December 28, 2010

Uncle Sam wants YOU to help James win Story of the Month

Hey there all! James here. I have a story that was published on an online magazine called Bartleby Snopes. It is being considered for Story of the Month, and it would be swell if you could help out. Just visit this site:

http://www.bartlebysnopes.com/stories.htm

Scroll down to near the bottom, and you'll see the option to vote. My story is published under my "pen name" Jack Frey. The story is called Seafood Delight.

The last day to vote is January 2nd. Thanks!!!

December 14, 2010

Family Update

I have realized that with all of my ramblings of things inside my head, family news has gone by the wayside. So here it goes, a sort of belated Christmas newsletter.

James' first term working at his Masters went well. For the most part, he has thoroughly enjoyed his reunion with the scholastic environment. There have of course, also been refreshers of certain aspects of school that we'd happily forgotten. An exciting possibility on the horizon is that James' project for his thesis is located in Bali, Indonesia and it looks like he'll have to spent a good portion of the summer there. Of course, I wouldn't find this very exciting if there were not the distinct possibility that all four of us can go. We should be hearing back about funding for this in the near future. So here is a new prayer request... pray that we can all go to Bali as a family!

As many of you know, James is also an extremely dedicated creative writer. He has seen a lot of his work get published in this last year and was also recently nominated for the Push Cart prize. These are all short stories, but he is also working on a novel or two (which I look forward to seeing in print!).

As for myself, shortly after writing that last blog post, I was given special permission to register late at the University and I am enrolled in a Chemistry course and lab starting in January. I admit to being a nerd in that I LOVE chemistry and that I am looking forward to a happy reunion with it. Like I said last time, I'll slowly peck away at the courses that I need, and refresh the other ones that I have forgotten. When that is done (probably one year), we can reassess the situation, see how things are going, and first and foremost, wait for God's direction.

I am also working on a Music Theory course, mostly independent. I plan to write the exam that I should have written 10 years ago and then I will be registered to teach. So I have spending hours refreshing things that I have not thought about it those 10 years. In the process, I have decided that music is an archaic language (rather like Latin) that has somehow managed to maintain its form over the years and not be changed into something that is more logical that makes more sense. Don't get me wrong, I do love it. But lets face it, the way to write and play music was developed way back around the Renaissance, not the most "efficient" time (just how many clefs and scale types can you have anyway?).

Anyway, all that to say that I think music theory is overly complicated and would probably be much easier if it had been developed today. Then again, that being said, I suppose the same could be said of most languages. Chinese and English in particular (very inefficient!). And if I am not careful I will make myself sound like modern snob who would happily do away with old and beautiful things for the purpose of efficiency and speed... definitely not me.

Ari and Jude continue to develop and amaze us. Ari's new thing is to stump me with very hard questions. Its not that I don't know the answers, its just that I don't know how to explain them to a 5 year old. The problem is that my instinct is to try and explain the science behind something. But I suppose that there is a reason that they don't teach science in Kindergarten! (a conclusion I came to when I found myself trying to show Ari with my hands how techtonic plates work).

So I have to find a balance. To the question, "Where do babies come from", I am not content to say "Because when a Mama and a Papa love each other very much..." etc, etc, etc. But I don't believe in telling him too many details at such a young age either. So I have settled for telling him about cells and how they work and how they grow and multiply and become different parts of the baby. I think this gives me a number of bonuses. 1) He thinks it is interesting. 2) It is the truth. 3) It skips the part that he is too young to understand and would probably turn into inappropriate jokes and lots of giggling (he is at the stage now where he thinks that certain body parts are VERY funny - what can you do?).

However, I realized on one occasion that I probably need to be either more clear or less detailed when explaining things of a scientific nature. Ari spent one morning blasting me with question after question and (to his credit) listening very carefully to my responses and asking intelligent questions in return. As such I thought that he was able to follow most of what I was saying. Interestingly enough, the discussion started off with him asking me about my tumor (how it got there, how it grows, why it makes me sick etc.). He already knows about cells, so I explained to him about "good" cells and "bad" cells. After exhausting this subject, he then started asking questions about babies, and again we talked about cells.

In the end of the discussion, he looked at me all confused and said, "So babies need tumors to help them grow?" I knew then that somewhere along the way I had messed up badly. But seriously, what else are you supposed to do when you are bombarded with hard questions and you don't want to brush them aside? I could say, "It just IS", or "you'll understand when you are older" over and over again, but I know Ari well enough to know that this would not satisfy him. Then he would just pester me until I got angry with him (also a bad option).

Jude is also showing remarkable perception. A number of times, I have watched a movie with him that he had never seen, and he was able to accurately predict what would happen in the movie before it happened. He doesn't watch that many movies, so this is not an indicator of his familiarity with filmography. Somehow at his young age he is just able to read events. He also has an adorable lisp with his missing tooth and listening to him talk is very funny sometimes. Some of this more memorable sentences in the last while... "Mommy I am a football team", or "Ari if you have a bad dream you should just think about biting a giant frog".

And now for one final reflection before signing off. This Christmas was a little chaotic in the realm of health. We've had a bad flu/cold go around all the members of our household, and this has coincided with a severe drop in my White Blood Cell count. I, of course, caught the illness (and more) which made for a very stuffy headed, bile-taste-in-mouth, and hungry Christmas. What got me through it without being cranky was a wonderful thought that I had one week ago.

I was sitting and daydreaming a little, thinking about what my life would be like if God healed me. As I thought about it, I suddenly became a little panicked when it occurred to me that I would have no idea what to do with that experience. If God were to give me such an amazing gift, what would I do with it? Would I be able to glorify him the way that he would deserve? But quick on the heels of that thought was this one. "Would God be more deserving of glory if he healed me than he already is now?"

No.

Joy and relief flooded me when I realized that whether or not I am healed, God is deserving of glory. Hand in hand with that is that God WILL be glorified... whether or not I choose to give him glory. God's holiness and his glory is not dependent on my circumstances. That makes me feel two things. 1) Relief - thank goodness it doesn't depend on me, and 2) Jealousy - its kind of like being told that an awesome party is going to be held and you are invited to join, but that if you decide not to come it is going to be an awesome party.

I WANT to be there. I WANT to sing God's praises, not just because of all that he has done in my life, but because I want to be part of the chorus that sings his praises. I loved knowing that this Christmas. That whether or not I feel "Christmasy" (what is that anyway?) and whether or not it is even Christmas, Jesus IS glorified.

In closing I wanted to send out a thank you to a number of people who sent little gifts either for us or for the boys. Whatever the gifts were, it is the thoughts that count the most. I am thinking particularly of a woman in Winnipeg who I've never met and didn't even know my name that sent me a scarf in the mail and a beautiful encouraging letter. You know who you are! I was very touched. Thank you very much, and yes, the "reindeer" made it through the postal system in one piece!

December 10, 2010

Give Praise Where Praise is Due

On Friday I had another doctor's appointment. There have been a flurry of them recently because my doctor is anxious to get me back on my chemo regimen. However, the platelets in my blood count have not been cooperating. It would seem that they hate the chemo as much as I do. I am on a significantly lower dose of chemo than they want me to be, and I have had an extra week to recover from the last round - but my platelets keep dropping, which means they cannot treat me.

This could be frustrating, especially if Krang were to take advantage of this respite to grow larger and take over my brain. Nonetheless as I sat in the doctor's office I felt joy washing over me like a flood. This might sound twisted, but I don't really care. As I received bad news my whole body felt alive and my spirit was overwhelmed with the goodness of God.

I ended up spending close to half an hour sitting and waiting in that office by myself, watching nurses pass in the hall. But as I waited the joy in me grew and grew. I said numerous times lately that I have been waiting for some kind of confirmation of what to do with myself in this season of my life. As I have waited I have pondered a number of different options that interest me. Here are a few:

- focus on music using the "unprofessional" route and taking piano lessons again - then going on to teach (a few months until I'm certified)
- study music professionally by going back to school for a Bachelor of Music (four years...ahh, too long!)
- I already have a Bachelor of Science in Human Nutrition so I could go back to school and get a Bachelor of Education to teach science (two years... easier, but do I really want to teach?)
- I could work at some job (endless...sigh!)
- I could get my Registered Dietitian status by doing an unpaid practicum at various locations around Winnipeg (nine months... do-able, but I have a strong dislike for the way nutrition is applied in North America)
- I could go for my Masters in Nutrition (two years... but the idea of doing research on a single compound or body system for two years makes me shudder. My university doesn't work on development issues so much as scientific research - not my cup of tea)

As you can see, I feel a bit like I just graduated from High School, except that now I know more about myself and my interests.

On Friday as I sat in the doctor's office, something came to me and an overwhelming peace came with it. Something that seems impossible, but would be a step of faith.

Before I go there, let's just step back a minute. I don't know how many people remember the blog entries I wrote back in July and August, shortly after we discovered I have a "Krang". But there was an entry back on July 29 called What is it like to be Grieved? In that entry I outlined the approach James and I felt God was asking us to take. We felt strongly (and have continued to feel), that to deny the presence and (according to medicine) the inevitability of death in my situation would be to deny ourselves the opportunity to uniquely experience God. I believe that if we will seek God, even on the road to death, he will meet us in amazing and unexpected ways that are not open to us in a life filled with health.

This is not just physical death. In the last few months I have seen much death in my life. Death of my dreams and ambitions. Death of my self-confidence and my physical appearance. Death of my likeable personality. Death of "meaningful" occupation of my time.

One of the most difficult deaths in my life has been the death of incorrect beliefs. For example, I see now that I have subconsciously believed that I somehow need less of God's grace because I am a good person and have "succeeded" in life. Well, my "success" was taken away in the blink of an eye. What does it matter that you have University education, a happy marriage, wonderful children, fulfilling work etc, when death looms at age 26?

Other than some nice sounding obituary and a teary funeral, who will think of my successes after I am dead? Will I go to heaven and appear before God and hear him say, "Good job Jessica, you got an A+ in Human Anatomy and Physiology back in 2002." Or how about, "Jessica, because you bit your tongue and did not scream at James when he made you angry, you will make a wonderful addition to heaven." No. None of it. When I go to heaven, God will see me standing before him with my Death Warrant stamped "Paid in Full by Jesus", and that will be my ticket in.

I now realize that I have believed I need less of God's grace than others I know because I have spent my life making the "right choices". I never would have been able to recognize this in myself before. We all know people whose lives seem hopeless because they have made bad choices. It just seems like some people have so many problems that nothing could ever help them. The stripping away of all my "rewards" has shown me that nothing makes me good enough for God--not even spending a lifetime making the right choices! It was altogether too easy to strip me down to the same "level" as those people whose lives seem hopeless. In a matter of moments I had as many problems as they do, despite 26 years of making right decisions. All the things that I worked so hard for have no meaning when death feels so close. I have received many "rewards" for making good decisions, but the I may not have the lifetime I need to enjoy them.

Anyway, all of that was a side note to what I am trying to say (I haven't had a good rambling blog in a while!). If James and I had not chosen to embrace the potential that death lies at the end of this journey, I would have missed out on the Death of Me, as well as the deep revelation that my salvation lies only in Jesus Christ, in whom I live and move and have my being. Life does not come from my successes or my obedience. Life comes from Jesus Christ.

So far, Death has been a huge part of my journey. But in that blog entry back in July, I wrote that there were two aspects to this journey. Death was one aspect that could not be denied, but the other aspect was Faith, Hope and Love. I have talked a lot about Faith and there is a lot of Love, but there has not been much for Hope in my life. As I have walked through the "Valley of the Shadow of Death" these last months I have never been able to bring myself to think about the future.

Friday as I sat in the doctor's office, with sudden and unexpected feelings of joy, peace, and gratitude, I felt as though God had suddenly given me the gift of Hope. He brought to my attention a dream that I have had for the last eight years. I have written it off as impossible, and therefore not pursued it. Naturally, it seems even more impossible now than it did before...

I want to be a doctor!

This is long goal - so long that it exceeds the 4.5 year life expectancy that has been thrust upon me by Krang. This is more ambitious than any of the other options above that I have considered (and I wrote most of them off as too ambitious). But having seen so much death in my life, I see this dream very differently now.

It doesn't matter if I succeed or not - if I become a doctor or not. It doesn't matter if I die somewhere in the process or if medical schools don't accept students who have a "Krang" that might kill them before they graduate. Pursuing my dreams is not what gives meaning to my life. Jesus gives meaning to my life. Whether I believe it or not, he is the force that sustains me. I think that the purpose to pursuing this dream would be to provide a crucial balance to my life. So far it has been important for me to walk the path of death and allow myself to be prepared for death. However, pursuing this dream would be to walk the other side of this journey and allow myself to be prepared for LIFE. Physically speaking, I don't know which one lies around the bend in my near future, but I realized on Friday that I need to ready for both.

I also realized that this is not something that is unique to me. In the Christian life we are called to walk both in death and in life. To die with Christ so that we can live with Christ.

Practically speaking, my Nutrition degree can be used as an undergrad to enter Medical School. However there are a few courses I need to take to get in that were not required for Nutrition. So, we'll leave medical school for later. For now, I will get those courses. When I finish those, we'll look at the next step.

In the meantime, speaking of encouraging developments, some of my hair is starting to come back. Slowly but surely a soft baby fuzz is coming back in the less radiated areas. It is extremely soft and I find myself wanting to touch it all the time. But then I get scared that I'll make it fall out again if I touch it too much. Its like receiving a symbol of restoration. What a beautiful thing.

December 02, 2010

Bare Headed

I have often thought over the years that if anyone were to read my journals, they would think that I was constantly a basket case... and that was long before I was diagnosed with a Krang! But the truth of the matter is that it is the easiest to spill your guts when your guts are spilling out of you. In a sense, this blog has become a bit of a journal. A number of times I have wished that I wasn't writing my junk out on here, but for the most part it has been a good thing. On a number of occasions it really has kept me from turning into a recluse and it has kept me accountable to others when I feel unable to express myself.

It is tempting to feel embarrassed that I have laid myself out on the table so many times, but I think that this is a pitfall that we often struggle with as Christians, that is, NOT laying ourselves out on the table. Pretending to be okay when we are not okay. Christians are supposed to have it together after all, even with each other. But I think that this encourages a level of hiddeness that makes it easy to keep others out of the more "sensitive" areas of our lives. As difficult as it is, I think that many of our most embarrassing problems would become smaller if only we spoke about them to others. For the record, I don't mean yelling from the roof tops (although I suppose I could be accused of doing that).

I can't describe how much relief I have felt when I speak about what goes on inside of me, instead of carrying the heavy burden and hoping it will go away. I haven't spoken of nearly all of the things that I struggle with on here (then I really would seem like a basket case), but I have a small group of people that I have made the choice to be very open with. One reason is so that I don't become weighted under heaviness, and the other is so that others can speak good things and scriptures into my life. Its like a breath of fresh air to hear words like this: "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day." (2 Corinthians 4:16). These days all the inspiring words of people have nothing compared to a well placed verse, or praying together with people (even if it has nothing to do with me).

Speaking about openness, here are some pictures that I have not wanted to put up on the blog for several months (let's go whole hog). For those of you who have seen me walking around with the classic chemo cap but with some hair peeking out, here is the full image of what my hair looks like right now. Keep in mind that this is a result of the radiation beam and not from the chemo. I only cover it when I leave the house, but there have actually been a few times that I have forgotten. Someone actually complimented me on my haircut and I had to pause to wonder what look they thought I was copying. Friar Tuck? Forest Gump? An army boot wearing feminist?

This bald patch certainly makes for a cold head however. We still don't know if it is permanent or not. Apparently it could take up to six months to reappear if it does. It came out in the third week of my radiation (first week of Sept)... all at once. It was not a gradual process. I was in the shower and when I pulled
my hand away it looked like a bear paw. I kept washing and every time I took my hand away there was more and more hair. The patch got a little bigger over time, but for the most part it all
happened in the space of ten minutes. Now, I plan on letting it grow regardless of whether or not the patch comes back and perhaps the rest of my hair will cover it a little. Maybe someday I'll be rich and I'll get extensions on the fuzzy little white hairs that are still there.

In other news, the boys are getting very pumped for Christmas and they are also really enjoying the snow that has been dumping on us for the last two weeks. Last week when we were at the mall they thought it was quite fun to sit on the lap of the man in red with the huge beard and tell him what they want for Christmas.
They have also discovered candy canes. Everyday, both of them show more and more signs of growing intelligence and take me by surprise.

That's all for today!


November 23, 2010

Drama Queen

I hardly know how to put to words what is inside of me. I know that I can't express it verbally. People ask me how I am doing and I open my mouth wanting to say what's inside, but the only thing that comes out are reassurances. The truth is that I'm suffocating, but I have no idea how to say it. Something broke in me a few days ago. The dam of discontent came crashing down and I am now churning around in the foamy waters. Very dramatic I know, and somewhat humiliating to know that people who know me are reading this. But I have to write it, because it doesn't work when I try to say it.

Regardless of what I know to be true, I continue to measure my value by what I am doing (or not doing). I long to be a part of the world again, but since I have nothing to do but stay at home, I find myself curling up into a tiny hard ball - away from people, and away from myself. I want to cry but my eyes are dry. Dear God what happened to my life! I don't want to be hard! I don't want to be a basket case! I feel like I'd be happy if I was doing something, but maybe I'm just fooling myself. Apparently I've got years ahead of me... is this really what I am going to do? Nothing?

I can't say what I want to say, so here it is in writing, because I don't want to become a recluse. I feel like I am drowning. Please pray for me. Something has to give.

November 20, 2010

A Still Small Wind

Over the last few weeks I've felt myself slip into a sense of apathy. Nothing really seems to phase me, but not much touches me either. I'm not restless as I pass through my uneventful days, but I'm not rested either. I'm not unhappy, but I'm not happy either. If I feel anything, its irritation at the idea of living like this for a long time when I know that I am capable of more.

I've thought for awhile that I should be taking this opportunity to read my Bible more, but something in me has rebelled against that idea until now. Today, I suddenly realized that I am slowly but surely withering, in front of my own eyes. So I went to my Bible and I started to read.

The first thing I read was in Luke 14:7-11. Here Jesus teaches about humility, saying that when you are invited to a feast you should not presume to sit in a seat of honor. After all, someone else might come who is more important than you are, and in front of all the guests you will be asked to move to make room for the more important guest. Instead, Jesus suggests that you arrive at a feast, you should immediately take the lowest seat possible. That way, when your host sees that you have taken a humble seat, they will protest, and lead you to a seat of greater honor.

I have read this many times before, but something about it struck me today as being very crafty, almost too crafty. Its like this reverse psychology thing where someone pretends to be humble in order that they may actually be exalted. But then again, it was said by Jesus, so there must be some merit to it. For me, I think it means humbly accepting the low seat I'm in, instead of thinking about the seat that I "deserve" to be sitting in. I don't deserve anything, not even what I do have. Yes, as Christians we have access to all the promises of God, and we should ask him for all the desires of our heart. But it is not very humble to tell God exactly what he should give us and how he should go about doing it.

Rather than be a proud bumbling idiot, I think I'd rather take my humble seat and wait for God to say to me, "Friend, we have a better place than this for you!" and guide me to the place where he wants me to be. It is crafty, but really at the heart of it is a high level of trust in God. It is trusting that he is not going to leave me in the low humble seat, and that he knows best which seat to move me to. I may not be moved to THE seat of honor, but perhaps there will be really interesting people to talk to at that seat.

I have mentioned before that I am in a place of silence right now, and that it is a good thing to wait for God in silence. I was thinking some more about this today, and I suddenly remembered the story where God tells Elijah to go out and stand on a mountain and wait for God to speak. Suddenly a a huge windstorm comes up and blows so terribly that it tears rocks loose from the mountain. But God does not speak in the windstorm. Then there is a terrible earthquake, but again, God does not speak in the earthquake. After that there is a great fire that consumes the mountain, but God does not speak in the fire. After all of that chaos, there comes a soft, quiet wind, and then Elijah hears him speak.

In the last few months I feel like we've experienced our share of loud chaotic disasters; windstorms, fires, and earthquakes. In all of these I have tried to scream above the din and ask God to speak. It seems like God SHOULD speak in the middle of earthquakes, fires and windstorms. It seems like the most natural time for God to speak because it seems like it would be the best time to REALLY show his power. But maybe he doesn't speak then because he knows that we wouldn't properly hear amidst all the noise. Maybe he waits for the silence when we are no longer fighting, because he knows that's when we'll actually hear.

Right now I am quiet verging on despondence and there are very few large and important plans in my mind. So today when I read my Bible, I finally heard that sweet voice and it made me want to weep. He told me that he's heard my screaming and my crying, seen my faith and my trust. He said that its been a been a beautiful and fragrant offering in his eyes. He told me that there is more in store for me than I would expect, but now is the time to be quiet.

It is simultaneously not much and yet much more than I expected, but its all I need for now. More will come when I need it. I think that embracing this time will lead to a lot of growth and some much needed follow up to a season of chaos.

Thats all for now

November 13, 2010

Murder Mystery!

This evening, James and I sent out the following letter to some friends and immediate family.

Sir James Basswood Yaardley III, 9th Earl of Hampshire, empowered to speak on behalf of her Imperial Majesty, the Queen Empress Victoria,

Shanghai, November 13, 1880

Dear Respected Person,

A tragic and horrifying event has taken place at the St.Joseph’s Mission in the village of Xiao Dongxi, Zhejiang Province. A priest was found brutally murdered. With regards to the investigation of this incident, you have certain personal vested interests in seeing that the matter is settled “properly”.

This incident has led to grave and exaggerated misunderstandings between the Majestic British Empire and the Imperial Qing Court of China.

In the interest of preventing war and promoting peace and international goodwill, I, James Basswood Yaardley, have been sent to Shanghai to investigate this atrocious event. You, Honoured Person, are invited to attend a dinner party on Her Majesty’s own yacht on the night of December 31. 2010, beginning promptly at 9:30 pm.

Refusing to attend will cast immediate suspicion on your person, and on your ancestors for generations to come. Please confirm that you will be in attendance with my dear wife, Baroness Hedwig of Bremerhaven, at your earliest possible convenience. You will be briefed as to how your are connected to this crime within two weeks before the dinner.

Most Respectfully Yours,

Sir James Basswood Yaardley III, 9th Earl of Hampshire

That's right! James and I are writing a murder mystery for New Year's Eve. So far we are having a darn good time of making it up! The plot is very mysterious indeed and we have a wide spread of characters. If we could, we would invite more people, however it is already very complex to write a plot for 15 people!

Here's a little taste of our characters! We have a Cardinal sent by the Vatican to investigate the incident. We have a traditional Chinese doctor. We have a Formosan pirate. We have a US Martial. We have a Taoist monk, a peasant washer woman, an American opera singer, and even the Empress Dowager of China herself!

Who done it?

November 12, 2010

Angry

For those who continue to read this blog, I'm sure you have noticed my dwindling number of posts. There are two reasons for this. One is that I'm turning into a hermit. Both in blogging and in real life I find myself withdrawing from people. Either I don't want to be around them, or I am silent when I am with them. This has nothing to do with who I'm with, and everything to do with me.

Another reason I have not been blogging much is that my thoughts have taken an increasingly negative turn and I have not wanted to put those up here. But really that is a somewhat hypocritical thing for me to do. At the beginning of all this I said that the reason I wanted to blog was to chronicle this journey that I am on, honestly expressing everything I experience. Apparently that is easier for me to do when I am talking about what it means to have faith, rather than now when I am angry and irritable.

Lately, I've been more prone to picking and choosing what I want people to know. This bothers me a lot. It is only one of many ways that I have seen myself withdrawing from people, turning inward and away. I have always been an open person, excited to meet new people, easily cheered up when down, etc. But now I hate meeting new people. My chemo cap gives me away. Most people are pretty good at masking their surprise after the initial curious look, but I imagine during the rest of the interaction that they they are burning with curiosity to know what is wrong with me. The thought of socializing makes me cringe. I feel like I am walking around with my hands clenched shut - and I hate that feeling, like I'm closing myself to the world.

Remember back when I wrote about Fiery Darts and Faith (Sept25)? I wrote about a hard realization I'd had that much of my faith until that time had been built on my good circumstances rather than on God, and that the stripping of my circumstances made me feel groundless. Well, I see now that another thing I have had faith in is my own good nature. "I'm a happy person, easy to get along with, people like me, of course God Loves me etc." But in the last while my good nature has also gone to the wind. I'm cranky and I complain a lot in my head. ("I hate being back on chemo. I'm so weak. I'm so breathless. I spend all my time sleeping. I'm always freezing. This sucks. My life is pointless. I don't want to talk to that person."

With my good nature stripped away it is hard for me to believe that any person, let alone God loves me. Yet another layer of the onion that is me peeled away.

All I see in me right now is ugliness and pointlessness, but regardless of that, I want to share myself openly both with you and with God. Why? Because I do not want to walk around with my hands in fists. I want my hands to be open. But they won't be open if I am trying to hide my ugliness. People will never know what is inside of me if I don't show them. And if they don't know what is inside of me, they won't be able to relate to me. If people can't relate to me... well, then I will be a lonely person.

Yes, I am back on chemo now and it is pure joy (let the sarcasm flow!). It is only for five days, but it is an increased dosage. I haven't been able to eat but that hasn't stopped my stomach from regurgitating bile. I am always freezing, regardless of how many blankets and layers I wear and my attitude SUCKS! I feel like throwing things. Two more days.

For those of you who feel that I have been denying myself by not being angry... here you go. I'm angry. Not at anything in particular... just angry.

November 09, 2010

It is Good

As things have regulated and after I got the doctor's prognosis last week, I have had a certain concept in my mind. It makes its appearance in Lamentations 3 scattered amidst a cluster of verses.

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. Let him sit alone in silence, for the LORD has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dust - there may yet be hope.

Later it says, "For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone."

I felt a lot of discontent after I wrote the last blog entry. Something about it really bothered me. I felt like I had betrayed something in myself. The Doctor told me that I can have my life back and my instinct was to then go and look for a new life instead of waiting and trusting.

Just because I have "time" now, doesn't mean that I should go about trying to fill it up. What is the purpose of that? It my time fills up naturally and I can handle it, then that is okay. However I don't want to go looking for things to do, even if they seem like really good things. For example, a really "good" way for me to spend my time would be visiting hospital patients. But even the thought of that makes me tired, because my heart would not be in it.

I think that this is a time where God has called me to wait and to be patient, to be silent. Not a depressed silence, but an accepting silence. I don't want to just resign myself to this season of silence and less stimulation than I am used to. I want to accept it gracefully, and wait for the hand of God to make whatever changes he wants to make in me.

These verses above say that it is a good thing to wait for God in silence when we are young and that God even lays periods of silence upon us. The problem is that we young'uns really like to be busy! Who has time to wait? If serious constraints are laid on us, then we think we ought to resent them.

Instead of filling my time (just for the sake of it) and ruining the silence in which God speaks, I want to wait and see what he says. I believe he knows the desires of my heart and knows what kinds of ways I would like to spend my time, what kind of work I would like to do. But if I rush into something, I'll miss out on the silence.

This isn't to say that I would turn down great job opportunities or meaningful ways to spend my time now. But it is to say that I want to embrace the silence, however long or short it lasts. As to how to spend my time or what work to do... we'll look at each opportunity as they arise.

As a last note, I suspect that this posting is a little convoluted and difficult to follow. I apologize!

November 05, 2010

My Life - Handed Back on a Platter

I had another doctor's visit today in which my life for the next two years was outlined for me - five days of chemo per month for the next two years and an MRI every three months. Fairly noninvasive. We won't know anything more about the nature of my tumor until we have had several of those MRI's As for the rest of it... "Don't worry about it!" says my doctor. Resume normal life! No need for constant supervision! Yes of course you can fly on an airplane by yourself!

Of course this is good news, but it does leave me feeling a little lost. Resume my life after so many months of being told to take precautions? The life I had before this doesn't really exist anymore. I can't resume that life, as ideal and pleasant as it was. Truth be told, I'm puzzled and a little angry to be told to resume life after the roller coaster we've been on.

I am very seriously considering looking for some type of paid employment, but I'm not sure what is open to me. "Having my life back" brings up more questions than answers, and I find myself more anxious than I have been for weeks. Its not that I enjoyed being an "invalid", but at least then I knew which doors were open and which ones were closed. I suppose it is easy to put your faith in "knowing", even if that knowledge is not very good. I suppose I just need to get used to the fact that I will never "know", and put my faith in God... yet again.

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

October 30, 2010

Prepared for Anything

After our my appointment yesterday, I turned to James (home for not even 24 hours) and said, "Well, I went into that appointment prepared to hear anything except that"... And on that note I will leave you dear readers in suspense (ignoring your ability to scroll down and read ahead) and back up a bit. Actually the appointment was so confusing that I scarcely know how to summarize it.

I went for my MRI on Friday Oct 22. I was very unconcerned about it, any amount of anxiety came from my dread of having another IV. I know I should be used to these things already, but I HATE IV's! They don't make me nauseous or anything like that, it is purely the physical sensations of something penetrating my skin and going into my veins. Ugh! But after being poked and prepared, they slid into the MRI machine. On a sidenote, I did pause to wonder who the inconsiderate technicians were that did not think to offer me a heated blanket after making me remove everything except a thin hospital gown. So much for laying still during an MRI, I shivered the whole way through!

I was warned that this machine was louder than the others I have been in and they gave me headphones to protect my ears. Sure enough it was incredibly noisy. It occurred to me during the procedure that someone should write a musical-like song based on the noises made by MRI machines (purely for the benefit of those who have had to experience them). It reminded me of one of those scenes from musicals where the music begins with the coming together of random noises on the street. The tinkling of some wind chimes. The thump-thump of a woman kneeding bread. The thin streaming sound of a cow being milked into a tin pail. The crashing of the blacksmith's hammer. Etc, etc. etc.

Just like that, the MRI machine makes such random and yet rhythmic noises, that you never know what will come next. A silent moment broken by a loud buzz that makes you jump out of your socks (if I'd had them). I estimate that I would need about 20 MRI's to write the music for the ultimate MRI song. At one point the rhythm and beat reminded me of the Christmas song "Do You Hear What I Hear?". It started with a high whispered rhythmic beat, that was then echoed by an ear piercing base beat (same note but about four octaves lower).

Anyone want to back me monetarily for the producing of "The Ultimate in MRI Hits"? Just think of all the marketing opportunities. "Hey all of you cancer survivors! Don't you miss the days of MRI's, CT scans and IV's? You don't have to! We have recreated all of your choice moments in this compilation album for only $49.99!"

Anyway...

We were under the impression that this meeting yesterday was going to be revealing and informative, but in reality (surprise, surprise), it turned out to be another gigantic "Nothing to Report". I thought we were going to find out what the impact of the chemo and radiation had been, so I was asking all the wrong questions. Meanwhile the doctor was under the impression that we all mutually understood that this MRI was only taken to create a new baseline for monitoring purposes and not to reveal earth shattering information. To summarize the conversation would be very confusing, but even the information we thought was for certain seemed up for change.

Essentially, I was very confused which is why it was good that James (even in his jet-lagged state) was with me and able to understand. It didn't help that the doctor had a thick accent. (Incidentally, as we left, James turned to me and said, "Man, that guy's accent is awesome! I wish I had that accent!")

James' summary of the appointment was this: The MRIs that are taken over time are for the purpose of creating a "graph" of sorts, and only after we have had a number of these monitoring MRI's (every three months) will we know how the tumor changes (good or bad). The best indicator of my health is that in my day to day life, I am doing well, functioning without huge amounts of drugs etc.

I went into the appointment not really caring what we heard, but the vagueness of it only served to confirm thoughts that were already growing in me, those being: "I don't care what my medical prognosis is". I can't even imagine how irritating that appointment would have been if I had been nervously awaiting it and pinning my hopes on its outcome. Its hard to believe how much the information changes every time we hear it. As it was, James and I walked out of the appointment giggling together about how funny and inconclusive the whole thing was. We decided on the way home that our new approach is going to shift from "What are Jessica's limitations?" to "Jessica is going to do everything that she possibly can."

On a side note, I am not commenting on the competence of the doctors. Far from it, they are doing "their part", just as it is doing "my part" to live to my full potential during this strange and unclear time. If anything, the lack of conclusive information coming from the doctors is merely a reflection of just how much is not known about brain tumors. That is why I am not going to base my life on what they say. I will take care of myself to the best of my ability and not do things that endanger other people, especially the boys.

I bought my medical ID bracelet this last week and explained to Ari that if I ever fall down and can not talk to him, that he should find the nearest adult and tell them to look at my bracelet and they would know what to do. We have explained to Ari in child appropriate terminology that there is something in my brain (that is not supposed to be there) that sometimes makes me fall down and makes me unable to understand people. He understands that, and he seems to understand the bracelet too. We have decided to give the boys information in stages. As they understand more, we will tell them more. At this point time seems to be on our side.

That's all for now, except that it is so good to have James home again! I realized when he got back that I had been steeling myself against hope for his return. Somewhere inside I was convinced that something would happen to delay his return or that something would happen to him. Ahh, women are strange!

October 19, 2010

Swimming!

I know this is my second post in one day, but here are some pics of the boys with me and my family at the pool. Seeing the boys wearing water wings reminded me of a time when I was swimming as a kid (here's some of those memoirs!). I had four water wings, and I thought that it would be extremely clever of me to try wearing all four at once. One on each ankle and one on each wrist. No sooner did I get them on then I was underwater! My body bent into a deep U-shape with my hands and feet above water. I also soon discovered that no matter how hard I struggled, my water wings wanted to stay on the surface of the water! After some frantic thrashing, I managed to get one of the wings off, which then had me with one leg suspended and the other grasping for the floor. When I had corrected the situation, I looked around to see if anyone had wittnessed my shame. No one had! But I certainly learned my lesson!



Ari also learned his lesson yesterday with the ball in this picture. I watched him with a mischievous gleam in his eye as he crouched on the edge of the pool, preparing to leap onto the top of the ball. He lept, and to his astonishment the ball rolled over on his weight and he was immediately underwater! I have never seen such a look of astonishment on his face as when he came up!

Why Does She Talk So Much About Faith?

Obviously I don’t have the benefit of taking a readership pole, but the question that I imagine many people have is, “Why does she always talk about faith?”. I imagine people asking this question because I have asked it of myself. The only reason I can think of is that in Bible tells us to focus our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen because what is unseen is eternal.

If for no other reason, I fix my eyes on what is unseen because I can’t bear the burden of my “seen” everyday life. I can’t even begin to describe that feeling I get, when in the space of a few minutes it feels like someone has laid a lead vest on me and weighted it down with anvils. I won’t try to describe the feeling, because I think everyone has their own experience of this. For me, this usually happens daily at about 3:00 in the afternoon.

I CAN’T look at what I see, because what I see is terribly depressing. So I MUST look at the unseen, and that requires faith. Not flash in the pan faith, but a daily faith to believe that what is unseen really is true.

As some of you may have seen from the comments on the blog, a church leader recently gave a sermon using portions of my blog as illustrations. He sent me a copy of his sermon, and one evening alone by myself, I listened to that sermon. I felt that he put together a wonderful message and that he represented my thoughts well.

However, there was another interesting side effect of hearing that sermon – for the first time, I saw my writing through other people’s eyes. I couldn’t believe that the words I shakily type when I sit alone with my computer, come out sounding so full of faith. I sound so darn certain of myself in the face of this trial! I found myself thinking, “Who is this Jessica Frey? I really need to meet her and talk to her.” But nobody sees me when I lay on my bed and stare at the wall. Nobody sees how easy it is for me to give in when the pain gives my heart a good twist several times a day.

You may ask yourself (as I do), what exactly is it that hurts so bad? But I have no answer to that. I can’t put my finger on it. It just does. So much has been lost.

In nutrition we talk about acute malnutrition and chronic malnutrition. Acute malnutrition occurs during times of natural disasters, war, etc. It is a period of intense food shortage that causes a child to become very skinny and bony, but after a time it ends. There are some serious impacts to a child’s body, but generally speaking for the long term, the impacts are reversible. With chronic malnutrition however, the child is deprived of food for such a long time that it actually stunts their growth and development. These effects cannot be reversed and for the rest of their life they will bear the inner and outer markings of that period of malnutrition.

I think faith can fall into these categories too (I know there are people who could blow holes in this analogy). There are many times in our lives when we are called upon to have intense faith for a shorter period of time. These times are important, but perhaps it is easier for us to “recover” or even sometimes to forget after these times. However there are other times when our faith needs to be more durable then it does intense. Durable, because there is a long stretch of wilderness ahead of us. We will bear the marks of this time for the rest of our lives.

In the beginning of this crisis, I think I had an intense faith. That intense faith was a gift from God. Nothing else would have been able to get me through those first few weeks. And in those first few weeks, I made a lot of big, bold statements. But now we are stretching into months. And just like the Israelites in the wilderness, I find that if I don’t get my manna from heaven each day, I’m a basket case. You can’t sprint the marathon. I still believe the big bold statements I have made, but let me tell you they are being put to the test of time.

These last few days have been especially hard emotionally, with James gone to Beijing. Not only is he where I want to be, he is NOT here with me. Even though he is coming back, I still have the sensation of having been stripped of yet another thing. I’m not saying this is true, but it FEELS like I have already been stripped of a future, stripped of my independence, stripped of having a future role in my children’s lives, and stripped of any meaningful occupation for my time. Having James away has stripped me of the only person who grown with me continually for the past six and a half years, and intensively grown with me in the last three months. All those things combined together makes me feel like one lonely individual.

What can faith do for me when I feel like this? I’ve been asking myself this question everyday. I think sometimes the only thing that keeps me going is that I have a deep desire to show God that I love him. When I could be complaining in the wilderness, I want God to look at me and see me thanking him for his goodness and telling him that I love him. After all, who demonstrates love better? Someone who gives a dozen red roses on Valentine’s Day or someone who stays with you when it is easier to leave?

I want Jesus to know that I love him, so I want to sing for him when it would easier to scream at him. I’m not saying that I should squelch the desire to scream (I have screamed). What I am saying is that I want to seize the opportunity give something to God when it actually costs me something. For me right now, this is faith.

October 15, 2010

One in Beijing

Well, in a very quick and unexpected turn of events, James left early Thursday morning for Beijing while the boys and I have stayed home in Winnipeg. He has gone to wrap up some of the loose ends of our lives there. In the days leading up, I was truly dreading his trip for a number of reasons:
1) I want to be there
2) Call me a wimp, but loved ones on planes always makes me a bit nervous
3) In all that has happened the last few months, James has been the only consistent variable for me (Other than God of course, but you've all heard my ups and downs. Sometimes God feels very far away.)

But the funny thing is that whenever James travels, I find it is easier to have him gone than to prepare for him to leave. When he is gone I have the simple choice of either making the best of it or being miserable. I generally don't like being miserable. So this has left he boys and I to our own devices. Part of the time will/has been spent at home with my sister and part of the time will be staying with my parents.

In the last few days I have finally come off of all medications except for the anti-seizure, the most significant of which is a steroid. This steroid has been the bane of my existence for the last several months. It promotes weight gain, causes your body to retain water (lending a puffy appearance), causes mood changes, causes acne and muscular decline and much more. In the few days since I have been off of it, I have been noticing some significant changes, such as:

1) The shape of my face is starting to re-emerge from under all the acne and swelling
2) My clothes are fitting a little better
3) I've noticed an increase in mental capabilities. Instead of being content to sit, I find myself looking for mental and physical stimulation. At the end of the day, I want to know that I did something.

The third one is interesting, because only now that it is leaving do I realize just how numb I have been to my surroundings. I'm not sure which is worse; sitting and staring into space for hours or being okay with it. I'm not claiming a complete recovery, since I might very well return to my numb state, but I have noticed a significant (and much appreciated) difference in the last few days.

Of course there are other parts of my physical condition which seem to be permanent losses. One major casualty is my eyes. They are so blurry! And of course my right ear which still rumbles constantly, occasionally switching to a high pitched whine.

The boys have been doing very well. Ari's teacher tells me that he is picking up French very fast. Speaking of hearing problems, we suspect that Ari is suffering from some serious wax build up in his ears. I used to have that problem as a kid, and Ari can't ever hear a word we say to him. His response to everything we say is to yell at top volume, "WHAT?". He is also always yelling and it is getting worse these days. I am well acquainted with the treatment and equipment used to solve this problem - I had it done many times when I was young.

Ari's hearing "disability" has made communication with him interesting. Last week just before our Canadian Thanksgiving, I told Ari all about the Pilgrims being saved by the Indians and the story behind Thanksgiving. Well, combined with his great love for Peter Pan, Ari has now developed a deep fascination for Indians. On a side-note, I apologize if anyone is offended the use of the term Indian, but in a historical context and when teaching a five year old, it is the only term that makes sense to use and is relatable to him.

So anyway, today when I picked Ari up from school, he asked
me to tell him more about the Indians and how they lived. I of course was very enthusiastic to tell him about the different nomadic and agricultural groups, how to make birch bark canoes, how to make pemmican, how they hunted buffalo, and how they used all the different parts of the buffalo. The trouble was that for every sentence, Ari would interrupt me with a "WHAT?", and I would have to yell out the sentence again. Our whole neighborhood now knows how to make a birch bark canoe and how to make pemmican.

This evening the boys watched the movie Hook, and I think we have found a new favorite. Jude cuddled with me and decided at the end that when he grows up he wants to be Captain Hook (naturally). Ari on the other hand could hardly sit still and couldn't bear the suspense, constantly asking plot ruining questions. When I put him to bed he was still seriously pondering the implications of the movie and trying to fit together all the pieces of Peter Pan the cartoon and this new sequel. Of his more interesting questions were:

"In the first movie, Peter Pan tells Wendy that if she grows up she can never come back. How can Peter come back?"
"How did Wendy become so old if her and Peter were kids at the same time?"

By the way, Hook is also a good movie to watch if you need a reminder as a parent to lighten up a little. Robin Williams manages to make some clasic parent lines sound like such spirit breakers. Such as, "What did I tell you about blowing bubbles in your chocolate milk!" Watching it with them certainly made me realize how many of the things I say to the boys must sound pointlessly jerky.

Anyway, there are some random bits for you. Time for bed!

October 12, 2010

Soil

You walk on it, vacuum it out of your rug, blow it out of your nose on a windy day, and rely on it to remain alive.

Yes, soil, that four-letter word. No surprise to find that James is writing this post, and not Jessica (although I've persuaded her that soil is actually interesting).

I really like soil, with all of its complexities. I won't get into any of them here, or I may lose this audience faster than topsoil in a windstorm. However, I just wanted to bring up the subject, and perhaps get you thinking for a moment about how incredible it is that soil exists! A community under our feet.

Feel inspired yet? Go stick your nose in a garden! You won't regret it.

(And for any palm readers out there, yes, that is my hand.)

October 07, 2010

Killing Two Birds with One Stone

As things have slowed into a sort of pace and living with a Krang in my brain becomes a fact of life that only occasionally hits me in the face, I find that I have less dramatic processing to do. I am still weighted down by sudden realizations of the implications to my life, but by and large, it has become a fact of life. The lessons that I am learning these days have far more to do with how to live my life with this new complication: attitudes, approaches, etc. These develop more slowly and are not as easily bloggable as have been the last three months of "crisis" moments.

Nonetheless, I have had a new idea for what to blog about. Writing "memoirs" sounds like a very lofty thing to do, but what I have in mind is just to process my life as it slowly flashes before my eyes here on the blog. Not chronological, not planned, not complete and (believe it or not) NOT in preparation for death.

I know that it could seem vain to assume that anyone really wants to hear about my life, but truthfully I have not understood why anyone is interested in what I have been writing anyway. Mostly I want to do it because I am a reflective person. Quite naturally, the threat of death would make most reflective people think about their life, and I find the the best way for me to reflect is to write. Interestingly, half of the "life" I will be reflecting on are the things that have never happened, like all the wild and sometimes unrealistic things that James and I have talked about doing together. I will continue to write about our present journey, but since it is happening slower now then before, these will be less frequent.

James is well settled into his Master's Program at the U of M and loving almost every minute of it. At some point I will get him to write about it on here so that you can also know what he is doing. My summary would fall sadly short.

It is certainly a lot of work. He reads his requisite 5000 pages of readings and then summarizes the topics for me over a number of conversations. I really enjoy this. It would be very easy for me to feel like I live in a small limited house while James lives primarily in the big wide world and comes home to sleep. I have had to avoid this train of thought, because then it would be easy for me to turn into a guilt tripping wife who is always pestering her husband to "come home". I don't want to be the kind of wife who nags her husband for attention. I want to be inviting, so that he wants to spend time with me. Thankfully for us, I find all the things that he reads about for his classes extremely interesting. It would be much harder if he was studying anything related to Math. We have always had very similar scholastic interests. This leads us to our first "reflection".

Over the course of studying for our undergraduate degrees, we discovered that we had chosen very complementary fields: James in agriculture, and me in nutrition. We started out thinking that we were in two totally different areas. In our first years I would be learning about vitamins, nutrition education and food chemistry while James studied about soil science, crop rotation and production quotas. However, as time went by we gradually realized that both of us had far more interest in the social and international implications of our degrees than in the latest scientific research. For those of you who don't know me, I have very little interest in the supplement aisle. I am a hearty proponent of a well-rounded diet (in all parts of the world) and have limited interest in supplementation of Coenzyme Q or fill-in-the-blank vegetable extract.

How many hours we spent reading about and discussing the food supply chain, the various "sell outs" in our fields, topics in development and international programming we'll never know. Whatever the case, there were many nights where we fell asleep exchanging thoughts on these various topics. This was only the beginning of more common interests. I have recently been reading a book by Jared Diamond called Collapse outlining how various societies through history have dealt with the social, economic and ecological problems facing them. It has sparked many an interesting discussion between James and I. Let me point out that these have been points of shared learning for us and expanding our knowledge base, rather than "solving the world's problems".

On a side note, I would be very quick to recommend Jared Diamond's writing. He is better known for his best-selling work, Guns, Germs and Steel. He managed to arouse my interest in the current economic and ecological challenges that are facing Montana, something that I can guarantee you I had never thought of before.

And with that somewhat random thought, I end my blogpost. The only medical update I have is that I will be going in for another MRI on Oct 22 at which point my oncologist and other neurologists will determine what the impact of my six weeks of treatment was. After that we establish a new baseline and plan from there. I will not know any of these outcomes until I see my oncologist on Oct 29.

Farewell

September 30, 2010

"Radiation Off" and Gaggles of Geese

That's right, radiation is officially off. I brought home my monstrosity of a green radiation mask on Monday. Do I want to keep it? I don't know, but it sort of seemed like if someone should throw it away it should be me and not some hospital employee. I'm playing with the idea of paper mache... I mean really, how often do you get a perfect mold made of your face?

Three days off of radiation, two weeks off of chemo and I am already feeling a million times better than I was. My platelets are still low and we have yet to discover whether or not I will need a platelet transfusion. Now we wait to let my body recover in the next four weeks. After that comes another MRI and we find out what happened during the last six weeks and a new baseline for the future.

James and I have decided that we really don't care much about what the outcome of things will
be. It changes all the time anyway, and it is always based on percentages of this and that. Nothing is concrete, nothing is known, therefore we choose to ride the less emotional rollar coaster of taking every peice of news with a grain of salt.

Fall has certainly arrived with all of its stunning beauty here on the prairies. Last Sunday, James and I left the boys with my parents for the day and spent the day driving in the fall beauty together by ourselves. For those of you familiar with Manitoba, we went out to Hecla Island and Gimli (picture). It was truly beautiful and refreshing to be in nature and to be alone. We chatted about important things like our mutual dislike for Obama discussions and the ecological situation of the coral reefs around Indonesia. We had lunch at a little Greek diner in Gimli, walked the pier and giggled together about a rediculous Chinese name we invented for the duck we saw swimming around the docked boats. All in all, a very good day filled with normal (for us) interactions, without any overwhelming needs to discuss heavy topics. Those topics did come up, but they did so naturally and fluidly, not forced (the way that it should).

An amusing part of our new home is the duck pond that is in the park behind our house. They are rediculously close to us and all we can hear at any hour of the day is Canadian Geese squabbling amongst themselves. Night time is especially bad, and as they bully each other around, I find myself imagining that they are all simultaneously saying to each other, "Squack! Squack! I'm a goose! Squack! Are you a goose too? Squack!" I have to admit that I have never spent so much time contemplating geese before as I have in the last few weeks. I've started thinking about them as large football shaped torsos with cylindrical necks and zero brains. James and I have been concocting all manner of ways in which we could sabotage them and throw them into even more chaos (ie. large area net systems for trapping, timed shooting as they fly over our house so that their velocity would carry them downward through our kitchen window into the waiting boiling cauldron of water, or just sneaking up behind them and slapping them on the back of the head).
No I am not an animal hater, but trust me, after this much exposure to them it is really easy to start thinking about them as a bunch of idiots!

Lately, I have been spending a lot of time working on a project. The project is to turn our blog into a family scrapbook of sorts. I don't mean a cutesy scrapbook, but just a means turning our China experience into book form so that we can page through it at our leisure and look through it. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but I also have this idea that it would really suck to lose all of this writing if the internet were ever to collapse. This is something that I really want the boys to have to look back on. The other thing is that I can put things into this book that we were never able to put on the blog. I plan on including email exchanges between James and I when we were off traveling, news stories that were happening while we were there etc.

The only problem with this is that it requires me to spend a lot of time on the blog, which as you may have figured from the last entry, can be very painful. It has been very hard for me to look at the blog and not compare "life then" to "life now". Thus, I have spent hours copying and pasting, formatting, changing etc., only to come away from it feeling very sad.

On Monday, after spending a morning doing this, I took a step of independence and announced that I was going to pick Ari up from school by myself. This is of course a calculated risk... what if I had a seizure during the half hour that I am gone? But I knew that what I needed more than anything at that time was some time to talk with God, be alone, and hear his thoughts.

This is what I came away with, and it has helped me more than anything else I have received in the last few weeks. If Satan throws fiery darts at me, they are intended for my demise. I am a child of God and he hates me. These darts are intended to turn everything about my life into something so painful that I can't think about my life without feeling pain. Me being aware of my mortality and possible death has made everything about my entire life hard for me to think about. Even absurdly small things. But what am I going to do? Should I stop thinking about and reflecting on my life? I would be submitting myself to Satan's highway robbery if I allow him to make all of the good things in my life into something that is painful, just because I no longer have it.

God showed me that Satan has been using the things near and dear to me to deceive me into opening up to the pain that he wants me to have in my life. His fiery darts come in the form of things that are dear and precious to me, memories of China, memories of my life etc. Because it is precious to me, I want to hold on to it and even hold it close to my heart. But that doesn't change the fact that it is a fiery dart that is meant to hurt me. Satan will always want to take good things and turn them into things that will hurt us. So what do I do with this?

As I walked to pick Ari up, I realized that I need God's help to extract the bitter from the sweet. I need his help to extract the poison that Satan has inserted into the good things in my life. Those weapons would not be effective if they did not carry something precious to me. As I walked, I poured out these things and slowly but surely I could feel the poison and the pain that has been flooding me for the past several weeks seeping out of me. Suddenly I could remember my life again with joy and rejoicing, instead of looking at it through a thick lens of death. I can remember our time in China now without wanting to weep. What a gift!

For days now I have felt so good! It almost feels unfair. I have found myself questioning if it is right to be able to so freely give the bad things to God, while I keep the good. But then I remembered that this is at the heart of what we believe as Christians. We as people are all destined for death, but Jesus came and he died in our place so that we could experience life instead of death. He takes our ruined lives, and in exchange gives us his life and his beauty. He takes my ruined and seemingly hopeless life and gives me beauty in its place.

On a human level, my life has literally been sentenced to death and for a number of weeks I have allowed the sting of that death to infiltrate itself into all parts of my life. But because Jesus is stronger than death and because I am learning to trust him, that sting is being removed from my life day by day. I feel joy again. I feel peace again. I no longer feel that my life has been taken away from me. I do not want Death to take slowly over my life with its deceptive ways. Instead I want give it up freely to the only one who conquered Death.

You may have noticed that I have not included any options that do not have Death. I think that in my situation Death is unavoidable, whether or not I physically die. My choice is either to die the way that Jesus did (with the hope of a resurrection), or to let Death take over me. If I follow Jesus to Death, then I have the great promise of Life. But if I let Death take over me, then I have no hope at all.

Thank you Jesus for Life.


September 28, 2010

Every so often...

...Every so often I need to put up a ridiculous picture of myself (James) on the blog. Here's one. In this particular photo, I am in a 3-D movie theater in South Korea. The video was in Korean, which explains the tiny wire in my right ear. English in one ear and Korean in the other!

September 25, 2010

Fiery Darts and Faith

I have been wondering over the last few days at how so many things have been hitting me like a physical pain deep in my heart. Here are a few examples:

- Carrying a sleepy Jude to the bathroom last night. He cuddled right up and pain shot through me to think that he may not grow up with the personal experience of knowing how much his mother loves him
- I was looking at old photo albums yesterday that I had not seen since before we left for China. Physical pain shot through me as I looked at our wedding pictures and pictures of the first few months of Ari's life.
- Pictures of James and I together looking carefree and happy. What if the boys look at these pictures as if they are a far off dream and not something they have ever personally seen. What if they don't ever get to witness the carefree dynamic and James and I have with each other? What if they never get to see for themselves how mu
ch we love each other?
- The boys watching Peter Pan and being so excited when the children learn how to fly. "They can fly! They can fly! They can fly!" They are so precious, such gifts!
- Seeing any picture of myself before three months ago.

I have been really shaken by the fact that any little thing these days has the ability to send me rocketing deep into a pit of pain. What is wrong with me? Where is my faith? The Bible tells us that our faith is to be used like a shield and it can protect us from all of the fiery darts that are thrown at us by our enemy, Satan. It is his goal to deceive us and to cause death in our lives, more than just physical death. Why are these darts racing right past my shield and hitting me in my weakest parts?

I woke up this morning with a song in my head, with these words (based on Philippians 3:7-10):
All I once held dear, built my life upon
All this world reveres and wars to own,
All I once found gain, I now count loss*
Spent and worthless now, compared to this,

Knowing you, Jesus, knowing you
There is no greater thing
You're my all, you're the best,
You're my joy, my righteousness
And I love you

I realized today that I can sing less than half of these words honestly. Actually right up to the part that I have marked with a star. I have mentioned before that I have led a charmed life up to now. I have never struggled with self confidence (those of you who have fought this losing battle for many years officially have permission to hate me). I have held dear the person that I am, and I have built my life upon the things that this world longs to own. I have known and experienced things that many people never have had, but long for: a happy marriage, beautiful children, university education, opportunities to live in another culture, a nice appearance, many friends etc.

It is humbling for me to admit that it has been easier for me to believe that God is good and that he loves me when I come from the charmed life I have lived. It is even more humbling to admit that part of my faith has been built on these things. Why else would those darts be hitting me so hard? Perhaps the most humbling thing to admit is that I am not yet at the point where I can call these things worthless. I love them, I want to hold on to them. But I will never truly have faith until I can truthfully say that the things of this life that change and do not last, have no worth compared to Jesus. He doesn't change.
When I look at myself three months ago and myself now, I want to cry. This family picture pretty much sums it up for me. It is a physical representation of what I once "counted gain" but now feel I have lost. Look at that happy, beautiful woman with a happy handsome husband, two happy beautiful children! Look at their shining future together! Look at their adventuresome spirit!

That is the only me I have ever known. I don't understand the me that has taken the place of the woman in that picture. The new me is a stranger. The new me has ugly patches of hair, a puffy face (notice that I have not put up a comparison picture), and acne. She sleeps a lot, can't see very well or hear very well. She can't concentrate. When her husband says he loves her, she can't help but wonder if he is lying (the new me must be as much a stranger to him as she is to me).

I literally feel stripped and my faith is part of what has been stripped from me. I see now that I have placed a great portion of my confidence and worth in the things that I have had. Now that I have lost them or at least feel like they are slipping through my fingers, I see how shallow my faith has been. No wonder these darts are hitting me so hard! I am not ready to let go of this "faith" I have held yet, even though it has/is being torn to shreds in front of my eyes. It reminds me of a verse in Isaiah (64:6):
We are all infected and impure with sin,
When we display our righteous deeds,
They are nothing but filthy rags,
Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall,
And our sins sweep us away like the wind.

My faith and my righteousness has been built on a foundation that does not last. Beauty, relationships, being smart, independent, helping people etc. These things do not last, and if I seek to make my life valuable and righteous through these things, I will lose... I HAVE lost. The funny thing is that I would never have known that I was basing my faith and my value/righteousness on these things unless I lost them.

There is not much comfort in what I have written. There is not much comfort in knowing that I am shallow enough to prefer my rags of righteousness over the real thing that is offered by Jesus. But there is the hope that this can change. There is the hope that I can learn to place my value in things that last forever and are true and not in "leaves that blow away in the wind". Look at how easily it happened! Three months and my life is unrecognizable!

Thus closes another rant. Why anyone would find this interesting is a mystery to me, I do it for my own mental processes. Eventually it all comes pouring out whether I want it to or not.

September 21, 2010

A Changing Set of Needs

Many people have been asking us what our needs are and what they can do to help. Overall, in terms of our needs, we are doing very well. Nonetheless, I understand the desire to help. So here I will list what our/my needs are, even just so that you, our support network can feel at ease that we are not lacking anything.

Mine:
1) Time to zone out and have nothing needed from me (this happens whether or not I am given that time)
2) Time to live in a normal environment with a fairly predictable schedule with James, the boys and the others members of our household. This includes plenty of considerably quiet evenings.
3) Time to be quiet so that things that need to come out (be it in me, in James, in our marriage or with the boys) come out naturally and not in forcible explosions.
4) Time to express myself creatively in ways of my choosing (eg, reading, playing piano, or continuing to help on some MCC work).

Now that we've been back for awhile and life is starting to take form, our needs have become much more inwardly turned. However, our schedule has for some reason simultaneously become more outwardly turned. You'll notice that the common denominator in all of these needs is time. This is one area where I have noticed debilitation on my part. I used to be good at playing the mental day planner, where I could see what would happen, what was needed and at what time. This is how James and I managed to simultaneously get university degrees and have two children. I can't do this anymore. When I look at the things around me in my day, I can't see how they fit together anymore. It is like my ability to think in terms of time and space has diminished, and my mind just shuts down. I just see them around me and what they require of me and promptly feel overwhelmed by them. Frankly, it makes me feel like a bit of an idiot.

If the things that I know are going to happen have this effect on me, then I am sure you can imagine how much I get thrown off when unexpected things happen. Unfortunately, I have noticed that I have utterly lost my ability to handle unexpected events. I find myself utterly frazzled if people (however good or well meaning), just stop by the house and sometimes even planned interactions can do this. Please don't feel bad if you have been part of our social schedule, it is not my intention to make anyone feel bad. Additionally, it is not any one person or event that can be draining, in fact singular interactions can be quite good. However, we are finding that the sum total of these other interactions has the ability to take away from the things close to home that really need our attention.

Obviously, we need human interaction and the support of our friends and family, but right now I think that the most important thing that needs to happen is a "getting in order" of our household, and an inward turning of our energies to our little family. In the last few weeks there have been so many events on a daily basis (expected and unexpected), that I find myself not knowing where I am. There is no time for things to be processed slowly and naturally, so they come out in small bursts late at night when James and I find that we have time to ourselves.

One reason I'm really finding the need to conserve my energies, is because I want to prioritize time with the boys. Anyone around the boys knows that interactions with them require twice the energy requirement that most human interactions do, and this is not the time for them to get less.

So in case you were wondering if there is a hidden message here, the answer is no. What I am doing is honestly expressing our needs so that you can understand them and not feel like there is more that could be done. We are realizing from our end that we need to be a little more stingy with our social calendar. This is not because of the people we could or could not see, but because our little family has needs that have been put on the back burner for long enough. I think everyone can understand that, and I assure you that there is no hidden message for any one person or group of people

In terms of our daily needs my sister Rachel, whom I've been affectionately referring to as my nursemaid (not the "wet" kind!) has been graciously running the affairs of our house. She has been cooking, cleaning, child caring and much much more. I am so thankful to God for putting us into a situation where we mutually needed each other. She feels blessed to be able to raise her two year old daughter (my niece, Naomi) in a community environment. I have someone who watches me closely and sees what I need before I do (a serious benefit when you feel as scattered as I do right now). Our other room mate has also recently returned from MCC service and as such we have many similar experiences and emotions to share in terms of reverse culture shock.

It feels like we have formed a bit of a hodge podge alliance in this house. All four adults are going through times of serious transition in our lives but we are held together by a need for each other and belief in God's faithfulness. It is also a good thing for the boys to have a "little sister" and to learn how to be gentle with her.

Quick update on my treatments. Last week, I was taken off of my chemotherapy. My blood work revealed that my platelets had dropped to critical levels. As such, I have been off of the chemo for a week now. At this point in time the platelets situation seems to be correcting itself, but we won't really know until more time has passed. Radiation continues, four more treatments including today. My right ear is having some problems. I am definitely losing some hearing but I simultaneously experience ringing and rumbling (as if a train were going by).

Thats all for now!