August 31, 2010

Remembering the Mainland

Jess here:

Today I woke up with feelings of joyful anticipation for the day, something I haven't felt for a while. Here's why:
1) My doctor changed my anti-nausea meds to something stronger, which means that I can now eat breakfast without throwing up and enjoy the rest of my meals without that horrible pervading feeling of nausea. Food is such a wonderful thing!
2) We're moving to a permanent address in a few days!
3) We get to go watch my brother-in-law play baseball tonight. I played baseball for many years and was about to join a recreational team in Beijing before we left.
4) I did not wake up with a splitting headache for the first time in days

In the last while, we've had the sensation of getting a little "China starved". Here is the evidence (how many more lists can I make?):
1) I am currently in the process of simultaneously reading three Chinese biographies (with another ten or so lined up),
2) We've been searching Youtube and Youku (the Chinese version of Youtube) for Chinese music videos, and
3) We have watched two Chinese movies in the last week.

Each one of these things has, in its own way evoked very clear and real memories of China in me. These are the kind of memories that have taste, smell and sound attached to them. The ones that you can almost relive they feel so real. Sometimes I physically have to stop reading my books, because they are so real to me.

Much as I hated the Chinese music videos while I was there, they now remind me of grocery shopping or riding the bus. That in turn makes me remember everything that I enjoyed about riding the bus. I know, I know, read far enough back on this blog and you'll remember everything I hated about the bus. Nonetheless, there were things that I loved too.

For example, I loved sitting on the bus and watching the elderly people. They all have so much character, so much independence and yet demand so much respect (I think). I would find myself staring at them and wondering about their lives. I also enjoyed it when the other passengers on the bus would assume that I didn't understand them and talk about me when I was right there. Thinking about riding the bus makes me think of the ticket woman who yells loudly in everyone's ears (picture). Then there is the man/men that every bus has (no matter what time of day) that smells like a brewery. Or there is the young boyfriend that drapes himself so heavily on his girlfriend's shoulder in a "cutesy" way, that I begin to feel very sorry for the girlfriend who has to slouch off to the side in order to compensate. Then there were the horrible men's fashion shows that were always playing on the TV. See example above to the left!

Watching Chinese movies with English subtitles is also an interesting experience now. They were not that widely available in Beijing (what's the use when everyone speaks Chinese?), but now that we have access to Youtube again, we can watch them. If we watch without subtitles, we are generally able to get the basic plot, but we end up missing a lot of the details. Movie Chinese tends to be very short and abrupt, or colloquial if you will. However, watching with subtitles is simultaneously educational ("Oh, did you hear the way that he said that? I never would have though of saying it that way!"), and yet distracting ("Weird, the translation totally missed part of what she said").

As to our own Chinese ability, we have not found ourselves forgetting it just yet. It seems to be sticking pretty good. We have attended a Chinese church on a number of occasions and instead of scratching our heads searching for words, it all comes pouring out in a joyful flood. We have also been skyping with some of our friends back in Beijing. James and I have decided that Chinese is our official "hospital language". When you find yourself spending a lot of time in crowded people places (as waiting rooms tend to be), it is very convenient to speak a language that most people don't understand. Of course, we have also learned the hard way that there are enough Chinese people around randomly that we probably shouldn't be cracking too many dirty jokes with each other!

As useful as having a hospital language can be, it does also have the effect of driving home the fact that we no longer NEED to know Chinese. Now it is a quaint, but sort of strange and useless tool that we have in our belts. It is easy to forget that this tool used to the most valuable one we had and that it was one that we carefully sharpened every day. When I was recovering from my biopsy last month, the nurses all thought that it was very cute that we were speaking Chinese together (almost as if we were wearing matching Hello Kitty backpacks). In Canada, speaking Chinese is cute and a little bit impressive, but in China it is just necessary. Nonetheless, we put too much time and energy into it to ignore it now. We have determined that we will attend the Chinese church weekly and try to bring home Chinese exchange students from the University (we’ll let them go eventually).

Funny story. The other night we were driving around near our old University and at a certain intersection we had to wait for a group of Chinese students to cross the street. They were walking extremely slowly, and James, forgetting that his window was open, yelled in the voice of a Beijing man who has been smoking for 40 years, "Kuai yidianr ba!" (Hurry up will ya!). One young man looked at us in astonishment and nearly tripped over his feet to hear a skinhead Canadian yelling at him to hurry up in Chinese (Beijing accent no less). I burst out laughing and gave the guy a broad smile, just to let him know that he wasn't crazy.

Recently we also had to go to the Manitoba Health office to get our health insurance issues taken care off. The couple in front of us in line was an elderly Chinese couple and they were speaking together in Mandarin. When they got to the counter, James and I were of course eavesdropping. Between the somewhat impatient clerk and the limited English of the woman, there was much miscommunication going on and the frustrations were mounting. You may ask yourselves why we did not quickly stand up and yell "I speak Chinese!" but there were a number of reasons why we did not. One was that the office security was very sensitive about the privacy of each individual case. The other was that we did not want to embarrass the woman. She was doing well enough to get by and we didn't want to show disrespect for her by diminishing her ability to speak English in front of a crowd of people. However, as soon as we got to the counter and mentioned to the employee that we could understand, he told us we should have come up and helped him out!

We have actually randomly passed a number of Chinese conversations on the street here in Winnipeg. The funny thing about it is that it is exactly like hearing snatches of an English conversation on the sidewalk. The topic is usually mundane and not very interesting. "That bill is due next month". “The Doctor said you should see him in two weeks”. “You know I hate salad”. But here is Winnipeg it sometimes comes as a shock to realize that without trying to, we just heard a Chinese conversation and understood it.

Another element of my reliving China experience is that I have still been contributing to some of the MCC work that I was involved in. As I work on my computer, doing my familiar tasks and duties, I find vivid images entering my mind. People, places, traveling, hotels, the food, the stories, so much! It's so tangible I could grab it! Somedays it is very hard not to let all of those thoughts and memories end with an abrupt, "Well I guess I'll never do that again".

While traveling James and I often found ourselves in situations where we had to attend banquets and eat tons and tons of food or risk insulting people. At the beginning this was hard to handle, especially when every meal was some big to-do and our gastrointestinal tracts felt like solid tubes of chilis and meat (in James' case, often raw meat). Oft times the meat was unsettlingly unrecognizable, but then there were the other times that it was extremely recognizable (served in the natural beauty of its whole animal form).
It was not uncommon to come home with an unpleasant case of watery bowels and an overwhelming desire to eat vegetables and fruit. Now we bemoan the fact that it took us a full six months or so to become accustomed the to spicy/burn-your-mouth-and-all-of-your-sphincters meat fests that these occasions were. It feels like we wasted six precious months of not fully appreciating food that we now love! This picture is a really representation of how food there would be for maybe eight people. The dishes would be stacked on each other multiple times and we would all attack them simultaneously with our chopsticks. Not very sanitary, but very satisfying!

Oh I suppose I'm just being melodramatic. Give me centre stage and I'll delivery a soliloquy to make your heart sob!


August 30, 2010

The Obsession with Hair Continues

Hey All. James here.

I figure that if Jessica gets a wig, then I get one too. However, I want to remain true to myself... no covering up the fact that I'm balding. So if I'm going to wear a wig, it's got to be a balding

Dark Man and Family

James here.

Inspired by Jessica's bid to create the zaniest family photo, I have decided to photoshop us into what I think is appropriately called Dark Man and Family.

Behold, Dark Man. The trouble is, he doesn't appear obviously photoshopped. I mean, I've worked on construction sites with guys like this! Very creepy.

In fact, I think I can tell you a bit about the man in this picture: his name is Pierre, and he's been banned for life from the Franz Motor Inn, after what has famously become known as the "April 3rd Incident". That scar on the left side of his nose? Don't even ask.

Dark Wife looks a little more photoshopped, with her Joker smile. However, you wouldn't guess right off the hop that she is big into curling, and that on any given night, you can find her glued to the TV, watching the Beautiful Game live or on scratchy old VHS cassettes. She's been known to punch game moderators in the face when they make a call she disagrees with--and she's even worse when she's actually one of the players.

Dark Ari is a cheerful lad, unaware of the hostilities that simmer in the upper tiers of the Dark Family. He receives mediocre grades in school, particularly in spelling, but he does will in gym class, which is enough to satisfy Mr. and Mrs. Dark.

When Dark Ari grows up, he hopes to own the Franz Motor Inn.

And last of all, we have Dark Jude. When Child and Family Services learned that he was sleeping in a cardboard box in a damp corner of the basement, they tried to take him away from the Dark Family. However, subsequent DNA testing revealed that he isn't a human boy at all, but rather a strange mutant possum. That explains his incredible love for dry cat food.

Family Photos and Capacity Building

Here is the long awaited family photo with all of us buzzed and beautiful. I include two different versions and James is creating his own version of our family photo. My family photos are mild renditions (coneheads and a few additions), but James' rendition of our family photo is a little more unique. Curious George joined us for the original shot because everytime Jude gets a buzz cut, he looks like a monkey (of whom Curious George just happens to be his favorite).

And here we have the Coneheads!

And here is a sneak peak into future blog posts: After shopping around James finally found a wig he likes (WHAT!) and we are officially moving into a permanent house this week. Hurray!

I have recently been reading the biography of Watchman Nee. This man was a Chinese Christian who taught and wrote many well recognized foundational Christian books. He had a huge influence among Chinese Christians during a very tumultuous time in Chinese history. Much more could be said about him, but it is his teaching that has hit me hard in the last few days.

He wrote that "Maturity is a matter of the enlargement of capacity. You must allow God to give you time to suffer beyond measure. Then your capacity will be enlarged. It takes hard times to mature a Christian. The fact is that you will never be the same after you pass through suffering. Either your capacity will be enlarged, you will become more hardened. For this reason, when you are experiencing hard times you must pay attention." He also wrote that if we try to avoid these times of suffering, it will only prolong the time that it takes for us to become mature in Christ.

I guess I can see how this could be that new perspective for me that I have been looking for, like I asked for at the end of the last posting. But what bothers me is that This perspective is largely based on suffering, and there something in me that is loath to call what I am going through "suffering". Discomfort, yes. But, if I am suffering, then I am doing so in a whole lot of comfort. I have people taking care of me who love me. Even when I can't eat, I still have food available. I lay my sick body in a soft bed. I feel that to call what I am going through "suffering" would be to do a serious discredit to those who have truly suffered. Not to mention, I don't want my "new" life perspective to be based on a martyr complex.

Second Attempt

We all remember the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. There he was with his disciples and five thousand people were following him to listen to his preaching. They were hungry and had not eaten in days. The disciples suggested that Jesus send them home to find food, and Jesus in turn suggested that the disciples find food for them to eat. This of course was impossible, but a quick search revealed that one boy had brought a long a lunch of five little barley loaves and two small fish. Jesus blessed the food, and after he had blessed it, there was enough for everyone to eat with twelve baskets full of food left over.

In one of his last recorded sermons, Watchman Nee points this out. It didn't matter how much food Jesus started with. Even if he had had 100 loaves of bread and 200 fish (although it is far greater 5 loaves and 2 fish), it still would have been a miracle that the people were fed.

What matters is not how much they had to begin with, but the fact that Jesus' blessing was on it. I will poorly summarize Nee's words here for the sake of brevity. He says that blessing is the working of God where there is no explanation for it; where what we put in does not equal what is put out. If we think that his blessing is reliant on what we put in (our capacity), we limit God's abilities. However, when we realize that it is God's blessing that makes the outcome, we find out that the outcome is far beyond our capacity and even surpasses our wildest dreams.

I have zero capacity right now. I lay on a bed for half the day sleeping and vomiting. I'm exhausted and I struggle with depression (especially in the afternoon). My ears are inflamed and my eyes often feel like they have needles poking into them. I know God is with me, but I'm starting to feel very vulnerable right now.

But however small my capacity is, all I need is his blessing in order for what I do have to become a massive outpouring. So what do I have? I have his love. I have the assurance that Jesus has conquered death. I have a role. I have the assurance of Jesus' life inside of me and that as a child of God, I reflect his character and his nature to other people. I don't feel these things all the time. I would be lying if I said that I don't have days of serious doubts and depression. But feeling emotions is different than knowing truth. Even when I feel different emotions, I still know what the truth is. Unfortunately, feelings are much easier to pay attention to!

I suppose that I just contradicted myself. Suffering enlarges capacity... and yet capacity is nothing without God's blessing. So do I have my new perspective now? No, not by a long shot. Not any one of the things I read about or think about or that people tell me is going to offer me universal comfort. But I am being changed and transformed day by day. "For I am confident of this, that he who began a good work in you (me) will be faithful to perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6).

Don't worry. Lighterhearted posts are coming!

August 24, 2010

Needing a New Perspective

I suspect that there are a great many people who feel as if I have been in denial about my situation, talking about how blessed I am, how I want to use this opportunity I have been given and so on and so forth. I for one, think that I have been very open and honest about my experience thus far. The hard part is to continue to be open when some of these less enjoyable emotions kick in (as they have). But, I said that my goal was to document my journey, and the negative emotions are also part of this parcel.

One of the most humbling things that I have to reconcile myself to these days is the fact that I have zero independence. I am at risk for having spontaneous seizures (especially during the six weeks of receiving radiation treatment since it causes swelling in the brain), and this makes me the equivalent of an adult who has the freedom of a child. I can not be left home alone. I can not take care of the boys by myself. My driver's license has been revoked. Any type of cooking or chopping should be with someone else. I can't even go to my own doctor's appointments by myself. If I want to go to the corner store to buy something, I need to pull someone along with me.

It feels a bit like I've been tied on a string and hung around the necks of those around me. Everyday, James, my parents and I must review the day. Who will be home with the boys when? Who will be with Jessica when she needs to rest? Not only has my independence been removed, but the ability of those around me to function is also greatly limited.

What makes it even harder to swallow is that so far, I'm doing fine! I'm told that it is in the last half of my six weeks that the more cumulative effects kick in and that at that time, I'll probably be a pretty unhappy camper. But for now, I have learned how to control my nausea and exhaustion, and other than not having hair, you'd never guess that I have a brain tumor. I have a lot of small side effects, but they are the kinds of things that I am accustomed to ignoring in myself. Headache? Take some Tylenol, ignore it and it'll go away.

I find myself pondering a lot of "what if?" scenarios. It all happened so suddenly. Other than two incidents of pre-seizure symptoms (referred to as auras) in the two weeks leading up to my seizure, there were no signs, no warnings. I was busing around Beijing by myself, having stimulating and interesting conversations with any old Chinese person who decided they wanted to talk to me, going to the market by myself to bargain for our daily vegetables and then go home and cook them (by myself), flying to other far away Chinese cities for the day to having meetings with people, and able to stay at home with the boys by myself for days at a time so that James could do his work travel. I was playing an important role as an MCC volunteer, helping people.

What if that seizure had just never happened? Obviously the brain tumor would still be there, but what if we just hadn't known about it for another long time? What if I hadn't been instantly put on a regimen of medications? Would I feel more sick? What I be seizing all the time? What if we just hadn't known until one day I collapsed and never woke up again? Do I think that would be better? I don't know.

There is this idea of "the future" that has become a bit of a sore spot for me. I have mentioned this before. Yesterday evening, I felt driven to go for a walk "by myself" (walking up and down the same stretch so that my family could still monitor me). As I walked, I realized that all of my life I have always used walking by myself as a time to dream. When I was in middle school, I started walking the dirt mile roads around my hometown. I would go for hours at a time and spend the whole time dreaming about my future. When James and I started dating, we would walk those same mile roads and dream about our future together. After Ari was born we found a park that followed the river in Winnipeg and we would walk him in his stroller along that path for hours... always dreaming about the future.

Dreaming about the future for me has never been about scorning the present. It has never been done out of wishing that things were different. Thinking about my future has always been a product of being excited about the life that I do have! I always felt that there was so much potential and enjoyed what I was doing at the time, so it seemed like the future could only hold more exciting things. What could those exciting things be?

Yesterday I had an encounter with Jude that I felt summarized the way that I feel now about the future. It was also very telling about how my three year old is handling these circumstances. Jude has always been a much more cuddly boy than Ari. Up until we left for China, he was extremely attached to me, and even as he has become more independent, he still really enjoys getting his hugs and cuddles from me. So far, his reaction to our overthrown lives has been to pull away from me. Now, finally, after almost two months of this, he is tentatively starting to approach me again (like when I put him to bed the other night).

Last night the dam broke. He was crying about something completely unrelated and I was sitting with him in his room holding him. Suddenly he started sobbing huge gulping sobs, grabbing at me desperately, stroking my facing, squeezing me tight and saying over and over again, "Mommy, I want you! I want you!" I felt my heart get ripped open and the two of us cried together. It was as though he felt like he just couldn't get a hold of me, even though I was right there.

Obviously the encounter was heartbreaking for its own reasons, but it also occurred to me that the way that Jude was trying desperately to get a grasp of me is not unlike the way that I feel about the future. Slippery. Shadowy. Right in front of me but having no form.

Lord Jesus, I need a new perspective!

August 21, 2010

Like a Sweet, Cooling Salve

After the week that we've just had, the moment I just had was like sweet, cooling salve to a raw patch of skin.

With all the medicines, doctor's appointments, running around, errand running (never stops), radiation everyday, trying to figure out how to deceive my body into absorbing food and irregular yet crowded days, I have felt a shift take place in me this week. Detachment. I have the knowledge the something is building in me, but that I have no tools and no will to look at it. James has felt a shift too, but for him it has taken on the different form of irritation and frustration.

Detached wife... irritated and frustrated husband... great combo. As James has said, it feels there is a very limited ability for us to improve our situation, but there is a lot of potential for us to make it worse. Sort of just makes you feel like giving up.

Today at 8:00 am, James packed up the car, packed up a glowing Ari, and went camping. Many times in Beijing, instead of a bedtime story, James would talk up this Great Day to the boys. The day that they would go camping together. Of course we expected that when we returned Ari would be almost seven and Jude would be five, so Jude would be old enough. But with their ages being what they are, Jude stayed home with me and with my parents while Ari, puffed with pride, rode off with James (three hour drive) to the Canadian Shield.

I hope that their time together is a sweet salve of its own. For me, my moment came this evening when putting Jude to bed. After praying with him and turning the lights out, my Dad came into the room with his guitar to play a little for Jude while he fell asleep. This is serious nostalgia for me, as it is something that he used to do for my sisters and I while we were falling asleep as kids. I turned to leave the room, but Jude's little three year old voice stopped me. "Mommy, I want you to sing and lay with me in my bed."

Really? Truly? This non-stop energy ball that hardly has time to give me a hug during the day? This boy that instinctively draws away from his mother at this stage and gravitates to masculinity? I took him in my arms and he cuddled right up while my Dad and I sang together in harmonies for 45 minutes. Songs of trust, songs of hope. Old songs, where I could hardly believe that I even remembered the words they were so deep in there. With Jude's chubby arm stretched over me and his even breathing, and me singing in the darkness, I knew that I am blessed beyond words. I hope that Jude remembers falling asleep like that as clearly as I know I will.

Even with the detachment that I described setting in this week, there have been a few conclusions that I came to this week:

1) I am going to start taking piano lessons again. It has been ten years since the last time I formally had lessons and I quit somewhere in my Gr.9 piano. However, playing formal piano for preludes, offertories and congregational singing at the international church in Beijing challenged me to a new level and re-stimulated my interest in pursuing it further. I know that my area of weakness lies in my technical training and ability. But I figure that if my life is going to limited in some areas, I can expand it in others. If I have a lot of time at home, why not practice piano for 1 1/2 hours a day? The house we will be living in for the next year (as of September) has a good piano in it. I also see it as an opportunity. Even if I live until I am 80, I want the boys to remember me playing piano. Its a little pricey to take advanced lessons, but I figure that if I can teach three or four beginner classes a week, then maybe I can pay for one advanced lesson a week. Opportunities abound.

2) I want to put Ari into a little hockey league. We can get used equipment at his age so it shouldn't be too expensive. He has only become aware of hockey since returning to Canada, but he is pretty enthralled by it. Even if I live until I'm 80, I want him to remember me cheering him on sidelines. We have also chosen a school to enroll him in. It is a French Immersion. He already did the Chinese thing, so really, why not put him into a French school? Canada is bilingual after all. Might as well embrace the opportunity. Especially when the French school is so close to the house we are renting. We'll give our son the opportunity to turn into the consummate French-speaking, hockey-playing Canadian! If he decides later on that it is not for him, then so be it. Maybe having him learn French will help James and I remember all the French we learned in school. We can both read and understand French, but now after learning and speaking Chinese intensively for a year and a half we both find it extremely difficult to speak French. I say we, but in truth, I'm afraid that James is in better shape than I am!

3) I want to be like a solid oak tree that has been planted to display God's glory. How do I do this? By putting down solid roots in him. I am becoming more and more convinced through this whole thing, that in order to truly know and believe God and be confident in him, I need to zoom out a little and take in his WHOLE character. There are two ways that this has been illustrated in my mind, one that I heard and one that I have seen in our lives:

Illustration A:
If someone knew that I like to eat chocolate pie, it would be very kind of them to bake me a chocolate pie. It would be even nicer of them to make me two chocolate pies or even three chocolate pies. But if they continuously and only ever gave me chocolate pies
everyday after that, we can assume that I would fairly quickly become tired of eating chocolate pie. Just because I like it, doesn't mean that it is the only thing that I want to eat.

We do the same thing with God. Sometimes, we zoom in too close. We concentrate on ONE of his characteristics, or on ONE story from the Bible and we decide that that one characteristic or story summarizes who he is and how he works. Maybe its a little broader than that. Maybe we choose 15 or 30 stories and base it on that. But the truth is that the Bible is full of controversial stories about God that display controversial characteristics. This should not be surprising. We are told that man was made in the image of God, and what human do you know that does not have controversial characteristics? Better yet said, how many interesting human beings do you know who only eat chocolate pie? What else does God want to eat? What strange and new things might he want to do in my life... even if it involves a brain tumor? I want to look at his many characteristics and stories, even the ones that makes me say, "Huh?"

Illustration B:
As I have mentioned in previous posts, James and I have had numerous difficult conversations in the recent weeks since my seizure. Because we want to be honest and open with each other we have had to say some things to each other that are really HARD. It has struck me again and again that if I didn't truly know James' character and his heart and his personality, I would have misunderstood 90% of the things that he has said to me. This is mutually true for things that I have said to him. Those misunderstandings would lead to division between us and a lot of hurt. But this has not been the case. I know the way James thinks. I know the way that his thought processes work. When something comes out sounding awkward, I usually hear the eloquent version that he had in his head. I feel confidence and security in what he is saying because I understand it in the larger picture of who he is.

How much about God do I misunderstand because I do not look at HIM and at his character? How often do I hear hard things from him and get hurt because I couldn't understand what the heart and the intention was behind it? I want to have the same level confidence and security with God as I do in those hard conversations with James. Like a mighty oak that stands firm, with deep roots.

There she goes again spouting her opinionated opinions! She sure has a lot of them!

August 18, 2010

"Radiation On"

Our lives have now taken on a bit more structure to them. At 7:00 my alarm goes off and I take my first dose of medicine: anti-nausea. At 7:30 it goes off again and I take my second medicine: Temozolamide, an oral form of chemotherapy. I lay and relax for an hour and then take three more meds: anti-seizure, anti-heartburn, anti-brain swelling. At this point I can officially eat. Monday this resulted in four hours of vomiting bile. At around 2:00 I managed to eat five crackers and felt drastically better. Nausea, and very small portions seems to be the name of the game so far.

At some point (usually in the afternoon) we go for my radiotherapy. James sits in the waiting room while I change into a hospital gown. I enter a futuristic looking room and lay down on a machine.

My hard, green mesh mask comes down over my body down to mid chest and is bolted to the table (it kind of reminds me of closing a guitar case). I can feel the pulse in my throat pushing
against the mask and the thing even presses against my eyeballs. My collarbone feels compressed.
This is of course so that they can radiate me with perfect precision. Yes, I can breath. If I position myself just so, I can also keep my eyes open in slits so that I can see a bit of the procedure.

The technicians hover over me, their shadowy hands adjusting,
bolting, making markings on my mask. Eventually, they tell me that they are now leaving the room, but don't worry, they are controlling every machine, they can see me the whole time and they can hear every noise I make. They leave the room and James
watches on the outside as a massive door about 1 ft thick slowly slides shut with me inside. A sign above the door illuminates, saying "Radiation On".

Inside the room, from my slit eyed, green meshed perspective, the machine starts to work its magic. Electronic arms, rotating disks and red lights move around me. They move toward and away from me, but they never touch me. They buzz, they beep. Red beams of light appear and disappear. I have to fight my basic human instinct to try and see what is coming at me from my peripheral vision. There is Spanish flamenco guitar music playing in the background.

Maybe like the Man in the Iron Mask, I am actually an illegitimate heir to the throne of England. Or maybe I am just starring in a SciFi movie.

August 16, 2010

Sheep Shearing Days

This extremely undignified image of the sheep being sheared is pretty much how I feel about my appearance these days.

My physical appearance has already changed drastically in the last month. While I was in the Beijing hospital I lost a lot of weight
because I wasn't really eating and so I was smaller than normal when I returned. However, since then with being on certain meds, I have gained weight, my body has been holding water and I have broken out in my first ever case of acne.

Strangely enough, it isn't any one thing about my changing appearance that bothers me, but rather that it changes and fluctuates everyday. I don't recognize myself when I look in the mirror anymore and any secrets I had to improve "flaws" (both real or imagined) have been rendered useless.

Now with having started my radiation treatments I will also be losing my hair in 5-10 patches of varying size. I have (in good spirits) joked with James that he will soon have his own personal Gollum, stroking his arm and calling him My Precious.

Yesterday, in order to avert this tragic mental image, we took the bull by the horns (or if you prefer, me by my wool) and shaved the hair off into a very smart looking buzz cut. I'm not as cute as a freshly shorn sheep, but it'll do.

My dear sister Rachel, in a very unselfish, bold and supportive move also shaved off her entire long, beautiful, curly ponytail. This beautiful mane is being donated to Cancer Care. I wasn't sure if I should cry for the loss of two heads of hair, or for how unselfish it was on her part. Here she is below, ponytail half off. See how similar we look! The boys have not been done yet because our razor kept running out of battery power. Maybe today.

Family Video

As promised so long ago, here we have the video that was taken of our family during our photo shoot in Beijing, two days before Jess' seizure. Please refer back to the blog entry from August 3 entitled A Full Full Life to get the whole story behind this video. It is a super fun video. We thought it would have us talking in Chinese, but they chose to overdub the whole thing in a really strange and kind of quirky song. Anyway, we thought they did a great job.

So click on this link to see some free advertising for BPhoto studio in Beijing (for all our foreign friends we left behind in Beijing)

Family Video

August 15, 2010

Krang Likes Doowop Girls

Its true, its true. Last week, I could've sworn that I was in a sappy Steve Martin movie (something like Father of the Bride). You know how he is in those movies. Someone says something to him, and then he turns to the camera, tilts his eyebrows in that nostalgic way of his, and some old Doowop song fades in that fits with the line that was just said.

Last Tuesday, I came into the living room, sighed heavily, and sat on the couch. My mom turned to me and said, "Its been one of those days has it?". As soon as the words came out of her mouth, I heard the volume of four harmonizing doowop girls fade into my consciousness and these words. "Mama said there'd be days like this, there'd be days like this, my mama said! Mama said! Mama said!" (please listen to it at this link, it really enhances the story!).

I know that in the past I have talked about my ability to really get a song in my head. For example, last November on this blog I blasted B.I.N.G.O. for its very existence and the fact that Ari had learned it at his Chinese kindergarten. Ari still refers to it as "that song that you really hate Mommy".

Well, these four miniature doowop girls have been bopping and swinging around in my head at all hours of the day and night for the last five days. If I wake up at 3:00am, its a guarantee that I'll hear them again ("Mama said! Mama said!") and sometimes I'll even have unbidden mental images of them dancing around up there on a stage, singing their harsh harmonies, the heavy base line booming away. You'd think that I was at a live performance. Naturally, I have come to the conclusion that Krang likes dancing doowop girls and is paying them by the hour to sing and dance for him in their flashy dresses. Krang suddenly seems very hedonistic.

Suddenly I find myself looking to the start of my radiation and chemotherapy tomorrow as a possible method of atomizing these doowop girls and sending Krang spiraling downward into depression. Bring it on!

August 13, 2010

On Wives, Servants and Miserable Health

On Wives
Today, I suddenly felt the inexplicable urge to apologize to James. I wasn't feeling sorry for myself and I wasn't trying to make him feel any responsibility to me that he doesn't already have or has taken on. But as the two of us have struggled with our confusing thoughts, conundrums, moral dilemmas, futures etc., I have found that I am viewing him as much as a fellow human being as I am my husband. This is a good thing.

If I view him only as my husband, the danger is to only see the vows that he made to me on our wedding day. Love and honor, sickness and health, til death do us part. Doesn't he owe me those things if he promised them to me?

But if I view him as a human being, I see someone with great passions, great talents, great dreams... no small future. I see him through the more compassionate eyes of someone who is watching another person's dreams get "tied down" (for lack of a better word). This is certainly not what I envisioned for my life, but it is equally not the future that I envisioned for James. In the last few weeks we've been given so many possibilities, statistics. According to medicine I could live anywhere from less than 1 year to up to 10 years. That is a lot of time of uncertainty, of opportunities possibly missed, of emotions that are constantly changing.

Today I really felt that as one human being to another I needed to express to James that I feel deep and sincere regret for him. I wanted to acknowledge that he is experiencing multiple layers of loss. I wanted to recognize it, not as a guilt tripping wife or an anchor hanging around his neck, but rather as an acknowledgment of his value. I did so, and in that one moment, it was amazing how the dynamic between the two of us changed. Both of us dropped the roles that we are "supposed" to play. He didn't try to fight it and say that he wasn't facing loss. I didn't cry and expect him to tell me how untrue it was. It just is. How can I show him how much I value his commitment to me, if I refuse to acknowledge just how huge that the price tag is?

And I do value his commitment. He is not hiding from me. Of course only a jerk would physically run away at a time like this and desert his wife, but many more people would just check out emotionally. James has not. What courage.

On Servants
Yesterday evening, my mom and I sat in an outdoor patio and talked together for good long time. As we spoke, I managed to express something that has not come out clearly until now.
It goes again with this path that we are on, and the distinct feeling that we need to follow it exactly where it takes us. Here it is.

I have an opportunity that can not be missed. I have the chance to walk a path that many people walk, the path of watching my physical body deteriorate and die. Through this I will be able understand and experience many things that I would never otherwise be able to understand or experience. However, lets just say that that at some point on this path, God in his perfect will decides to heal me.

Wonderful! I mean that with my whole heart! Just think of how amazing it would be to have that second shot at life! If he heals me, then someday I will be on the other side of this and I will have many years to contemplate all the things that happened, all the thought processes I had and all the things that I learned. But this is the clincher, if I find myself on that side, I want to be able to say that I made the most of this opportunity that I was given.

There is a famous parable Jesus told, where an employer gave three servants different amounts of money to be taken care of by them. To one servant he gave 5 units of money, to the second he gave 4 units of money and to the third he gave 1 unit. The first two immediately went and invested their money and both of them saw double returns on their investments. The third one took his money and hid it in the ground where it would be safe.

One day the employer asked the servants about the money. The first two gave him back double what they had been given and the employer was very pleased. His response was to trust them with even more. But when the third one gave him the same amount of money back, the employer was angry and called his servant lazy and afraid. "Why didn't you at least get a little interest on it from the bank?" And he took away even the little bit that the third servant had been given.

If I am healed and someday Jesus comes to me and says, "Jessica, what did you do with that experience that I gave you?", what do I want my response to be?

"Well, at least I endured it. I refused to think bad thoughts and I survived by shear willpower. I never stopped believing. By golly, I fought it and thanks to that fight, I am alive today!"

I don't want to just survive! What a waste! My life is worth more than survival, of that I am sure. Call me egotistical if you want to. I want to LIVE, even if my body dies. But if my body does live, I want to know that even while my body was dying, I truly was alive. I don't want to sound like I am demeaning any else's experience, if that is what their experience is. As I said before, I can only speak for what I want. Maybe for now, I know more about what I don't want and it comes out sounding really strongly opinionated.

On Miserable Health
Bold statements, I know. Premature? Possibly. Especially as I am heading into six weeks of very hellish sounding treatments. Today I was told that I will most likely lose hearing in my right ear (thanks to Krang's elaborate position in my brain). And that is only the tip of the iceberg. I have pages and pages of all the possible side effects that I might experience and every last one of them bites. Many are life threatening. Its very sobering reading, I can assure you. Probably the most sobering thing for me is that this will be the first time that I will physically FEEL like I am wasting away. Until now it has mostly been statistical facts and figures and strange medicine side effects.

But I also know that God will give me what I need when I need it. He has so far, and he will continue to do so. There are enough people out there who have gone through chemo and radio that I can only assume that God has special provisions for those who are undergoing it. I guess we'll just have to wait and see!

August 12, 2010


Hey all.

We learned this week that Jessica will be starting chemotherapy on Monday, August 16 (instead of today). The reason for this is that they will also be starting chemotherapy, and want to kick them both off on the same day.

Of course, this will not be fun for anyone. So I'll infuse a bit of humour into the situation by sharing a photo that I took in China. This sign was posted in a restaurant above a door leading to the kitchen.

The Chinese says that "non-work people (employees) are forbidden from entering". Of course, the English translation is, well, typically nonsensical. Of course, if you're just trying to get away from the proselytizing horde out in the dining area, then you might need to break the rules and hide in the kitchen for a while.

August 11, 2010

Improvements to My Head

I (James) was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with my supposed "Lumiere" picture a few posts ago. The only thing vaguely luminescent about that photo is my arms, which are glowing like burnished bronze.

So I've decided that I need to put up a new and improved photo--one that presents me in a more favourable light (ah, the Lumiere puns will never end).

The photo of me you now see is much more representative: a light-hearted guy with a lightbulb-shaped head.

Actually (and I know that one should never try to compliment oneself, especially not in public), I think I have a fairly uniformly shaped head. So far, no one has asked me, "So, when exactly did you get hit in the skull by a shovel?", or "Kid, you're a phrenologist's nightmare".

I've really noticed my eyebrows lately, as they have now become the "hairiest" part of my face. Did they always wriggle so? And my lips! Were they always so enormous? And was that brick wall behind me always so rugged? And was my shirt always so blue? Ah, so many questions in life...

August 10, 2010

An Invitation to Watch the Library at Alexandria Burn

As "defeatist" as this title sounds, it is not meant to. It's a reflection of the growing process that James and I have needed to move through as time passes. Let me explain...

A few days ago, James said two things to me, both in reference to this new situation that we find ourselves in. The first one made me laugh long and hard and the other one made me cry:

1) "I feel like someone just took a crap in my lap and now I can either stand up and try to wipe it off (and get crap all over myself in the process), or I can just let it sit there and have a mound of crap sitting in my lap."

2) "I feel like I have been told that for the next undefined period of time, I have to watch the Great Library of Alexandria burn to the ground, knowing what treasures are hidden inside. I could read continuously my whole life and never turn all the pages, but now they are being reduced to ash."

In its day, the Great Library of Alexandria was the largest collection of writings from around the world by Alexander the Great (he didn't live to see it). Historians drool when they think about all the goodies that must have been hidden inside this treasure trove, but unfortunately it was burned to the ground sometime between 48 BC and and 642 AD. Some people would see James' comment as being very morbid and morose, but I take it as an odd compliment, and a very romantic one at that.

Regardless of whether or not I burn to the ground or whether God chooses to put an end to this burning, I am currently a building on fire.

I want to make it clear that I do not have any designs or preplanned intentions for this blog, except this: to track this journey that I am on. I do not want to make large, overblown faith-based statements that I do not actually feel. Neither do I want to be hugely cynical and negative. My emotions will change and they will change frequently. I want to track them honestly, because frankly, I have recently become aware of how many people there must be on this same path...

So many questions! What does a situation like this do for a marriage? What does it do for your future? What does it do for your children? I guess I am in the process of finding out.
But this process is mine and it is the journey that God has given me. I choose to share it because I believe that there is value in being open. What I do ask for a level of respect for the personal nature of the things that I share. Please, don't be embarrassed when you see me. Please don't feel that because I am being open on my blog, that you are somehow being a Peeping Tom. Truth be told, I don't see myself as having a huge message to share, but it has become apparent that for some reason, I have been handed a microphone. You are not under any obligations to listen to me or to agree with me, but please respect me.

James and I are eating bitter, and we are eating a lot of it. The last few days, all we have done is eat bitter. And what comes out when you eat bitter? A lot more bitter. We simply can not make it through one day without having at least two HEAVY discussions, where all of our inner slime comes pouring out and there is no off switch. We don't aim our slime at each other, thankfully, but it's like timer goes off and we each let it loose simultaneously. It's chaotic, there is no order, but the things we say to each other are generally of the same vain and we can relate to each other. It is a very strange twist on a marriage to have the primary mode of connection being the NEED to let loose the brimming vat of slime that has filled up over the previous few hours. It is very bitter. We have never related to each other in this way before. Thankfully, for all of our bitter conversations that we have had, we usually end up laughing, feeling lighter and relieved.

The simple truth is this: we have no idea what to do with ourselves! Within five weeks we have gone from a life of purpose, placement, independence, cultural stimulation, enjoying a family life in one permanant home... to a life where our home changes every few weeks, making doctor's appointments, waiting for those appointments, driving to those appointments, arranging a zillion small details, moving our stuff around, rarely seeing our own children, dealing with tedious tasks on a daily basis...

And always WAITING! Waiting for what? The building to burn? I ask you how, even with a heavy helping of God's grace, is a married couple to deal with our respective sides of this issue? I feel like a building on fire! The bitterest thoughts that I have had in the last while is this one: I can't see that I have a future! For some reason it is easier for me to bear this idea in and of myself, but the really unbearable thought for me is that I do not have a future to offer to my amazing and dedicated husband. We got married because we saw a beautiful future together, and I feel like I am watching my ability to give that to him burn into ash. I have been dreaming about my life for my entire life! I have been dreaming about my life with James since a few weeks after I met him! I have been dreaming about my boys' futures since before they were a twinkle in my eye! And in James' eye. ;)

Do I stop dreaming? James and I have discussed how far removed we sometimes feel from our own thoughts. Its as though we are standing in a parking lot, thinking. A thought like the one I just wrote comes up, "Do I stop dreaming?". Then I step out of my own body momentarily to say to myself, "Of course not, that would be losing faith." But then I step out of that second body into a third person and that person says, "But James still has a future, do you expect him not to think about what life changes he will go through if you die?" Fourth person, "No, I want him to be honest with me and I am glad that he is." Fifth person, "So what is he supposed to do with you in the meantime? How do you express these feelings to him without laying a huge burden on him of not knowing how to respond?" Sixth person, "Yes, what do you have to offer to your husband except pain and a burning shell?" Seventh person, "But I know that God has given us something unique and special through all of this, and I KNOW that he is not just telling us to watch my library burn."

And on it goes... James and I have started referring to these types of mental dialogues as getting together with our 35 closest friends, the ones who are always willing to pull their van into the parking lot of our minds and step out one by one to have a good debate. Before you know it, you are surrounded, exhausted and defeated! We have also compared it to us sitting around with these 35 closest friends, floating on driftwood and discussing again and again how exactly it was that your ship just went down. You don't really want to keep talking about it, but you're still floating on driftwood and it seems like not talking about the ship wreck is pretending that something serious did NOT just happen.

Today after our afternoon slime fest, James had to run some errands (surprise, surprise) and I was waiting in the car for him. I had the heaviest weight like a blanket resting on me and all I could do was trickle tears. I didn't want to sob or cry, I just wanted to detach myself. I am so glad that James and I talk about these things, but what on earth do you do with it afterwords? After all of that slime gushing everywhere, its all the eye can see.

I am starting to learn that after these sessions, I don't know how to pray for myself. After all, I spend all of my time in my mind. But then it occured to me that James probably feels the same way and he doesn't know how to pray for himself either. I need to pray for him, because there is only one person I know, who knows exactly what James needs and that is Jesus. Jesus knows what to do with slime, no matter how much of it there is and how much surface it covers and how it won't stop coming.

This evening we went for a walk. It was so open, it was so comfortable. We had no sense of underlying discomfort. We laughed, we joked. What a strange life. Was this afternoon worth it? Sometimes it's a little too raw to say. But Jesus has shown himself to be faithful again. Lets see what happens tomorrow...

August 07, 2010

Reflections: James, Town Picnics and Landslides

James, our family forerunner, has gone ahead and bicked every bit of hair on his head (okay, he still has eyebrows and eyelashes). I think he is pretty handsome and he pulls is off well. The boys will also get shaved sometime in the next week, and I will follow suit. What is that famous saying? The family that goes cone-head together stays together? Okay, maybe that one isn't so solid and steadfast, but here is one that is a real gem: Husbands, tell your wives from the earliest days possible in your relationship that you think she should shave her head. Tell her frequently, even if she looks at you with a slight amount of irritation or even offense! Here we have one wife who is so happy for her weirdo husband harping on her about this since the day they started dating. Is it so hard for me to believe now that he may not care about my bald head? Not at all!

A husband of noble character who can find? He is worth far more than rubies. His wife has full confidence in him and lacks nothing of value. He brings her good, not harm, all the days of his life.

I realize that this was written about the Proverbial woman, but I think that it is equally as applicable for a good husband. Obviously this is not a test that someone designed for James (and I certainly do not view it that way), but if it were, he would be passing with flying colors. When we found out about Krang, one of the first things that James said to me was that in a strange way he was grateful for this opportunity to prove himself as a human being. The Chinese talk about life hardships as eating bitterness (chi ku), and now after six years of eating sweet fruits, we get to eat bitterness together... it is an honor.

From the beginning James has been very straightforward with me that he wants me to be straightforward with him. Let's feel what we feel. If there is something that you are thinking about, chances are it should be talked about. The result is that he has created for us a very intimate and beautiful place where we have safely talked about very "dangerous" (dare I say explosive and highly charged) things together. It has also highlighted how much we think alike. I can't even imagine how hard this would be on us if we were married to someone who refused to ever think about something that was not "positive", refused to talk about unpleasantries. What pressure we'd be under!

Additionally, he has provided for me a picture of how Jesus is to me as a lover. The book the Song of Solomon talks constantly about the Beloved and her Lover and how they meet each other in a private garden filled with exotic scents and smells that no one else has access to. Others can smell the garden and they can gossip about them, but they don't truly know what the two of them share together. I feel that I have gained this both in James and in Jesus.

I don't really sleep well these days. My nights are a maximum of six hours because inevitably I wake up in the middle of the night, thoughts alive. I am learning that at this point it is futile to try and sleep, so I have been getting up, journaling and reading my Bible until sometime after the sun rises. I have learned through these times that whatever I blog about on here and whatever I talk about with others, Jesus is jealous for my private thoughts and for my private time. Right now this is not something I have a choice about. There is so much happening right now and so much on my mind that to NOT get up drives me crazy. But whatever I lose from a few hours of sleep, I gain back in a growing confidence of his love for me. Like James and I, we have our own private garden, incredibly safe, where dangerous things happen.

This weekend in my hometown of Landmark, Manitoba they are celebrating a Friendship Festival (community activity weekend), and it has been a fun thing to get involved. This town is less than 2000 people (someone correct me if I am wrong). The boys have been so excited by it! This used to be the type of thing that I snubbed my nose at, being so small town and all that, but I suddenly realized that there are tons of Hollywood movies that focus on plots about small hick towns and their quirky ways. Why would my hometown be any less interesting to the wide variety of people reading this than Reese Whitherspoon in Sweet Home Alabama?

I took some videos of the boys enjoying themselves on the dance floor, screaming as candy was thrown to them from the parade and gaping at the daring dirt biker, but apparently they are not compatible to this computer. You are all missing out. Ari dancing on the dance floor to You Ain't Nothing but a Houndog is a sight to be seen! You would think that this kid has been watching dance movies or professional dance-offs or something like this, but for the life of me I can't figure out where he picked these things up! He turns his face real mean and contorts it into strangely appropriate and very rockstar like faces. He jumps wildly in Jimmy Hendrix like guitar moves. He even got down on the floor and pulled a few coffee-grinder like break dance moves. This kid does them all! When the music got slow he turned ballet on us! He did not get that from me! Jude was much more content to jump up and down, but he did so for an hour straight and his hair was dripping with sweat by the time he was done.

I want to post a link to a news story happening in China. This story has been ongoing since a few weeks before we even left. I have been struck again and again from our experiences in China just how often and how long lasting the Chinese people seem to be called upon to eat bitterness in their lives. There are so many earthquakes! There are so many landslides! Always there are sudden, pointless and terrible tragdies and that is only a portion of the greater, harder lives that so many of the people I have met lead. The Chinese people are so complex and dynamic and I never want to lose my appreciation for the way that they live their lives.

You can find the story here.

At our MCC orientation, we were taught that as overseas workers we were going to wittness unbalanced power relationships in our own lives that would unsettle us. We talked about it in great detail. How do we as workers accept this? How to do we deal with it? I never expected to see it played out like this, in such a personal way. While I was being medically evacuated from Beijing with doctors and ambulances, medicines and more than enough money, we were watching this very landslide story play out on the news. I was reading about it in my hospital room in Beijing. While we waited for our flight out of Beijing we saw it on the TV's. Perhaps the contrast of it at the time was mercifully spared by medication. Thousands of people wiped out in landslides while one powerful foreigner is evacuated for having a Krang. I have talked to so many Chinese people with stories like these landslides and as disconnected as I am/was, my heart breaks for them. They are not being pulled out.

If you were worried (or maybe relieved) that you may never read about China again on this blog, don't be. James and I have discussed, that while the emotions related to our sudden evacuation from China have been postponed by our more immediate concerns, they have been by no means supplanted. I mourn having left China, and it is all going to come out yet. I have so many letters to write, so many goodbyes that were never said, so many memories that have not been processed.

Its all coming... just wait for the deluge!

Heres a little humor to leave you with. Looking at the picture of James at the top I decided that he destinctly reminds me a certain well-known and well-loved cartoon character: Lumiere!

August 05, 2010

I, Robot

Yesterday, I went for a fitting for my radiation mask.

Under this perfectly-formed, hard mask of green swampy-looking mesh, Krang will be attacked by radiation with up to seven beams from different angles. The fitting itself was an interesting experience. The mesh was placed in hot water so that it would mold perfectly to my form and then I was strapped down firmly to the bed with a headrest underneath. It felt very futuristic, and I am glad that the pictures look just as futuristic as it felt. Let me tell you, that thing is tight. The technologists let it slip that they are not professionally allowed to use the word "claustrophobia" around radiation patients.

This picture makes me think of a few things. One is that it makes me think that I have just been uncovered somewhere on a prehistoric dig, like Encino Man. Another is that I am about to go into a procedure, where I will inevitably come out looking like this: thanks irobot!

Or I might come out with only part of me altered:

This cat here on the right is the first cat to have a bionic paw transplants. This story hit the news shortly before we left Beijing. I'm hoping that the cost/benefit analysis of this operation was determined by the advances it would lend to science rather than by level of value placed on the cat!

Anyway, it looks like I will be starting six weeks of radiatheraphy, as of Thursday, August 12. We go in five days a week, and this may or may not be offset by chemotheraphy. This will be determined by the results of some genetic testing which a sample of Krang was sent away for.

Lightheartedness aside, there are a few things that I want to say on this blog. The more well known my situation has become, the more people have been responding to it. I have appreciated all the responses, but I can see how some of what I have said would lead to confusion about what my meaning is. I feel a certain weight about this blog. I feel a responsibility to maintain it and to be open, but at the same time I am aware that I open myself up to other's scrutiny and personal belief systems. I can not answer for the ways that others believe, I can only answer for my own personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Having said those things, I hope to make a statement on here that will help some people understand me a little better if they are willing to do so. However, in order to do this I have to ask people to read what I am saying and not what they think that I am saying. More than a few people have presumed from the things that I am writing that I have somehow given up hope, given up my faith that God heals and even made a few other more outrageous assumptions.

Let me pose a question:

How does the Bible define faith? Hebrews 11:1,2 says that "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen, for by it, the men of old gained approval from God." Verse 6 says, "Without faith it is impossible to please him, for he who comes to God must believe that he IS and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him".

Is the point for me to have faith in my faith? No. Rather, HE is the assurance of my faith. On this dark path, I have received comfort beyond all my expectations and imagination. These are the things that I have heard all my life that God does.

Before now, I had faith that God provides these things. Now that I am going through this experience, I have the assurance of them. I used to understand that he is with us in dark times. Now I know it to be true. I believed that he is faithful and that he provides. Now I feel him beside me. I heard of a peace that passes all understanding, but now that peace is MINE.

This afternoon I laid down on my bed, feeling heavy, feeling weighty and inside my heart cried, "Father I can't bear this. My mental processes can't bear it. Be to me the counselor that you promised in the book of John."

Slowly but surely the helplessness lifted, and even though my body was still heavy from lack of sleep and exhaustion, and my mind was overstimulated, peace came.

My faith is in the character and the nature of God. He proves himself in so many different ways over and over and over again. My faith would have no footing if it was based on how strong my will is to live.

Do I have a strong will to live? Absolutely! Can I add even a minute to my life by worrying about it? No! Do people die? Absolutely! How can these things be reconciled? They are reconciled through a faith that God is a rewarder of those who seek him. If he puts me on a dark path, I want to seek him on the dark path and receive the rewards that can only be found in those places. Light never shines so bright as when it shines in a dark place.

This has already been my reward and I know that there is more to come. I know without a shadow of a doubt that I am not alone! Where he wants to take me on this journey of faith is up to him. What my reward is, will be for him to decide, but it will be more than I could ask for or imagine. It will be good. It will be full. HE WILL BE FAITHFUL to me, because it is in his nature to be so and he never changes.

August 02, 2010

A Full Full Life

Jess here. As I the reactions of people who hear about my story are trickling back to me, I find it interesting to note a few things.

1) The people who are furthest away from me seem to have the hardest time with it. All they hear is: 26 year old mother of two boys aged 5 and 3, wife, missionary. These facts alone seem to highlight to many people the unfairness of life.

2) Everyone has to respond based on their own life experience and they have to fit this in to their own life perspectives somehow. Of course it seems unfair.

I myself have thought a bit about the unfairness of it. Will my boys remember me? Who knows? But the other night as James and I talked about this question, something occurred to me that had the ability to turn this upsetting thought into something that suddenly made me very happy.

This was the thought. What if I had never had them at all? I can't even imagine how sad and inconsolable I would be right now if I felt that I had never had the opportunity to do the things that I have done. What if I was 26, unmarried, had no children, no prospects... and found myself diagnosed with an WHO Grade 3 Anaplastic Oligodendrioglioma? I would feel as though I had never had the chance to live and to do the things that I had always wanted. I realize that there are people who would think that by saying that I am placing all my value in my husband and my children, but that would be a very shallow reaction. What it means is that I have been married for six wonderful years and that I have been so privileged to see myself and my husband reflected in the faces of our children. What a blessing! I am so proud of all three of them! Just look at how cute those boys are! Suddenly all the incredulism that I experienced (and imagined) when I found myself to be 21 years old, married for less than a year, working while James was in University and pregnant (yikes!) seems so worthwhile.

So this blog is dedicated to yet another blessing that we were given by God shortly just two days before I had my seizure. Sometime in June, I found a gift card that we had been given by Ari's kindergarten to have ~$100 of free family photos taken at a professional photo studio. It turned out that the expiry date had already passed, but I figured that we could pull our "poor illiterate foreigners" wild card and see if they were willing to accept it. It turns out that they were, even though we were three months passed the expiry date. It also turns out that they don't often get the chance to photograph foreigners and especially foreign children.

We set up a date (July 3) and were informed that we would be given costumes and themed clothing to wear for these photos. This type of photography is very popular in Beijing, especially for weddings. It is a mark of status to have a professional wedding album done with numerous different themed wedding pictures (Victorian, traditional Chinese, Renaissance etc.). Unfortunately, in our conversations with them, we somehow missed the fact that we would have one set of pictures taken in themed clothing and one set of pictures taken with our own clothing. So when July 3 turned out to be an extremely hot and muggy day and we had to ride the bus for an hour in extreme discomfort, walk through narrow hutongs (back alleys) without street addresses and bear James' extremely bad mood, we were not very selective about the clothing that we chose to wear for this photo shoot. In fact, for about an hour before leaving we debated whether or not we should even go and whether or not we were just going to end up with a bunch of goofy pictures. The boys chose their own clothes (hence Ari's Spider man tank top and Jude's street-rat clothing) and James and I paid little attention to our own apparel.

We showed up at the studio very cranky, soaked, sweat trickling down our backs into our "you know wheres", 35 minutes late and extremely unenthusiastic. The team of photographers announced almost immediately that we would begin with the "own clothing" pictures. James and I winced at the thought of just how silly we must seem showing up with these clothes for a formal family portrait. Jude's tank top was so loose that we had to keep adjusting it so that the loose part would hang in the back where you couldn't see it, and his grey shorts were undeniably stained... like I said earlier, street rat clothing. Thankfully, the ladies offered me a brush and I was able to straighten my hair.

The shoot turned out to be super fun and we had a blast. They also videotaped us the whole time, so it captures us dialoguing with them in Chinese (something I don't think we've had on this blog). I don't know if the video will be too big or not, but I will try to post it on here along with these pictures. When I think about the fact that we almost didn't go just because of a hot day and cranky moods, I am so thankful that we actually did go. Two days later I was in the hospital and our world was turned upside down. Thank God for his foresight and his blessings!

I had to be pinned tightly into this qipao (traditional Chinese dress) and wore shoes that were about four sizes too big for me. Nonetheless, it was a great time. These pictures were only a few of the pictures that were taken, but I think that they are a pretty great selection. We haven't actually seen these pictures in the flesh yet. This last Sunday night at about 11:00 pm our time, I was bemoaning to our Chinese friends on Skype that we left before we were able to get these pictures picked up. Well, low and behold, when we woke up the next morning, our Gmail inbox had been flooded with pictures of our pictures, which are now waiting with the rest of our possessions in Beijing to somehow make their way back to us. What wonderful friends!

Catch a good glimpse of those golden locks while you still can. Soon, and perhaps forever, I'll be a patchy scalp with red spots (all hidden under various soft caps of course, and perhaps a wig depending on how pricey they get). This may be the only time you'll hear me say that I have loved my hair for years. Actually, never mind, I do plan on devoted a whole blog entry to my hair (just a warning for all of you who think that is too vain). My plan is to buzz my head at the beginning of the treatments. I'd rather watch it all fall off in its entirety at one time than see it fall out miserable clump by miserable clump. Additionally, the skin is expected to become quite sensitive on my scalp and the thought of buzzing a sensitive scalp just sounds unpleasant. Trust me, you'll be hearing more about this.

I am officially taking votes on which photos people like the best. My personal favorite is the one at the top with us all in traditional Chinese dress. James, the pompous landlord lectures his sons, who joyfully accept all of his instructions (looking as cute as possible), while the doting wife and mother smiles on. I also love the individual ones of the boys. I also suspect that this is the same photo studio that came to Ari's school and took that strange Harry Potter picture of him that I posted this last Christmas. I am almost positive that those are the same glasses! Oh well, very studious looking!

For now, that is it. Farewell from the Freys!