in the car a friend had lent us during our time in California was broken. I found a CD player in the treatment center that Friday, the day of our anniversary. But it had to be plugged into the wall and I didn't have any batteries. It kept coming to mind, though, that God was going to work it out, and I knew He would provide for us somehow. At the last hour before we left, I realized, "Duh! I can bring my laptop and play all our jazz from there."

January 10, 2009 our fifth and last anniversary together. One of the workers who made our foods, a daughter of the couple who ran the treatment center in her early 20s, had offered multiple times earlier that week, not even knowing our anniversary was approaching, that she loved our kids so much, she would love to babysit for us some time. So after I had fed Andrew his ground up and liquified dinner through his feeding tube, I told Andrew it was time to get ready now. I walked away and took care of the kids. Again, I didn't understand that this was not the same thing as when he was worn out from chemotherapy. During chemotherapy he slept constantly, but if he had to go to the bathroom, he could get up for that, and if he had to go to the doctor, he could also get up and at least make it to sitting in the car. This time, however, he had gradually lost his voice during the two weeks his family had bee with us and didn't have the energy to find a way to explain much, so it never occurred to me that if he was going to come out and sit in the car, I should be the one to get him changed and everything. He took much longer than I was expecting him to get ready.

After Andrew was ready, I drove us up the winding roads to the quiet street I had found earlier in the week and parked beside the brush. The Lord had provided a clear night. We sat watching the city lights, the jazz playing.

Afterwards, we drove through the city of Redlands and then through the campus of Redlands University. Another thing Andrew always loved was driving. This time he wasn't in the driver's seat, but he still liked to be in the car exploring. With the few words he was able to whisper, he said he liked that there was no pressure to go to a restaurant or have to get somewhere by any time.

When we returned to the treatment center, it had only been an hour-and-a-half.

That was our last wedding anniversary together and our last date together. I didn't have much of my Andrew afterwards. He took mostly to sleeping as his body shut down that last month.

When he died, Feb. 7th, it had been as if he had already left me a few months earlier. In fact, little by little over the years, the cancer had slowly stolen his energy - and my Andrew - and Feb. 7th, it had only become final.

I love writing about Andrew and all our memories. They were so beautiful, and while the Lord may continue to heal me, it's hard to imagine ever not enjoying writing about Andrew. He impacted so many people and even after his death, his memory and story continue to provide countless opportunities to share about who Jesus truly is.

A lot of people have been asking how I've been doing, since I haven't posted anything in awhile. I feel like God has done the inconceivable in me, which is that I feel like some real healing has accumulated over the past several months. I had no idea it was possible for the hurt to subside after such a profound loss.

I found in the Philippines that I no longer thought of us as a foursome missing the first one, but as a threesome. I felt my identity was no longer as a wife and mom, but as a single mother. And once I began to see my identity differently, there was not the same disappointment and hurt. There wasn't the same sense as if something was missing, or as if we were waiting for the first one to return, only to wait endlessly. "Hope deferred makes the heart sick." The hope of his return finally died inside and my heart began to feel less and less sick. After the kids and I returned from the Philippines, I found that dinners at night were not so unbearable. There was no longer the automatic sense of expectancy every evening for Andrew to return home to us.

Travelling to another country with a completely different set of scenery before us, like we were in a different world, was really helpful. It was also incredibly restful, which I think was also very healing. And finally, having the opportunity to share about Jesus because of Andrew's life, suffering, and death, really gave me a glimpse of the bigger picture, of how his suffering and death was not for naught, not senseless, but, indeed, would continue to bring about both mine and Andrew's hearts' greatest desire - the worth and sufficiency and goodness of Christ, even in the midst of the worst, most hurtful disappointment. Everything may fall away and everything may disappoint, but Christ never does. He will never forsake His own. Our hope in Him is not misplaced, and so He will never be a disappointment.

There are still times where the pain is suddenly and unexpectedly fresh, where memories of Andrew become vivid. A.J. right now, I think is going through what I went through this past summer. He seems like he is grieving and hurting more than I have seen him do this whole year. Ever since I pulled out the Christmas decor after Thanksgiving, A.J. has been remembering our last Christmas with Andrew. I spent all of Christmas afternoon and evening crying. I couldn't stop. I listened to Andrew's memorial service and cried through all of it.

It seems there's no way around grief, only through it. So I approach the memories head on, so I can cry through them, and move on. It always feels like healing has taken place after I've been able to release some grief through tears, and I feel relieved and better. I'm really grateful for tears and that God provided them as one means to slowly drain the hurt and grief.

There is a sense in which I feel as if I have lost everything. I mean, obviously, I haven't lost everything. I have my two children, my church, a home, many relationships in my life which I treasure, for which I am overwhelmingly grateful. But there is still a sense in which I have faced my greatest fear - to lose Andrew.

I wasn't afraid of the coyotes that night on the mountain with Andrew and Dan. Life, I could take it or lose it, either way it was Christ. I wasn't afraid partly because I was young and dumb, and partly because I just wasn't afraid of death, because death equaled Christ's presence in such a real way to me, and I truly believed I couldn't be taken a moment sooner than my time. But the moment I was married to Andrew, suddenly life became so weighty, so important, so valuable to be never lost, because I absolutely had to be with Andrew. But I feel when I lost my love, I lost my life. No fear - Jesus has resurrected me! Daily, I feel my deaths. As I daily experience all the helplessnesses of a widow, He forces me to die to self; but daily He resurrects me.

Losing Andrew was like the first time I had travelled outside of the U.S. Before I had travelled out of the country, I had no idea what another country would be like. I wasn't sure if another country would be as different as travelling to Mars. Would they have streets like ours? Grass? I found myself surpised when it turned out Spain's sky was blue and looked exactly like ours. In the same way, I was terrified of losing Andrew, because I wasn't sure if what was on the other side was survivable. It turns out Christ was on the other side. Just as the sky is blue in America and is the same sky in the rest of the world, Christ was with me before I lost Andrew and Christ is still always with me and still sufficient in all loss and no matter what may come.

In this state of death (and resurrection), I feel a sense in which there is nothing to lose anymore. Why not live for Christ fearlessly, no matter what the call, no matter what the hurt, because I am dead to myself but alive to God in Christ" (Romans 6:11). I may not have the total fearlessness of death as I had as a dumb young college student, but there is a sense now of freedom in living. Just live for Christ, while living, no matter the cost. Because when all is stripped away, all there is, is Christ. Thank God.

"He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him" (John 12:25-26).