Friday, November 10, 2017

Junior High Letter

If you've ever read my blog, you know that I've posted all of Andrew's letter to be read posthumously. There were letters to be read the first 5 days after his death, the first year after, when my kids started kindergarten, etc. I publish them according to the occasion for which he wrote it.

After 7 years of having no more letters to share with you, here is a letter from Andrew to A.J. Andrew's last letter to AJ was for elementary school, which I posted when he entered kindergarten in 2010. I feel relieved that we made it! We made it to the next letter. 

AJ is in 7th grade this year, which means it's time for Andrew's letter to him about Junior High.

Mt. Wilson in Los Angeles
Junior High

Dear AJ,

Entering junior high is an exciting time. Things will be changing very fast so try to take a step back every now and then and see how you’ve progressed. For example, when I was in junior high I tried all sorts of new sports, I got contact lenses, and I made new sets of friends in just one year. When I look back I see how I was just trying to be cool and fit in, so I made all these quick changes in my life just to please others. I was more worried about what other people thought of me than what God thought of me, so I changed quickly on the outside to gain acceptance from my peers rather than from God.

Be careful not to walk with the wicked. They will entice you to join their crowd, but they’re actually not that cool. The cool crowd changes every couple of years anyways. The cool people in junior high won’t be cool in high school, and college, and so on. Its always just a cycle, don’t fall into the trap and waste your time. Just keep focused on pleasing God and walking in His ways.

(Insert proverbs 1 here)

I assume mom isn’t married yet, but either way you need to be a man and take care of your mom and your sister. Always look out for your sister and gently protect her when you can. As a man you need to respect women and treat them with dignity and honor. The world will look at women with lustful passion and see only the outer beauty. God looks not at outer beauty, but at the heart. When you look at a woman do not look at her to evaluate her beauty, instead see her as God’s creation and another man’s future wife. Chasing after girls is a waste of time, and satan uses this to distract men from being leaders. Don’t fall into this trap. God will satisfy your desires in due time, just be patient and wait on Him.

(Insert Proverbs here)

You’re almost an adult now, so we’ll need to set some goals for you in the coming years. I know life has been hard not having a father, but God has designed this to be the very best for you. Here are some examples of goals:
  • Share the gospel with a friend every few months.
  • What are your gifts? Choose some things that you want to work on and develop. 
  • Try something new that you've never done before. A new sport or instrument. New activity or club? 
I remember you being very much like mom, full of passion for everything. Lots of energy. Do you enjoy sports? Arts, dancing?

Share my testimony…

Instruct them on Ecclesiastes and Proverbs. Use them in family worship and read some each night.

On Being a Single Mom of Big Kids

I once read that studies show that children of single parents of the same gender tend to do just as well as those with two parents. But children who are of the opposite gender of the single parent have a harder time. AJ is a wonderful boy. As his mother, who adores him, I think he's extraordinary. The other day, we were taking a walk together chatting and even though I've known him his whole life, suddenly I was struck: Oh my gosh. He's amazing. It still fascinates me how unique each child is. Though you're the one who raised your child, they still each have their own personalities, abilities, mind, and uniqueness that God gave them. 

But I have to say I am certainly having a harder time raising a child of the opposite gender as me. With Gracie Olivia, I can relate to every stage she's going through. I can relate to how she thinks. Often, when she doesn't know how to perfectly articulate what she's feeling and thinking, I get it. With AJ, it's no longer as simple as it was when he was 7 years old and we completely got each other. He's becoming a man and that is something that's still foreign territory to me.

Dinner with AJ

At Café Habana, the aroma of shredded pork and fried plantains danced into our noses. On Tuesday, I took AJ out for dinner just us, while Gracie Olivia was at dance. AJ has been researching the effects of radiation on the human body for a science fair. Radiation like cell phones, microwaves, etc.

I savored my sweet drink. AJ's research sounded fascinating.

AJ smiled at his red Shirley Temple and sipped it. "Maybe that's why Papa got cancer."

The Latin music playing overhead seemed to fade. I swallowed. "I don't think so."

One of the books AJ was reading mentioned several times Motorola, the company Andrew had been a systems engineer for. Was AJ researching this because of his dad? Or was the research reminding him of his dad? I forked my gluten-free calamari.

AJ took a bite of his Cuban sandwich. "But didn't he design and work with radio towers? What about the radiation from there?"

Images of Andrew's beloved radio towers flashed before me. Sometimes Andrew took me hiking to see a view of all the towers on Mt. Wilson from a distance. One night he took me to the base of some towers in the Santa Monica Mountains in Southern California. I got tired standing there in the chilly dark and tried to sit on one of them, but it was too sharp. I remembered how during his college internship with Motorola, he said he was brought to the tallest building in L.A. At the top of the building, he climbed through a door where the radio tower was. There was no roof to stand on; you just leaned half your body out the door. Andrew loved his dream job.

When AJ was younger, it seemed I knew his every thought and understood him completely. I didn't think he looked like his dad and he didn't particularly remind me of him. Rather than a math whiz, the bookworm had the rich eyes of a poet and spoke with precocious insight, reading people's facial expressions and emotions. But in the past year, he's begun looking like his dad. He's even started getting the same type of haircut Andrew had when I first met him, though most of the pictures AJ has of Andrew are from his shaved head years. AJ likes his hair buzzed tight, while keeping the front long. It's like his dad's preferences are just in his DNA. As AJ spoke about radio towers and used the vocabulary from his book they were the same words Andrew used to use about his job. AJ looked and sounded like his dad. A knife twisted in my heart.

I wanted Andrew to be the one teaching his son, having these discussions with his "mini-me." I wanted AJ to learn from his dad daily what it looks like to be a godly man. I wished AJ could be discussing radio towers with his dad and following in his dad's footsteps in character, faith, and career.

Images of my cousin, Krystene, and I hours before Andrew's funeral flashed before me, as she had brushed pink blush onto my cheeks in my bathroom. The sun shone through the sky light onto the warm, yellow walls. Outside, bright sunshine bounced off the thick snow blanketing the Minnesota ground. Exhilarating. So painfully beautiful. All of it. Our love for each other. Our home.

At Café Habana, a dark cloud loomed above my head. 

In Minnesota, I was 28 years old. People here outside of NYC are just starting their lives at 28. They still live at home with their parents, not even married. I felt like I was dying at 28... Andrew died before he was 28. We already had our own home, our own family.

At the Cuban restaurant, a trombone screamed from the speakers. The bongo beat relentlessly. I felt the old cloud descending upon me. It twisted into my throat and burned my eyes. I pressed a napkin to my cheeks. The waiter passed behind me and refilled my water. The fog squeezed my chest, keeping me up at night. 

I have fear all the time that I won't be able to transition AJ into a man when he doesn't have a father daily in his life to look up to and model. AJ not having a dad to take him to soccer. It hurts that he's not able to observe his parents' relationship, something which gives security to children. I fear that he won't live for Jesus and worry that he probably would if he had his godly father who loved us. I think AJ probably carries with him a form of loneliness for a daily man in his life. I fear because it's really hard for AJ to look around and see everyone with their dads, while he doesn't have one.

I'm studying 1Peter right now with some ladies from my church. 1Peter 1 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. I cling to it, because it helps me to battle my fears. That I don't have to fear, because my hope is not in a man but in God, who never fails us. My joy runs parallel to my sadness. I fellowship in the present with God. His fellowship feeds me, quiets me, and gives me great joy. And 1Peter 1 reminds me of the great hope that I have even deeper fellowship ahead of me with God in eternity. 
AJ and I at a Red Bulls soccer game
I have to pray pray pray that God will meet AJ in all these areas of need. God promises that He is a Father to the fatherless and a Husband to the husbandless. Please also pray for us!

After we got home from our dinner at Café Habana, AJ said, "Mom, I forgot to tell you. I wanted to say thanks for taking me out tonight. I had a good time and I love you." He grinned at me.

Friday, January 06, 2017

12 Things I Love about A.J.

When A.J. turned 12 yesterday, he asked me what I gave to his dad for his birthdays.

"Oh!" I suddenly remembered. "For his 24th birthday, I wrote your dad a list of 24 things I loved about him." So I decided to write 12 things I love about A.J. here:

1. A.J. is always thinking about other people, their needs, and how he can care for them. His grandparents actually call him when they need help with something. He'll rake and throw out the garbage for them, go with my mom to Costco and bring her groceries in. His servant-hearted tirelessness reminds me of his dad.

2. He loves to cook. And when we've made a bunch of food, he'll say, "Mom, we should ask Lola and Lolo (the Filipino terms for grandma and grandpa) if they want us to bring some over. Maybe they'll want some."

3. He holds the door for strangers and brightly says hello to them. They warm up to him in surprise, especially because I had just mumbled a tentative, eye-averting hello to them.

4. I love how rich his eyes are.

5. I love how passionate he is about soccer. He constantly has a soccer ball between his feet, or is reading a book about soccer, is studying videos on technique or watching professional soccer on T.V.

6. He's a really fast runner. And he is always moving. That kid's got energy.

7. He talks constantly and has always been that way. It tires me out, but I love that his heart and his thoughts are never hidden from me.

8. While he's very mature about caring for others, he acts very much like a kid. He loves to play with his friends. And if he starts to act up, it's usually because he needs a weekly date with his mama. He needs my undivided attention once in awhile. We'll usually do something simple like take a walk at the mall, buy a frozen yogurt, and walk around the bookstore. Then outside we'll kick the soccer ball around, while he attempts to teach me some soccer technique like a "rainbow." Or, he'll run errands with me, like at Trader Joe's. We'll walk beside the Hudson River and he chatters the whole time about past observations about animals, insects, books he's read about space, or some object he took apart (I hear that his dad was always taking things apart too when he was a kid figuring out how they worked). When I'm undistracted and able to enjoy him (and not worry about all the things we have to do and activities to drive to), in that moment I am struck: "I have the best kids on the planet! Jesus and my kids. I don't need anything else." And I sigh full with happiness.

9. He's quick to forgive. And he asks forgiveness easily.

10. He has always loved the Bible since his youngest years. He supplements our family Bible reading with his own Bible reading with very little prompting. When I asked what he liked most about youth group, which he just started this year, I thought he'd say playing with his friends. But he said, "The Bible teaching." He also started sitting through the main service this year, as Sunday School only goes up to 5th grade. When I missed the message to serve in the nursery, he later asked, "Mom, have you listened to the message yet? It was really good." I asked him what he liked about it. "Pastor Won explains the Bible in a way that I understand. And he's really funny too. He kept talking about sheep."

11. He fixes things for me. Ikea furniture? I hand it to him to figure out. The clasp on my purse that came loose? "Mom, can I fix that for you?" The moment I gave him permission, he disappeared for a plier. I walked away and later found it all fixed. I wear that purse every day now.

12. He is still obsessed with turtles. This obsession has been at least since first grade, maybe even  
      earlier than that. (In fact, his sister and I so associate A.J. with turtles, I almost think "A.J." is

Found this photo on my phone that A.J. recently saved
synonymous with "turtle.") Perhaps it's because every spring when they were little we would watch a family of turtles sunning on the logs in the pond a few steps away from our house in Minnesota. We'd tell stories about the grandparent turtles (the 2 big ones) and parent turtles (the medium ones) and the baby turtles, as the littlest ones plopped into the water. "The grandparents are too tired to swim in the water!" Perhaps because we would watch turtles shimmy a hole into the grass on our front lawn, hide their eggs in that hole, and then carefully return the grass so that it looked identical to its original state. And now, when A.J. gives a presentation on turtles for multiple weeks (without regard for what the actual assignment is), and he makes his classmates listen to him for 10 minutes instead of the 3 minutes, I tell myself, "Well, maybe he'll get his PhD in turtles one day."

I love that kid. Whether all the things above change, I love A.J. because God gave him to me, made him, and made him wonderful.


As the second entry ever of this entire blog inspired this post, I found myself looking back on old posts. While in recent years I have often struggled with deep discouragement and felt so weary as a single mom, I am reminded that wow God was so faithful to my kids when we were in the depths of cancer (according to one commenter back then, A.J. was an energetic runner even then).

God made Our Little Blessings a joy to us in the midst of the darkest days. And years later the Lord continues to be faithful to my children and I.

(If you've never read this blog before, or if you'd like to remember past posts, I've linked to three entries at the beginning and end of this blog entry about Andrew and then my kids when they were little and their parents were dealing with cancer.)