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:
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.
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?"
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!
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.
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.