Friday, December 23, 2011

The Mirth of Christmas

Great post by R.W. Glenn (my brother-in-law/pastor):

Christmas is supposed to be a time of mirth.

And this needs to be said for two reasons:

First, our non-Christian friends think we're the most mirthless people on earth. We're so serious and worried about breaking the rules and coloring within the lines that there's little room for mirth. By our demeanor, we've take the "Merry" out of "Merry Christmas."

Second, Christians themselves have a hard time embracing the merriness of Christmas. We feel guilty and like we have to apologize for it, as if the fun of Christmas gets in the way of the meaning of Christmas. But the reality is that Christmas without fun is what distorts the meaning of Christmas.

Did you know that the heavenly father feels compelled to celebrate? But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found (Luke 15:32).

Is this how you see God - as a father compelled to celebrate? This verse from Jesus' Parable of the Prodigal Son demonstrates that our father has a Christmas feeling about us. He's a father full of mirth toward his children.

But the irony is you only get to experience it when you see what a sinner you are - when you see your sin for what it is and return to your heavenly father.

Jesus helps us to see ourselves by depicting three kinds of sinners in this parable:

1. The younger brother before he leaves his father: "Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me." And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and...squandered his estate with loose living (Luke 15:12-13).

This is the sinner that's most familiar: the kind who breaks all the rules in defiance of his father.

2. The older brother: For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends (Luke 15:29-30).

This depicts our struggle with sin in a way that isn't so familiar: keeping all the rules to get leverage over God. It's the sin of obedience - of obeying God not because you love God, but because you want God to give you whatever goodies you value more than him and think he owes you.

3. The younger brother before he returns to his father: But when he came to his senses, he said, "I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men' (Luke 15:17-19).

Amazing! The younger brother has come to his senses, realizes where his rule-breaking has led him, and no longer wants to live this way, but instead of running back to his father as his son, he resolves to live as his father's slave! In essence, he's saying, "I'll make up for what I've done. I'll do more and be better and try harder." The problem here is that the younger brother is not yet convinced that his father is full of mercy and mirth. He still has a wrong view of his father. He feels the need to earn a place at the father's table...which is the opposite of the truth.

For even as the younger brother returns, his father shamelessly runs to embrace him and to cut off his son in the middle of his speech about being the father's slave rather than his father's son: But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son." But the father said to his slaves, "Give this boy some work to do! He can come home, but only as one of you!" Is that what his father says? Absolutely not! He says to his slaves, "Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found." And they began to celebrate (Luke 15:20-24).

So knowing you're a sinner is essential to your repentance, but it's not enough. You also need to know the mirth of your heavenly father - that he's not at all reluctant to receive you as a son, but is eager to do it! He feels compelled to celebrate your return, even your many, many returns.

What will convince you that this really is your heavenly father's disposition toward you? Look to the son who's conspicuously missing from the parable - the one who is telling it! It's only when you see that the heavenly father gave his only son for older and younger brothers like you that you'll be convinced that he loves you. God's lavish grace revealed at the cross proves that he is the father of mirth.

So this Christmas, I plead with you to repent and return to the father of mirth. Then celebrate. Enjoy every minute of your Christmas as an echo of the true party that your heavenly father is throwing in heaven every time you repent.


Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Do You Need Someone to Give You Your Worth?

I suppose since I’m single again, I'm friends with a lot of single women. Sometimes they have always been single, sometimes they are like me, single again. But one thing I have learned through all my trials and talking to people throughout them is that the human experience is just that - human. Universal. Both men and women long to be loved, as well as respected. The funny thing is, is that treating someone with respect is loving. And treating someone with love, is respectful.

I think as women and men we long for those things in their particular expression - whether respect or love. The Lord made women particularly long to be loved, and He graciously commands husbands to meet that need. The Lord made men in their natures particularly long to be respected, and He graciously wants that need to be met, as well, by commanding women to respect their husbands.

A friend told me recently that she read somewhere that the more in love a widow(er) was in their marriage, the more they long to be remarried. Once you've tasted what it's like to be treasured, you long to be treasured again.

The last time I was single, I had never tasted of what it is like to be gospel-treasured. So I didn't know what I was missing. It's like if you have never tasted bubble tea before. You don't need bubble tea, because you don't know what you are missing. But once we introduced bubble tea to our friends, they would drive 45 minutes on a regular basis just to get some bubble tea (that's right. Most of you have never tried bubble tea. You need to – get the “black pearl milk tea” - But you can't go back afterwards. It's worth it though). See, I've gotten distracted by bubble tea. The point is this, a single woman said to me once, "You've already been married. You've already had children. So if you don't again, at least you've already accomplished it once in your life." And I say, it's just the opposite. Once you've tasted and seen, you realize all the more sharply what you are missing. So single ladies, I get where you are at. In fact, I get what it is to long to be loved more than I ever did the last time I was single.

One morning recently, I was feeling overwhelmed and didn't want to face some parenting struggles I was having. I felt so angry that Andrew wasn’t there with me. But I didn’t understand why I felt angry. I thought, "Even if Andrew was here, he would not be in our house all day. I would still be dealing with these parenting issues without his help. So what is it that I wish I could have from him?” Then my Bible reading schedule was about Elijah being taken up to heaven. I thought, "How did Elisha feel when Elijah left him? It doesn't say anything about that. I would feel like, 'No, I'm not ready. It's not been enough time. It would never be enough time.'" And then I burst into tears. Those were the thoughts I had when Andrew left me for heaven – “No, I'm not ready. It's not been enough time. It would never be enough time.” The Holy Spirit used His Word to hit upon what had been upsetting me.

I simply missed Andrew.

I thought, "It's not Andrew's help with the kids I long for. It’s not anything he could do for me. I didn’t want anything from him. It's that I didn't think I could face parenting without his love. His love was my Premium fuel. I could do all things through Andrew whose love gave me strength."

Love gives amazing strength and brings out the best in us, the dormant beauties that neither you nor anyone ever dreamed were there and were never cultivated by anyone else. But the language I heard in my head "through Andrew I could do all things..." exposed to me how I was exalting the love of a man to idolatrous proportions. I realized the lies I was believing. Andrew could never satisfy me in that way. And any time I looked to him to take the place of Christ in my life, I only ended up terribly frustrated and disappointed. Because Christ is jealous for His rightful place in our lives, and He will only thwart our efforts to look to anything less than Him for our satisfaction.

How does the gospel answer the question of longing to be treasured when it seems there was only one person in the world that had such a grasp of the gospel that he could love even me? What do I do when that person is no longer present in this world to love me?

Someone in my small group recently said he found that the worse his wife might act (yes, she was sitting right there. And was fine with him sharing this), the more love the Lord gave him for her. I laughed when I heard him say that, because I knew exactly what he meant. That was how Andrew loved me. The more Andrew knew me, the more he understood my sinfulness, the more he loved me. That was the gospel! I think this type of love - gospel love - feels so much richer than human love. Because the more your spouse loves you - even in the midst of your sin - the more you feel your unworthiness of his love. When you sin, rather than return it with shouting in anger at you - he returns it with affection and gentleness. It's shocking and can only be supernatural. And as a result, it can only be a picture of Jesus. After all, it is His kindness that leads us to repentance.

This type of supernatural, gospel love is so rich. Once you've tasted of it, how can you live without it? And yet, that is what Jesus does for us. He knows everything about us. All the dark things that we don't want anybody to know. All the dark things about us that even we ourselves don't want to face or admit to ourselves. He loves us not because we are worthy or attractive in ourselves. He loves us, even though we so often shake our fists in His face, saying (though perhaps not out loud, but in our grumbling or bad attitudes or taking our anger out on others), "No, God, that's not how I envisioned my life. No God, that's not my will. And Your will doesn't look good to me." He loves us in defiance of our daily sin. He loves us in our neediness for Him. In fact, the more we need Him, the greater His grace.

As I was thinking these thoughts, I wasn’t sure they were enough to cause me to face the day. A moment later, my friend called. And though it was thoughts of Andrew that had spurred these contemplations, and her situation was different, I found myself having to rehearse to her the very truths the Holy Spirit had just comforted me with (just as 2Cor. 1:4 says He will do).

She expressed her fears about opening up to someone interested in her, because what if he rejected her once he knew her? And I said, "You will just have to rest in the gospel. That's what we all need to do. It is a battle to rest in the gospel. That is what I am trying to do this morning." I said, "Jesus loves and accepts you, because He's loving. Because His love is so vast, His love overflows out of Himself onto you. He loves you, because He made you and He loves the work of His own hands. He loves You because you bear His image, and He loves His own image. He loves you so much that He shed His own blood for you. The God-Man shed His blood for you! Blood worth more than gold - infinitely. No one else could come close to loving you like that. No one else has anything worth that much to make such a sacrifice for you."

Jesus loves me infinitely more than any human ever could. Than Andrew ever could love me.

Now, I don't want any of you to misunderstand me. I'm not saying anything here about having self-esteem. In ourselves, we are worth nothing. But in Jesus, Jesus is our worthiness.

I said, "He rejoices over you like a groom shouts with exultation over his bride." What more do we need? Jesus is enough. And all our worth is in Him. We do not need a man to tell us we are worthy or to give us worth. Jesus is worthy in our place.

I said to my friend, "So it doesn't matter whether a man values you or not, because Jesus does. You are loved and accepted in Him. And when He looks at you, He no longer sees all your filth and unworthiness. He sees the perfection of His Son. He sees you as if you always obeyed Him perfectly."

My friend asked, “How do you know that?”

I said, “Because it says it in His Word.”

Yes, this woman was a Christian. So why did she ask that, when she knows the Bible? Well, if we're honest, don’t we question what God says repeatedly in the Bible all the time? Don’t we say, “Jesus loves me? I don’t feel like You do. I don’t believe You. Because if You loved me, I would get my way. And my way looks wise to me.” Or, "All I want is what everyone else gets," or "All I want is to be normal." Or, "What I want is a totally legitimate and not sinful desire, so why aren't you giving it to me?" So maybe, we’re actually not all that different from my friend. Maybe my friend was just honest.

When I got off the phone with my friend, I found I was ready to face the day. The Holy Spirit had ministered to my heart that morning. He showed me through reading about Elijah - of all things - I wasn’t really angry, just sad. He let me have a good cry. And then He let my friend call me, because He knew that rehearsing those truths would help me to believe this child-like, yet difficult truth - Jesus loves me.

So, actually, do you need a Man to give you Your worth? Yes, we all do. But thank God that we don't have to achieve our worth, because Jesus already has - Jesus gives us His Worth. So we can rest. We don't need our worth from anyone but Him. As my pastor often says, "Who cares what the serfs think, when we're already loved by the King?"

Christian, let us battle to believe, let us battle to rest in the truth that Jesus loves us. Let us continually confess and repent of our unbelief and pray, "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!" Let us pray, "Lord, help me to taste and see that Your love is better than life.

The LORD your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

- Zephaniah 3:17

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

John Piper's Bloodlines

If you've followed this blog for a long time, you may have picked up that I'm a big John Piper fan. From his Don't Waste Your Cancer blog post to his Job sermons that we repeatedly listened to during cancer to his books and other sermons that convinced us in our early 20's that the supremacy of God in all things must drive our every thought, desire, and decision, his influence largely sustained Andrew and I through cancer. I've finally gotten around to watching his video about his new book, Bloodlines, and I loved it. If you are wondering, it is completely unrelated to cancer. Rather, it has to do with growing up in the South in the 50s and 60s as a racist and the profound reversal that took place since. Take a look:

Bloodlines Documentary with John Piper from Crossway on Vimeo.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Exposed by the Cross

I know in March I said I was ending this blog, but I didn't know a smooth way to direct you to a new website, so I'm back to blogging here! Our blog started off being about Andrew and I and our growing family, then it was about cancer, then grief. Now, I hope this blog will be about my life as a single mama to two amazing children. I hope also to share things here that might encourage and challenge you. Today I wanted to share this wonderful quotation from The Gospel Primer, by Milton Vincent:

"The Cross also exposes me before the eyes of other people, informing them of the depth of my depravity. If I wanted others to think highly of me, I would conceal the fact that a shameful slaughter of the perfect Son of God was required that I might be saved. But when I stand at the foot of the Cross and am seen by others under the light of that Cross, I am left uncomfortably exposed before their eyes. Indeed, the most humiliating gossip that could ever be whispered about me is blared from Golgotha's hill; and my self-righteous reputation is left in ruins in the wake of its revelations. With the worst facts about me thus exposed to the view of others, I find myself feeling that I truly have nothing left to hide.

"Thankfully, the more exposed I see that I am by the Cross, the more I find myself opening up to others about ongoing issues of sin in my life. (Why would anyone be shocked to hear of my struggles with past and present sin when the Cross already told them I am a desperately sinful person?) And the more open I am in confessing my sins to fellow-Christians, the more I enjoy the healing of the Lord in response to their grace-filled counsel and prayers. Experiencing richer levels of Christ's love in companionship with such saints, I give thanks for the gospel's role in forcing my hand toward self-disclosure and freedom that follows."

- The Gospel Primer: “Exposed by the Cross Part 2”.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Epilogue: I, Grace, Have Risen from the Dead

This past fall the Lord had me hit complete and utter rock bottom. But in the following months, He has done a miraculous work of healing and RESURRECTION.

Love, Look at the Two of Us

It was the summer of 2003, and Andrew and I were dating. I said I wanted to learn how to change my own oil. So, I parked in his apartment's vast garage, he pumped my 1994 black Honda Accord up with a jack, and we slid underneath the car. There was something cozy about the cold of the concrete floor, the gravel beneath our backs, and the tight, dark quarters. But as I scanned the grey underbelly of the car a few inches from my nose, the car's heaviness seemed only a breath away from collapsing on us with its tonnage. I whispered, "I'm scared."

Reaching for the oil pan above him to his left, he said, "I guess it is kind of scary." He unscrewed and removed the bolt of the oil pan. "Well, at least if we die, we die together." Black oil poured out. "What if in our lives one of us dies first?" he asked.

With a hollow sound, the oil hit Andrew's tupperware. Its thick, earthy stench invaded my nose.

Andrew broke the silence. "It would be much better to die together."

"Definitely." We shimmied out from underneath the dark shadow of the car back into the bright fluorescent lighting of his apartment's garage, and I shook the awful question out of my mind.

That winter, during our engagement, we were up late one night. We typed away on our computers in Andrew’s dad’s office. We were writing a booklet of our love story to give as our wedding favors. The printer’s deadline was the next morning, but I couldn’t concentrate anymore. I spotted some of Andrew’s dad’s old records and dropped one onto the black, rotating turntable of the record player, while Andrew sat on the couch across from me.  Karen Carpenter's rich alto sang out.

I snapped my fingers in the exaggerated 1970s way to the jingle and sang with Karen to Andrew:

“Love, look at the two of us,"

I danced as if I was wearing giant, over-sized bell-bottoms and a flowy shirt with flowers, pointing my feet side to side.

"Strangers in many ways."

I turned my head left to right then left to the beat like I was on A Chorus Line, as I walked towards Andrew.

"Let’s take a lifetime to say
I knew you well"

Andrew looked up from the laptop and looked at me with his giant, wide eyes and laughed. He expected new silly dances from me, like all my friends were accustomed to.

"For only time will
Tell us so
And love may grow
For all we know.”

I had reached Andrew. I threw my arms around his neck and said, “We’ve got a lifetime to get to know each other better! Isn’t that amazing? I get to explore the depths of you for the rest of our lives!”

He laughed while he clicked away on his mouse tweaking the graphics of our book. As for my job, my tired brain was done with editing, and the writing was as good as it was going to get. I was onto dancing. I kept playing the song over and over again until I got all the lyrics down and danced and danced and danced.

We were married that January. A few months later, in March, I couldn't sleep. Rick Holland, our old college pastor, always used to say, "Have you ever considered when you can't sleep, maybe it's because the Lord wants to meet with you?" So that night I said, "Lord, what is it that you want to tell me?" And it was as if the Lord shouted in my mind, "TIME IS SHORT." I hoped that was just my own mind thinking about a general Biblical truth about how quickly life passes by.

Nonetheless, I was terrified that I would shortly be taken away from Andrew. During our marriage, I constantly considered that if I died, I would have wanted Andrew and my kids to always know I loved them with all my heart. When AJ was still an infant, I recorded us on our camcorder, as I told AJ I loved him with all my heart. Many parents probably have recordings of them doing that, but my reason wasn’t inadvertent. It was so that AJ could look at it if anything ever happened to me. I wanted to spend every moment possible with my family looking them in the eye when they spoke, undistracted, and as affectionate and as expressive of my love as possible. And after reading in a book that 80% of what Americans own they didn't use once in a year (or something like that), I wanted to get rid of the majority of our stuff. I didn't want to waste the precious little time I had left shuffling around clutter. If AJ asked me a question and I was in the middle of dishes, I would turn off the water immediately and give AJ my full attention. I thought, “If I die soon, I’m not going to care if my house was always perfect or not." And so, compared to others, I was not a model house keeper. But my husband was happy with the job I did, my family was taken care of, and they knew they were very loved.

The reality is, I did die at the age of 28. I slowly faded away as my love's body broke down. I died the day he died. The car had fallen on us.

The One of Us

With Andrew’s death, the fear and foreboding instantly stopped and was replaced with constant distractedness by the various demands of my life. After Andrew’s death, I was present and feeding my children meal after meal. I kept my house clean, paid all the bills, and took care of all the paper work, medical bills, de-cluttering of Andrew's things, selling of cars, I had a new will written up, all the things that needed to be done as a result of Andrew's death. Most of all, I needed to provide stability for the kids. Demonstrate for them that though their dad was gone, mama wasn't going anywhere. And so, ever since Andrew died, I did not have the liberty to check out. But this past fall, it seemed the kids were through their grief for the most part and were stable. With that little inch of flexibility, I began to break apart.

Andrew's death was like the airplanes that flew into the Towers of the World Trade Center, while I was the Towers. But I knew my children were in the building, so I could not collapse until they got out of the building. So I collapsed one floor at a time, one day at a time. I was purposeful to cry each day, make sure to diligently drain that grief lest it overcome me all at once. And then, this fall, I saw that my kids had made it out of the building. They were doing well. AJ no longer got that very sad look on his face for a few moments every few days. They still talked about their dad and said they missed him, but they knew that I hadn't disappeared like he had, and everything else had generally stayed the same in their lives. We had kept the same general routine each day. Each day they went to bed in the same room they had always gone to bed in and each morning they went to the kitchen and I fed them all their meals at all the same times in the day that I always had. Each day we read the Bible and talked about each of the situations we encountered and filtered them through how the Lord saw them. We were still in the same house, went to the same church, saw all the same wonderful people that they loved and saw around as they saw before Andrew died. They were stable. And so this fall, the last several floors left of the Towers came crashing to the ground. The Lord had graciously delayed the devastation, but it had to come at some time.

One of my pastors in my church, Pastor Warren, is a full-time, professional counselor, a therapist. As I could feel the rumbles of the last few floors about to give, I asked him if we could start meeting. I could sense there were 3rd degree burns that were far deeper than I had ever had the guts to imagine. At first, Pastor Warren said, "I don't see your life as one mangled by grief. I think you've been handling your grief really well." Still, as the Lord revealed to me and shocked me with areas of undealt with grief, such as what I mentioned in my September blog, "The School Bus and Blood," I feared perhaps I had never dealt with my grief. Increasingly, I spiraled into a hole. What if I was only just beginning to deal with my grief? And Pastor Warren would encourage me, "No, Grace. I think you're doing well. I think you may be at the last obstacles of your grief." This encouraged me, but I also feared that maybe he was just an optimist.

At the same time as being confronted with the areas of undealt with grief, Andrew's birthday arrived on Sept. 11th. Memories of Andrew became more vivid than ever. I walked past the tailor store in the mall and an image burst before my eyes. We had brought Andrew's black leather jacket with its "ANDREW MARC, NEW YORK" label embroidered in yellow block letters on the inside tag to that store to get altered. I couldn't get the vivid image of his leather arm out of my mind's eye. Longing for the feeling of his leather arm behind my neck was like a knife stabbing me in my heart, and I couldn't pull it out of my chest. I had often tried to think of the bigger picture, but saying to myself that Christ, or even Andrew, awaited me in some indeterminate time in the future when I reached eternity was of no comfort. It would be like if you had your leg pinned under the tire of a car and you were in excruciating pain. Saying, "Don't worry, maybe someone will eventually come for you and get your leg out," would not make you stop screaming for the pain to stop.

I wrote in my journal:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Met with Pastor Warren today. He said he can sense from me the profundity of my loss…but that he doesn’t think he, nor anyone, can say they can even begin to realize the true profundity of my loss. He says he’s not one of those Christians who thinks things can’t get “all that bad” and then it’s done with. He says he’s not prepared to be able to draw a line between legitimate grief and sinful grief. He says I feel the consequences of my loss everyday in my life. And that my suffering continues and there is no end in sight of that suffering.

Also, Pastor Warren mentioned to me my desire to move past my grief. I asked him what that meant. I knew I didn't want to be miserable and that I couldn’t continue as a way of life living at my breaking point for much longer, but I didn't understand exactly what "moving past my grief" meant. He said you know when you have moved through your grief when your life is not completely centered around and in reference to Andrew any longer.

I cried and cried and cried when he said that. I said, "I don't want to live with my life not in reference to Andrew. My tears were hot and poured out far more than I knew was in me. Pastor Warren's gentle validations caused all the stuff that I was stuffing down so that I could function and appear normal, and convince myself I was normal, to pour out of me.

The Depths that Lead to Heights

I had taken care of the kids for more than 1.5 years by myself, and on top of that, our house that Andrew wanted me to stay in, suddenly had urgent demands all at once - after a heavy windstorm a large tree branch fell onto the fence into our neighbor's yard, the freezer stopped working and all the food was melting, something cracked in the toilet so that water was leaking onto the floor, someone brought to my attention the windows were rotting and needed to be replaced before winter, AJ got scarlet fever - all within the same six weeks. This was all happening as I was dealing with the worst stage of my grief process. I was already worn out, but now I was fully saturated with physical as well as emotional exhaustion.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

For so long through his trial, the concept that God is good has gripped me, kept me sane. Somehow, I was convinced of it. Now, the misery has been so long, so relentless, so persistent, I have a hard time believing it. Yet there is a seed of this thought persisting: The only life worth living is one spent for Christ. For a moment, a picture of a piece of shredded meat flashed through my mind. That's my life. Perhaps little relief, little happiness; however, no matter my ideals, there is a limit to my strength, to my persistence. There will be a point where I may break, go crazy, die, etc. If God delivers before then, then it will prove His promises. Perhaps that is my life. A laboratory for all to see if God's claims hold up.

I waited patiently for the Lord
And He inclined to me and heard my cry...
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of
praise to our God;
Many will see and fear
And will trust in the Lord
-- Psalm 40:1-3

Perhaps that shall happen. If the Lord delivers, perhaps many will see and fear, and will trust in the Lord.

There was no more willpower in me left to say, "No, for the sake of my kids, I will survive!" No. There was nothing left. I had been a full-time caregiver to a husband that wasted before my eyes for 2 years while raising two toddlers under 2 and then a single mom for nearly 2 years, while a grieving widow, and I was several years beyond fried. There was nowhere left to turn but to cry out to God in utter desperation and fear.

I remember one night at the end of October, I had a babysitter because I was supposed to go to ballet. But I was so worn out, I just stayed in my bedroom while she took care of the kids. The grief was so horrific, it began manifesting physically, my chest hurting and so heavy, it was hard to breathe. And I began to see myself floating above myself. And I thought, "Is this what it's like to become unhinged? Is this what it's like to go crazy?" The next day, I spent the few hours that my kids were in preschool and kindergarten crying out to God that Grace Lindeman, the Canadian teenager who had helped us twice when Andrew was sick, I prayed that her dad would get reinstated at Air Canada that day so that she could fly and help us, since the tickets were too expensive without his discount. The Lord answered, and for the first time in nearly 2 years, he was reinstated that very day! Grace Lindeman flew from Canada to Minnesota and helped me for a month.

While it was a massive relief to have Grace Lindeman helping with the kids, the misery continued to persist. I kept thinking about what Corrie Ten Boom said in The Hiding Place. When she had reached a particularly desperate time in the concentration camp and all her sister and she had was the Bible, her sister said the Lord has provided a solution: Give thanks in everything! (1Thess. 5:18). I felt backed against a wall and had no choice but to do it God's way. I had to "consider it all joy when I faced various trials" (James 1:2). I had to give thanks about all the things I was upset about. I had to give thanks in everything.

Friday, Dec. 12, 2010

Giving thanks whenever I'm about to complain and grumble and scream in my heart feels as if it is regenerating cut off heart in an instant. Last night, as I was decluttering, I looked at a list of things you can play with kids on summer break. My heart reaction was to remember all the wonderful things we used to do as a family when Andrew was here, but now I'm so bombarded and burnt out by the pressures of every aspect of our lives relentlessly depending on me that I hardly play with or enjoy the kids. I'm so frustrated and preoccupied, most of the time when I am with them.

Again, I was reminded to give thanks. "Ugh...Thank You, God, for all the wonderful time the kids did have with Andrew...Thank You, Lord, that they no longer have their father...Thank You, Lord, that they no longer have their father." And to my surprise, it was right as if in that instant I could see the third degree burns that had disintegrated most of my heart suddenly regenerate, resurrect, like my heart, though barely any of it was left, was instantly re-growing, as if my heart were a starfish, even though it wasn't merely an arm that needed to re-grow; it was as if only one or two edges were left of that starfish and the 85% of the starfish needed to be resurrected.”

At my December meeting with Pastor Warren, he said that everyone that knows him knows that he always says that the hardest job in the world is to be a single mom. And he said, but on top of that, my children have no dad that they can ever see, and further on top of that, I am dealing with my grief.

Grace Lindeman stayed until the day the kids and I left in December to spend a month in California with my brothers, who live there with their families, and my parents, who flew out from New Jersey for the holidays.

During the kids' and my month in California, I worked again on the book Andrew had said in his letters to publish. I printed out our entire blog, put it into a binder, and began to edit all 400 or so single-spaced pages with a pencil. The act of being forced to go through the blogs we had written during the worst time of our lives, when Andrew was going through radiation and chemotherapy for a second time, helped me to finally process areas of grief I had never been ready to deal with before. I wrote in the margins what it was making me feel. And to my surprise, I felt rage. And once I acknowledged I was angry, the Lord began to take it away. I awoke the next day and the depression and hopelessness I had fallen into that fall was suddenly lifted.

At the end of December, after the kids were in bed at my brother's house, I also spent an hour three nights in a row walking the streets in the rain or cold, crying out to God to show me what to do. I didn't feel I could handle it anymore. When I had first begun to collapse earlier in the fall, my close friend, Melissa, down the street from me had offered to take my kids for a few months, but I hadn't taken her up on her offer. Friends from church had offered to take my kids when I returned from California. But I felt so paralyzed. How could I have gone from visions of spending all day with my children, like my early Washington mentors, to the opposite end of the spectrum? Sure, I loved the schools in Eden Prairie. I was fine with not homeschooling them, but letting other people care for them for a few months? I'm sure plenty of people would have done the whole spectrum of anything for us, including if I came up with middle-of-the-road options, but I just felt paralyzed. There was an infinite amount of possible life changes I could make, but none of them seemed ideal.

The previous fall months, I had felt so paralyzed, I did not know what to change. Everything I had done since Andrew died, I had modeled after the past. All the paperwork, all the changes that needed to be made that related to Andrew's death, I just did what Andrew would have done. The routines with the kids, I did my best to base it on past routines. Even most of the travelling we had done, whether to California, New Jersey, or the Philippines, those were all things I had also done before Andrew's death. Even sending for Grace Lindeman. She was one of our helpers when Andrew was sick. I didn't want to find anyone local, because I was afraid training someone new would come with a whole new set of unpredictabilities. But I finally reached the point where I could not put off change any longer.

I loved my children so much. What would be best for our family? I kept crying out to God to show me what His will was.

And then it came to mind to my surprise, "Put the kids into school full time." Andrew had said to do this in his letters, but I wasn't sure if he meant to do that when Gracie was in first grade, which wasn't for another two years, as opposed to homeschooling them, or sooner. But as I prayed about it, the Lord seemed to be saying, "Now is the time." Also, a few days earlier a college student, Lydia, from my church emailed me that she heard I was looking for live-in help with my kids. During my night wanderings what came to mind was, have Lydia move in with you. Then you can have on-call help and babysitting any time. Don't live on the edge of your strength with no margins. Build lots of margins into your life.

Seeds of Resurrection

Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011

Last weekend I went to the Hyatt to be by myself for the two year anniversary of Andrew’s death, the way I had for the one year anniversary of his death. There, I discovered I am not in the same place I was a year ago. Last year, I wondered why I was drawn to the Hyatt when it should remind me of when Andrew and I went there weekly during radiation and chemotherapy, the worst time of our lives. I realized that I had gone there because I hadn’t processed that time of my life a year ago, but this year I had already processed that worst time of my life while I was in California editing our book. I realized I had gone to the Hyatt during cancer because it was the only escape from the pressures of the relentless cancer. Last year, again, I needed the escape. This year, I realized, I no longer need to escape! Lydia lives with us, the kids are in school, and I’m not overwhelmed anymore.

At church the next day, I cried through singing “Majesty,” feeling so
profoundly the depth of Christ’s love for me and His deliverance in my life, even recently. He allowed me to deal with my grief head on, cry, and scream, and write, and put my kids in school. And then providing Lydia. I felt as if I had finally come out on the other side of depression, and loneliness, and paralysis. And it was not through my circumstances God saved me. He saved me through Himself. And He provided the grace and strength for me to make the changes I needed to.

"So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
-- Isaiah 41:10

And so, now I am just focusing on keeping stress as low as possible in my life, and physically, mentally, emotionally resting and recovering from the past four years (two as a grieving widow/single mom and the 2 years prior of full-time caregiving and grieving as I lost Andrew little by little).

When I told Pastor Warren that I am focusing on resting, he agreed that this was a wise course of action. He said I should consider what I've been through emotionally, as being similar to a physical injury. He compared it to how he had injured his shoulder, and that even though he can do almost everything he used to be able to do, and he is at 95%, it will still take awhile for him until he is at 100%. When I said I had some opportunities to do some more things, but I turned them down, because I felt like I needed to continue keeping the pressure low in my life, he agreed that my instincts were right. He said that especially in our American culture, where we find our value in being productive and busy, the temptation would be to get really busy with something new, but then never to deal with what's actually going on.

New Life

The Lord has resurrected me. And I am alive! I am a new creation free and filled up and overflowing with the love of God. I died but the Lord resurrected me. I feel as if the Holy Spirit has given me new insights into certain Scriptures. For instance, Romans 5:3-5 says:

"...we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."

I thought I understood verses 3-4, but frankly, verse 5 was perplexing to me. "God's love has been poured into our hearts through His Holy Spirit"? Sounds does that make me rejoice, or in other translations, exult, or glory in my sufferings? How does "God's love poured into my heart," if it's some abstract concept that I don't see with my eyes or feel with my hands, make a knife carving out my heart make me respond opposite to the natural response of screeching in agony, kicking the One holding the knife's Hands away? Well, literally, in the past months of resurrection I experience often on a daily basis what it feels like - unmistakably, nothing subtle or abstract about it - to have the LOVE OF GOD POURED out into my heart through His Holy Spirit.

I have never felt more convinced of God's love for me or His goodness ever in my life than I do now. I feel so incredibly FREE! I have never felt more free in my entire life.

The 2 year anniversary of Andrew's death was when I realized how incredibly free I was. A few days later I looked at, a blog of another young widow, and reviewed her most recent blog at the time. It was about how incredibly freed she felt. And then I remembered that when I had first read it, a week before the 2 year anniversary of Andrew's death, I had said, "Lord, I don't know what she's talking about. I don't have a clue how it's possible to feel freed like a bird escaping captivity after losing your husband. I want to know that freedom. Please show me." I had forgotten all about that prayer, but the Lord had answered it. We can have all these things we long for - peace, joy, freedom if we just ask Jesus, no matter what we're going through. He is the Source of all of that, and He longs to give that to us. He only requires that we ask. So I encourage you to please ask, and keep asking! Ask Jesus to know Him more. Or if you don't already know Jesus, I implore you to please ask Him to know Him in the first place.

I can't describe this love poured out into my heart that I feel without it sounding cheesy. I don't know. Maybe like the warmth of an embrace, but times INFINITY because it's given by the GOD OF THE UNIVERSE.

I can say, though, another verse that Christ has given me insight into is "For God so loved the world..." John 3:16. Let's be honest. Isn't there something child-like sounding about that verse? Like in first grade when all my classmates would raise their hand during prayer time to ask for prayer for "the world." If not child-like, then abstract.

Well, now, I feel I have a new insight into it. I feel as if God's love is so much for me that it is literally overflowing out of my little heart, pouring over, and I just feel like I love THE WHOLE WORLD.

When you are in excruciating pain over a prolonged, seemingly endless amount of years, you start to question how this could be loving. There is no question anymore. Not only does God have enough love for me to get me through the day; He has so much love for me, I can't contain it! I love everyone! And I will tell you so if I see you. I love you! I really do.

As I walk closer with the Lord, I am more convinced than ever that as wonderful as Andrew was, he couldn't even come close to the satisfaction that only Christ, Himself, can bring. Andrew was wonderful because of the ways he reflected some facets of Christ. No matter what a brat I was, how difficult, stubborn, or selfish on a day-to-day basis I was, Andrew relentlessly showered me with affection and love, and continued to daily pursue me with that love even after we were married. Through that, Andrew taught me about Christ's relentless, pursuit and love for me, in defiance of how unworthy I am of His love. Through Andrew's love, he gave me a reference, an insight into how not only has Christ taken away my condemnation from hell, but day-to-day, He has taken away my condemnation. I don't have to approach Christ cowering, guilty because I know there are endless sins I've committed just in the last minute that I didn’t even realize. Christ knows me better than Andrew did, and He still loves me! He still is excited about me the way a husband rejoices over his bride. Isn't that incredible? Crazy? THE GOD OF THE UNIVERSE loves me? Andrew was wonderful, because like the moon reflects the sun, Andrew reflected the Son. But the moon has no light without the sun, and all of the light that Andrew's love was cannot compare to that of the Ultimate Source, of the Son. I asked the Lord to show me that His love was better than that of a man and within days, I experienced what I've just described.

I am more convinced than ever, and experience the reality of the fact that Jesus is enough. HE IS THE ONLY ONE THAT CAN SATISFY.

How I Miss Andrew

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Today I miss Andrew completely in just the person he was. Not who we were together, not the relationship we had, or the time we spent together. Just who he was and all that made up the person of Andrew.

And so the way I miss Andrew is different. For so long, I missed my relationship with Andrew. I missed our life together. I missed what he was to the children. But if God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, and thus this life right now is His good for us, then I really don't know if life would be better if Andrew were with us right now, because I would be less sanctified. Life gets better the closer we are to Christ, regardless of circumstances. In fact, the Bible says it's suffering that makes us more like Christ. So it's not despite suffering life gets better, it is through the means of suffering life gets better, because suffering draws us closer to Christ and makes us more like Christ. And the closer we are to Christ, the sweeter everything is. For the believer, life everlasting has already begun!

And, I do have a Father for my children. I do have a Husband. Jesus in a very real way is that to us. And He has not forsaken us. He has taken very good care of us. When there are things I do not know how to do in the house and there isn’t time to call anyone, and the Lord wants me to learn how to do it for myself, I just keep praying as I'm fixing something in the house or on the computer, and it is as if the Lord instructs my mind and guides my hands what to do. When one of my children is completely out of hand and I'm terrified for what they will be like 10 years from now, I cry out to God that I do not have the strength to be on top of all their training in the same way as I used to, and I don't have Andrew to back me up and lead us like he used to, and I cry out for rescue. And the Lord rescues. He begins to do a work of change in that child's heart, though I haven't changed anything. He changes them to the point that people notice and comment on the change they recognize.

But I still miss Andrew. I miss the person of Andrew. I do miss a world with Andrew in it. But that is different than pining away after a life that I used to have with him.

I used to think that being past my grief was that the memories faded to the point that they could no longer hurt me. Now, I realize, it's not that. The first year after Andrew's death, I could not remember anything pre-cancer. Or rather, I could not allow myself to remember. I could not look at pictures of the sweet time of falling in love. I realize now that being able to move past my grief doesn't mean I won't miss Andrew anymore or cry. In fact, the memories are more vivid than ever. It means that I accept that he is gone. I accept that I am a single mom. For the past two years, I think I have been living like a stay-at-home mom, whose husband just hadn't returned home yet, and eventually, my strength ran out. But now, I accept I am a single mom and my life is no longer going to look how I had envisioned it. My house will not be overflowing with children with Andrew beside me to enjoy them. My life is not going to look the way it did four years ago before cancer struck our household, or like the lives of those who mentored me in mothering when AJ and Gracie were born in Washington. My life isn't going to look like friends' lives, which I identified with, and are stay-at-home moms, who homeschool their children. Before Andrew entered my life, my future appeared a fuzzy haze. When Andrew arrived, I thought, at least there is one thing I know about my life. It'll have Andrew beside me until the end. But there is no certainty in this world, except for Christ. I'm not sure what my life will look like. But for now, my kids are in school full-time, Lydia is living with us, and I am recovering, resting, writing, and revising our book.

When I told this to Pastor Warren, he said that in all the models of grief, "acceptance" was always the last stage. And he said he couldn't even count how many times he heard me use the words, "I accept."

I said, "I feel like God has risen me from the dead. And I am like a child learning to walk, and the Lord is clapping, cheering me on like an excited parent."

Pastor Warren said that the words I was using was really almost literal, rather than a metaphor. He said he was sitting in his chair and getting front row seats to witness God's miraculous work in a person before his very eyes. He said after all I had been through the past several years, it was literally like from the dead, I had risen.

Please pray for us:
- That the Lord would display His glory and mercy and forgiveness in the book that Andrew asked me to write and that if it is His will that He would make it publishable.
- And please pray for my children, that they would know and experience and feel the reality that God is a Father to the fatherless; and that they would love the Lord with all of their heart, mind, soul, and strength from an early age for all of their lives.
- And that the Lord would make me raise them in a godly way with strength to consistently shepherd them.

A few days before Andrew was told that the cancer had travelled into his spine and it was 100% terminal in October of '08, and though I still could not accept that he was going to die, I had a dream that I was driving on a busy rode, and suddenly turned into an unexpected, narrow pathway. It led up to a cemetery. There was a small cabin at the top of the gentle hill, and inside was a crowd of people, most of whom I had never met before. And they were all comforting me.

And that is what happened. I had never been to the Eden Prairie Cemetery until after Andrew died. I may not have ever driven past it before. But it is off a busy road, exactly like the one in my dream, and unless you're trying really hard to find it, you will not see the unexpected narrow pathway that leads up to a gentle, grassy hill, again, exactly as it appeared in my dream. It is a small cemetery set back with a small, wood sign, so unless you're looking, you might not even notice there's a cemetery there.

And while perhaps not in person, all of you came around us and comforted me, many of you we know personally, but many of you we did not. Thank you so much to all of you for laughing and crying and praying and supporting Andrew, the kids, and me, and carrying us to Jesus, and for the sake of Jesus. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I cannot express my gratitude to all of you for loving us and listening to us and bearing with us and being there for us. It has meant and been everything. The Lord has literally used you to have carried us through this trial. I truly mean that. While countless ones of you have contributed to helping us in person, or sent us things, even if you didn’t physically do anything, you prayed for us. And that is the greatest thing you could have done. Thank you for being Christ's body to us. I cannot express my gratitude, but for all that you have done for us, you have done to Jesus. And He will reward you. I love you!

Monday, February 07, 2011

The Two Year Anniversary of Andrew's Death

Today is the two year anniversary of Andrew' death.

As soon as it has felt for all of you to watch our wedding video and then a few weeks later to watch the video to his memorial service below is kind of how our 5 year marriage felt - a flash. Before we knew it, our time together was up.

You may notice some parallels between the wedding video and the memorial video, despite how our wedding took place in New Jersey and his memorial service took place in Minnesota. The officiant is the same as my wedding, my brother-in-law, Bob Glenn. The worship leader is the same as well, David Ward. Our family relatives on both sides are there in the first few pews.  The flowers that I chose are the same colors as our wedding flowers, red and yellow. I chose that flower arrangement for his memorial service, because the colors reminded me of our love, deep and passionate.

Andrew and I loved each other very much. But we loved Christ and His glory even more. So even though I was grieving the loss of Andrew, I honestly felt joy that superceded my grieving that Andrew was enjoying the greatest longing of his heart, of both our hearts - Jesus Himself! On our wedding day, I walked down the aisle to Andrew. He lifted my veil and kissed me. On the day of his death, Jesus lifted the veil and welcomed his son home!

The message my brother-in-law preached on our wedding day was about the "mystery" of marriage. "Mystery" in the context of the Bible does not connote the same thing that it does in the English language. It refers to how the ultimate reality of something is not originally revealed. The "mystery" of marriage was that originally it was not known what ultimate reality it pointed to. But when Christ came to the earth, the mystery was revealed - God invented the institution of marriage to point to the greater reality of the relationship between Christ and the Church. Marriage is a shadow of what is to come, a dim picture of the future reality. That is what the purpose of marriage is - to be a picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church. Just as a man is ravished by love for his bride, infinitely more does God exult in His love towards His bride, the Church ("The LORD your God is in your midst, A victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy," Zephaniah 3:17).  Andrew was experiencing the fulfilment of that reality.

Honestly, amidst my grief, I felt more joyous during his memorial service than I did on our wedding day, because I believe Christ received more glory on that day. The wedding day was kind of about the bride, as much as we did want God’s glory on that day as well. But Andrew’s memorial service, while it was a tribute to Andrew, well, I believe the Lord’s grace in his life as well as in his death put Christ more clearly on display than our wedding did.

For his memorial service, I chose songs that I hoped would encourage all of us who were grieving.  And I tried to choose the songs that I knew Andrew loved - There is a Fountain and My Heart is Filled with Thankfulness.

I believe these lyrics were most meaningful from There Is a Fountain to Andrew as he struggled with tongue cancer:

The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day;
And there have I, though vile as he, washed all my sins away.
Washed all my sins away, washed all my sins away;
And there have I, though vile as he, washed all my sins away.

Then in a nobler, sweeter song, I'll sing Thy power to save,
When this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave.
Lies silent in the grave, lies silent in the grave;
When this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave.

His tongue cancer was over, and he was singing in a nobler sweeter song than he ever had before tongue cancer.

I remembered there was another song that Andrew and I had heard a few years earlier visiting our old Bible study at UCLA that the both of us really liked. I especially liked the chorus, because it made me think of what it will be like in eternity as we all sing together worshiping God. I couldn't remember how it went, what it was called, or who had written it. I called a bunch of friends and they even looked up the schedule from the past dates that we had visited UCLA. But I still couldn't find the song. And then I thought, if the Lord wants me to use that song in the memorial service, He will provide it somehow. That night I got into the car of a new friend who was reaching out to me, my neighbor, Melissa. And in her car was playing a CD she had just gotten. The song came on: How Great Is Our God.

At the end of the memorial service, standing in front of Andrew's portrait singing How Great Is Our God, it was as if the lyris of the song were what Andrew was saying to me in wonder and awe, smiling, his eyes bulging, mouth agape, standing before Christ in eternity:

"The splendor of the King,
clothed in majesty
Let all the earth rejoice,
all the earth rejoice

He wraps himself in light,
and darkness tries to hide
it trembles at his voice,
trembles at his voice."

It was as if I could see Andrew standing before the throne of God and he was saying, "Oh Grace, if only you could see what I'm seeing now," shaking his head in amazement.

One of the things Andrew had always talked about since I met him was wanting to see the Grand Canyon. Neither of us had seen it before. So we stopped at the Grand Canyon on our way driving to California, where we were going to say goodbye to all of his friends and go to the nutritional treatment center the last months of his life. As he stood before the massive canyon, he had said, "If I had known, Grace, oh my goodness, Grace, I would have come here sooo much sooner."

And as I stood before his portrait from our wedding day, as we sang How Great Is Our God, it was as if I could hear Andrew saying, "Oh my gosh, Grace, if I had known that this is what it would be like before the throne of God, oh my gosh, I could never imagine this! 

I remember the moment of AJ's birth and how Andrew's arm was raised like UCLA had just won three football games simultaneously, his eyes wide open, smiling, as he discovered that "it was a boy," and Andrew looked as if he was restraining himself from jumping up and down, so as not to outright say, "I told you so," and I thought of Andrew standing before Christ on the throne and him wanting to jump up and down...times infinity.

And age to age He stands
and time is in His Hands
Beginning and the End,
Beginning and the End

The Godhead, three in one
Father, Spirit, Son
the Lion and the Lamb,
the Lion and the Lamb

Name above all names
you are worthy of all praise
and my heart will sing
how great is our God

How great is our God, sing with me
How great is our God, and all will see
How great, how great is our God

How Great is Our God, Christ Tomlin

Andrew's Memorial Service, part 1 from grace uriarte on Vimeo.

Andrew's Memorial Service, part 2 from grace uriarte on Vimeo.

Slideshow from memorial service:

Monday, January 10, 2011

Seven Years Since that Day

I used to dream about having a video like this, because it didn't register that my brother was recording it, even though I saw him with his camcorder.  It was an amazing surprise when my brother sent me a video of my wedding for my first birthday after Andrew's death.  I had never seen it before.

I have edited this video into a fly-by version of our wedding, January 10, 2004, mostly of important songs of that day.  The adorable children in the wedding party are my nieces, nephew, and my cousin's son.  I had been waiting 17 years, since I was 6 years old when I had messed up the job and the flower girl in front of me and I had only dropped two petals each going down the aisle, to have my own flower girls drop petals as they went down the aisle the right way, dropping handfuls. 

The officiating pastor is my brother-in-law, Bob Glenn, and the man who read the Scripture was my New Jersey pastor from when I became a Christian at age 12 until I left for UCLA, Pastor Babij.  My bridesmaids were Andrew's sister, Jennifer, my close cousins, Amanda, Katharyn, Krystene, and my maid-of-honor was my sister, Gayle. 

Andrew's groomsmen were his best friends from high school and his best man was his brother, Jon. 

The music was lead by David Ward, my worship pastor both in New Jersey and now in Minnesota. We got married in Somerset, NJ at the church where Andrew grew up.

I made the cuts in the two dances at the end of the video according to the lyrics that were sung. The last song was sung by my brother-in-law, Bob. Here is the video:

I remember as we exchanged our wedding vows, images of our first meeting at the back of the large auditorium, Rolfe 1200, after Bible study flashed through my head.  Tears began to well as I thought how far the Lord had brought us from there in two years and two months, and how I had never imagined this were possible.

For our wedding favors, we made our first small publication, a short booklet about our love story that God had so clearly orchestrated, as He had answered hundreds of specific prayers, small to huge, bringing us together.  We included pictures of our journals, emails, and letters we had written each other in the booklet. 

God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit bless, preserve, and keep you.  The Lord mercifully with His favor look upon you and so fill you with all spirtual blessing and grace that you may live together in this life so as to bring honor and fame to His name now and forever. Amen.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Holiday Greetings

Dear Everyone,

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!  We hope you have enjoyed a wonderful 2010.  Life as a single mom and grieving widow is one of the hardest things I've ever done, but as Mary Beth Chapman, wife of Steven Curtis Chapman, says, "I believe God can handle my heart, my questions, and my anger.  It's okay to want [Andrew] back.  It's okay to be angry.  The question is, what do I do with it all?  What do I do with God?  In the midst of such heartbreak, do I really believe that all things work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose" (Chapman, Choosing to See)?  Alongside such darkness, loneliness, and pain, the Lord has blessed us with great richness in our life as well. 

AJ is five now and enjoying his first year in kindergarten. He loves sticks, trees, snow, and paper airplanes. He is a very loving and sweet boy, who has always seemed to understand everything that's going on around him.

Gracie, who is four, is very strong, independent, and fearless, so much like her papa. She is a very sweet girl and loves to make new friends, whether at St. Andrew Preschool or anywhere new she goes.

They both love to make up silly and elaborate stories and are always showering me with lots of kisses and hugs.  While they still talk about their papa and say how they miss him almost every other day, they are fun kids that love to run around with each other and are always laughing.

The children keep me very busy, but I can't help but keep writing and am grateful to be able to be dancing weekly my favorite dance classes I've ever taken in my life.  One is at the Academy of Russian Ballet and the other is a cardio dance class, where our amazing instructor has us do every dance form under the sun in an hour-and-15 minutes from all kinds of Latin, to tap, to ballet, to Broadway, to Indian, and any other form of dance that you can think of.

We are grateful for our church and all our relationships there and in Minnesota.

Hope you all are having a wonderful holiday season!


Grace, AJ, and Gracie