A Hope that Fills the Vastness of the Sea

February 28, 2014 - 10 Responses

From James:

Today marks one year after So Young went to heaven. She is much happier now than she was here with us, but her time on earth was punctuated with sweet moments of joy, whether it was hours spent enjoying her girls or solitary moments of gratitude for what God had done for her. Here’s a journal entry So Young wrote that I found recently. It was written after her brain tumor diagnosis. It shows so many things about the So Young we knew for the short time she was here: her love of God and understanding of his character, her gratitude despite suffering, and her persistent heart for people who don’t know Jesus.

This year, So Young is going to miss some important birthdays: Audrey’s 10th, Lindsay’s 13th, Shannon’s 16th, and my 40th. Loss isn’t a single event but many lifetimes of reminders of absence, all of us missing, all of us grieving, all of us remembering. We’ll never forget you, So Young. Until we see you again… 

Overcome with emotions this morning. It’s 4:30 a.m., and you’ve called me downstairs to pray — prayers of intercession, prayers of thanksgiving. Overwhelmed at the kind of God I serve and love, who loves me. So thankful that my family sleeps peacefully upstairs, but more than anything, grateful that we are all saved. A household of true believers. It’s something to cry about. Lord, you are too good to me, to us!

Praying especially for the lost. Anyone of us could lose our physical lives at any moment, but if Jesus has saved us, we live with an immeasurable hope, a hope that fills the vastness of the sea. No — more!

Praise God I could read what I’ve written and was able to see the song list on the iPod. Amazed!

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So Young with a very tiny Audrey

Celebrating So Young Gage: A Eulogy

May 8, 2013 - 2 Responses

Today is the birthday of So Young’s best friend, Kim. So Young had a lot of people she would call her best friend, but Kim was close to So Young for nearly 30 years. Kim delivered this eulogy with great poise and eloquence during So Young’s funeral on March 2, 2013. To me, it so fittingly represents So Young and her life that I don’t know if anymore words need to be said. Thanks, Kim, for loving my wife all those years, in good times and bad. I hope you know that you brought great joy to her life. This was clear even when So Young was diminished to the point that she could only listen but couldn’t talk. It makes me so sad to remember how sick she was, to the point she couldn’t talk to you. Still, you had this underlying connection so deep that for her, it didn’t really seem to matter. You were her best friend Kim. Your reunion on the other side will be so sweet, Kim. I’m sure you’ll have a lot to talk about, and you won’t have to get of the phone…

Every few years, So Young and I would stop and count how long we’ve known each other. In the end, the Lord gave us just over 28 years of friendship.  Her first memory of me is my rainbow suspenders (which are due to come back in style in about five years!). My first memory of her is hearing her reply to a classmate who asked about her longer hair: tossing her hair and saying, “Yeah, I’m letting it grow.” That was sixth grade. Over these past 28 years, the Lord brought several precious friends into our lives, many of whom are in this room. And yet I realize that there is something unique about our relationship, and I think it goes beyond the fact that we’ve known each other for so long. Ours is a friendship that God Himself preserved through the infamous 8th grade silent treatment, protected from time and distance, and ultimately used to help shape the women we became.

Kim and SY

First, the silly stuff! We used to talk on the phone ALL the time! We’d talk and talk for hours and hours. And we enjoyed a lot of great meals together. During the brief season when we were both working, before the kids came along, we would meet for lunch. So we talked all the time, and we ate, and sometimes we would do both at the same time. Like if she was eating lasagna…

“I’m eating lasagna.”

“Ooh, that sounds yummy!”

Can you smell it over the phone?”

“Yeah!”

“Here, want to taste some?”

“Oohh, that IS good!”

So we did this when we were girls, and when we grew up we did it every now and then for old times’ sake, but only when no one else was around.

We went shopping together, and on each trip we would eat, and we would buy matching things. The first things I remember were matching gray leggings from Paul Harris at Fair Oaks Mall, which I wore until they had holes and had to be thrown away. Once, we bought matching earrings… Our last outing was to Potomac Mills in a wheelchair (those ramps are steeper than they look!) where we bought matching lotion. We had picked out some things for our husbands, but we ended up putting those back and buying ourselves more stuff, and we bought matching glitter body spray. I asked her, “Where do you want to be sparkly?” She said, “My face.” So I sprayed her face.

And then we got Auntie Annie’s cinnamon sugar pretzels! This was our last indulgence together. We sat in Starbucks, eating Annie’s pretzels, and they were sooo good, and we got cinnamon sugar all over ourselves. Now she was having trouble using both hands by then, but we were both just covered. I was blessed with a chance to enjoy those same pretzels with the girls a couple of months ago.

Our friendship was also marked by unconditional love. Now, I know this is a eulogy, and I’m only supposed to be saying good things about So Young, but she wasn’t always all smiling and peaceful like in her picture! And Lord knows I’m not. But that’s where unconditional love comes in. So Young knew the best things about me and the worst things about me, and she loved me. She knew my secrets, and carried them with her to the grave. Unconditional love comes in when you’ve made a bad decision, or when you’ve loved Jesus for years but you’re having trouble following Him. Unconditional love is there to say, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And speaking of Him, So Young was the first person under 30 who I’d ever heard talk about Jesus. When we met, she was already a Christian, but I wasn’t. So she’d ask me, “What do you think about God? Where will you go when you die?” I became a Christian a few years later.

We would also bear one another’s burdens. When I consider the major milestones of my life, and the major milestones of So Young’s life, there is always a memory of celebrating together, or crying together. And remember: for So Young and I, “together” could happen even when we were miles apart. I remember happiness when she met her James, and it didn’t take long to discover that he would be the first — and ultimately the last love of her life.  I remember falling to my knees and bawling when her mother died. There was the brief shared joy of being pregnant together, and So Young crying all the way home when I lost my baby. I remember rejoicing when God worked a miracle to give So Young her dream job (Stay-at-Home Mom!) and sharing the joys of watching her three girls and my two boys grow. I remember bawling over So Young’s diagnosis and the thought that someday, this day may come far sooner than any of us had ever imagined. At every milestone, every turning point, So Young and I laughed together or wept together.

Except for this one.

Now I’m down here drowning in tears, and she’s up there all happy with Jesus! But I must say: she expects us to be celebrating, too. When James shared her funeral wishes with me I was thinking, “What is this supposed to be, a party or something?!” I mean, I’ve spent the last few days wondering if I should be buying balloons and streamers!

And yet, my dear friend wasn’t crazy to suggest such a thing. In fact, it’s the stuff of the New Testament: to live is Christ and to die is gain…” “hard pressed between the two…”  “Consider it all joy…” In fact, So Young’s faithful God challenges and even commands us to have such an attitude, because it is characteristic of a spiritual maturity that knows beyond the shadow of a doubt that God is real, His word is truth, His love is unfailing, His promises are guaranteed, and His heaven is filled with all sorts of phenomenal things that our eyes haven’t seen, our ears haven’t heard — things that haven’t even entered into the heart of man! And better yet, the key to gaining all these treasures is as simple as recognizing that you are a sinner and surrendering to the One who has the power to wash away that sin: Jesus Christ, who loved us and gave Himself for us.

So Young possessed that key. She knew for certain that when our good God saw fit to call her home, He would welcome her into His heaven and sustain her James and Shannon and Lindsay and Audrey all the days of their life as well. And if we know him and trust Him this way, then surely we would find this day worth celebrating So Young’s restored vision, her freedom to walk and run… and not just her renewal from the sickness that overtook her body, but in fact her deliverance from the fleshly, sin-sick bodies that we all have.

And I too believe in Jesus. Completely. Despite my questions, my pains, my sadness and my fears. I know Him and I love Him. So I can celebrate today for what God has done for So Young Gage, my truest and dearest friend. But I also mourn. Not as those who have no hope, but mourning nonetheless for the two glasses of lemonade that we never got to share on my front porch, and for the loss of all the moments we thought we’d share before we knew how soon her time would run out.

In these seasons of mourning, I am thankful for the memories: 28 years of everything from insignificant chats to life-changing experiences with So Young. And I am thankful for the three treasures that she has left behind, and that I can see So Young’s creative brilliance in Shannon, her undying passions in Lindsay, and her sweet, carefree spunkiness in Audrey. And to God be the glory for the hope of salvation, which guarantees that if we confess our sin and trust Him as Savior, then we will see So Young again, and we’ll all be happy with Jesus forever and ever. Amen!

God Gave Us a Chance

May 2, 2013 - 3 Responses

Audrey (8) came downstairs crying tonight and told me she misses Mommy. She said she just wanted to hold her hand and hug her and for her to be here and well again. It surprises me how infrequently this has happened since So Young died. The kids really don’t sit and cry a lot about So Young being gone.

Later Audrey said, “I remember I held her hand. God gave us a chance. I had no idea.”

Audrey was talking about the night So Young died. We were pretty sure that she was going to go very, very soon, maybe in a couple of days or a week, so that night we made a special effort to have the girls say “good night” to their mother while she slept — unresponsive — on the bed. Shannon sat next to Audrey on the bed while Audrey wordlessly held her mom’s beautiful left hand, which So Young hadn’t moved in several days. I didn’t tell Audrey that her mom was going to die. I had told the older two, but I just couldn’t bring myself to crush an 8-year-old like that, only to crush her again by telling her after her mom had passed. So like she said, she had no idea. That was Audrey’s last moment with her mom.

Audrey brought home a graded writing assignment the other day. She got an S+ on it, which is the best grade you can get. The teacher had filled in a title for her: “An Interesting Story.”

“Would you like to hear an interesting story? On day my mom had a bran tomer and I held her hand. When I woke up I was waiting for someone to wake me up. Then my dad came in. Mom went to heven last night. He said as a tear droped down his eye. I have lots of memorys about mommy!”

That pretty well summarizes what it was like to tell her. Audrey was the last I told and the one I least wanted to tell. But God gave her that one last chance.

An Interesting Story

Two Months After She’s Gone, and Sure Enough I’m Still Thinking about Her

April 29, 2013 - 8 Responses

I feel like I am commemorating little anniversaries, like So Young and I did when we were college kids and first dating. “Wow, it’s been two weeks! Happy anniversary! I made you a card and wrote a poem…”

April 28 marks two months after So Young died. I have this strong feeling these days that I want to leave it behind me. By “it,” I’m not sure what I mean, but I think I mean this blog, ruminating about the fact that she has died, I’m alone, my kids have no mom, the whole mourning thing (good luck with that), etc., etc. The problem is that it’s like getting your right arm cut off and somebody telling you to stop thinking about your right arm.

I’ve met a few fellow young widow(er)s recently, and it has been refreshing. Before, I felt like nobody understood. Now I know that (besides God) there are people on earth who understand and are going through the same thing. We have similar frustrations, similar preoccupations.

Kenji reminded me in another one of those life-altering meetings  that occurs when I’m going in the wrong direction (we have too many of those) that I need to not primarily identify as a widower but as a disciple of Christ. He really pressed me on this over and over again while we sat there at Chipotle for an hour and I laughed uncomfortably, because I was clearly preoccupied with certain things (not just being a widower, but about certain things that are sort of ancillary to my condition) to the extent that he was wondering if I wasn’t idolizing those things. Anyway, long story short he’s right, and I’m struggling to reorient myself toward God rather than all these distractions and my grief. It ain’t easy. I talk to other widow(er)s, and they’re in the same boat. Still thinking about that dumb right arm.

I have a lot of new goals now, in addition to my primary life mission of being a disciple and follower of Christ. For one thing, I want to commemorate So Young properly, especially for the girls. She left a lot of journals from all stages of her life. I want to type those up for the girls, and maybe our letters, and maybe my (sanitized) journals, too. I want them to hear their mom’s voice as they grow up. New goals or not, I realize that the day-to-day running of my little family is time-consuming enough, such that as much as I want to achieve humanistic perfection in addition to becoming this really devout individual, I might have to settle for fumbling attempts at both.

I have one more eulogy to post on this blog. I reorganized the blog already to reflect the fact that she is dead. I’m not sure how many more posts I want to do. So Young is gone. I wake up in the morning and hesitate, as if I am about to put my wedding ring on. It’s a habit and I sort of pause there. I don’t put it on anymore. I’m not married to her.

Today I ran and thought about how I don’t really run for her, because she doesn’t see me. She isn’t here. I should run for Jesus. I said to myself there would be a sign at that moment if she was here. Sure enough, there was this strong breeze and a lot of petals from a cherry blossom or some such tree came blowing in front of me, across my path. It was like the snow at the funeral. It just came drifting down, right at the moment it should have, just like the snow. Winter has turned to spring. They said she wouldn’t make it to the spring.

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The coolest picture I have seen in a while: So Young’s friend Sara ran the Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville yesterday in So Young’s honor and tweeted me this picture of the shoes she wore. It was a really tough run through a heavy downpour. So Young would have loved that on several levels.

“God Is Good All the Time”: A Eulogy

April 28, 2013 - One Response

So Young’s sister, So Me, delivered this eulogy at So Young’s funeral on March 2, 2013.

I am not sure how to begin.  So Young wanted this to be a joyous occasion…a celebration of her life.  It is a joyous time for her. She is smiling down on us right now from Heaven asking why there aren’t more flowers.  It will be difficult for the ones left behind…it will be hard for me, and for her family, and friends that love her so much.  Life will not be the same.

I am not a good public speaker and to have to speak in front of you under these circumstances, will make it that much more difficult. Despite this, I will do my best to share my testimony about So Young today.

To start, for those who do not know me, I am So Me, So Young’s younger sister.  This is a bitter-sweet day.  As many of you know, So Young was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in November of 2010.  I remember the day I received the news.  It was November 12, 2010, the day before my baby shower.  I was 35 weeks pregnant with my youngest son, Jacob.  So Young called me and I could hear the hesitation in her voice because she wanted to protect me from the truth.  I could tell she didn’t want to burden me with bad news especially during a happy time in my life. When she said the words “I have a brain tumor”, I sat silent for a minute.  Maybe I was in a state of shock, but for some reason I was not sad or upset.  I remember telling So Young “this is not the end.  I know it”.  I felt a sense of peace and I reassured her that everything will work out according to His plan.  I think it made her feel better that I had that hope.

Many of you know that So Young was an avid runner and a marathoner.  Being diagnosed with a brain tumor was just the beginning of her new race.

After months of radiation therapy, So Young seemed to be getting better.  The tumor shrunk 30%.  What a miracle!  Despite all of the challenges ahead of her, So Young really began to live in the two years that followed.

She gave her testimony at the Women’s Fall Tea in 2011.  Her words were inspiring.  Her speech really touched many people that day when she spoke of her personal experiences.  She was honest.  She spoke of her brokenness and her feeling of unworthiness.  She was depressed until God woke her up and told her “you are worthy”.  A brain tumor isn’t something anyone wishes for, but So Young was awakened by this experience and it inspired her to begin living.

So Young ended her speech with this verse:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28

It is evident that God loves So Young.  He loved her so much that he couldn’t resist taking her from this world early.  She has fulfilled her purpose in life and was ready to turn the page. God has used So Young for the purpose of touching our lives and she has succeeded.  She was ahead of us in the race.

During her time of trials, she managed to pull something good from a bad situation.  She learned to live again.  She loved deeper, and took nothing for granted.

So Young was a great older sister.  The Best!  Don’t get me wrong, but she wasn’t perfect.  We used to fight and beat each other up all the time…like siblings do.  We were very close when we were younger, but there came a time in our lives that we went our separate ways and we weren’t as close as we had been in the past.

So Young got married to a wonderful man, James, moved to Woodbridge, and had three beautiful daughters, Shannon, Lindsay, and Audrey.  It wasn’t until about 7 years ago that we really began to reconnect when my husband and I decided to move to Woodbridge.  We lived about 5 minutes away.  We started to see each other more often.  When my first son, Nathanael, was born she cared for him during his toddler years while I worked.  We got to see our families grow in that time.  It’s amazing how things work out.  You don’t realize it at the time, but God always has his hands in your life…moving you where he needs you to be at just the right time.  I think living closer to So Young in these last few years was for His purpose and for our benefit.

Last February, So Young and I went to our church’s Women’s Retreat at Sandy Cove in MD.  We shared a room and it was like old times.  When we were kids, we would stay up past our bed time just yapping all night long.  Dad and Mom would keep telling us to “go to bed!” but we continued talking for hours.  Sharing a room at this retreat reminded me of those times.  She even assured me that I snored in my sleep.  Well the jokes on her because she does too. :)

This past Fall, So Young found out that her brain tumor had returned with a vengeance.  We all were discouraged, but she still did not complain or ask why.  She endured chemotherapy medication and treatment to no avail.  Her health declined quickly since the summer to the point she was bedridden by Christmas time.

She never once complained or felt sorry for herself. In these last few months, I have talked to her more than I had in a long time.  Even if she didn’t want to hear it, I told her about my day and about my mundane everyday problems, which usually consisted of work and kids.  She sat patiently…she listened, and she tried to look interested.  I remember one time I was talking about how my husband mentioned that he wouldn’t mind being a stay at home dad.  She quickly blurted out, “well that’s not gonna happen!”  This made me laugh especially because she wasn’t really talking much at that point in time, but she sure had an opinion to share with me.

This past week has been the hardest for me.  I have known since last Saturday that So Young was leaving us in just a few short days.  I said my goodbyes several times throughout the week.  Each time it got a little easier.  A dear friend shared her experience with the passing of her loved one.  She told me that sometimes the one you love just wants to know that it is okay to move on.  God must have placed this on her heart to share this story with me at the time I needed to hear it.  Each time I went to say my goodbyes, I told So Young that I would be okay, and that James and the girls would be okay in time. I told her that this time she had to do what was right for her even if that meant leaving us behind for now.  I told her we would be along shortly and this is not goodbye.  Instead I said “see you soon”.  This is So Young’s end here on earth, but the beginning of her life with God in Heaven.

Wednesday night I visited So Young briefly in the afternoon.  I was supposed to take Shannon to TKD as I usually do but James’ dad, offered to take her.  James sent me a text that read “Dad is taking Shannon to TKD. I think you should still visit SY tho”.  This time he didn’t give me the option to say yes or no and I am so grateful for that.  I remember thinking, “I just saw her this afternoon, maybe I will go tomorrow”.  Thankfully I did go.  I talked to SY like it was just another day for about 45 minutes…until I started getting thirsty.  I told her about the many people that love her and that I couldn’t believe how many people cared to come by to visit her.  There was a constant flow of visitors day and night.  She was very popular.  I even had to make appointments to visit her.  Although, I did get priority over most everyone else :) This was a special time I got to spend with my sister and I am forever grateful for that.

When I think of who So Young was and what she was all about, this is what I came up with: She loved God, first and foremost, and she loved her family and friends.  She was a devout Christian, faithful wife, wonderful mother, sister, aunt, daughter, and friend.  She was selfless and put the needs of others before herself. She wasn’t ashamed to witness to others, and to show God’s love.  Even when she was sick, she still devoted her time to the church and to our children.  She had passion for food and for life.  We always joked that we had a second stomach for dessert.

When I heard the news of So Young’s passing early Thursday morning, I was sad for myself and the ones she left behind, but happy for her.  She has finished this race well and has won the prize…to finally see Christ, and to be reunited with our mom, and countless others we have lost along the way.  Now So Young is looking back on the life she lived and enjoying the view of how all the pieces fit.  In case you aren’t familiar with this quote, I got it from a Casting Crowns song called “Already There”, so I can’t take credit for being a genius writer.

These last few months have been difficult, but through it all So Young has kept her faith and continued to encourage others even when she knew her health was declining.  She prayed for others, including my father in law who is also very ill.  What an example she was.  So selfless and so strong.

So Young has done so many things in the last few years than many of us will ever do in our life time.  She was a true servant of God.  She witnessed to many about her love for God and his love for them.  She even brought a few to Christ.  How God has used her in her lifetime is amazing to me.

There is no doubt in my mind that God is telling her “well done, thou good and faithful one”.  So Young…you have left a legacy for all who knew you and you will live on in our hearts and souls, and in the many wonderful memories we have of you.  We will see you again soon.  Until then, save me a seat and keep the kimchi chigae hot.

So Young wrote, “I don’t know what God has in store for me. I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know this. I know that He loves me and what He has for me is always good.”  She is right. Like So Young said, “God is Good All The Time.”

I love you my sweet sister.  Rest with the angels.

Visitation and Funeral

April 18, 2013 - 4 Responses

This entry recounts So Young’s visitation (March 1, 2013) and funeral (March 2, 2013), from James’s perspective.

We didn’t want to get out of the car.

I remember that we had listened to Justin Bieber on the drive over, and just before we parked at the funeral home, we listened to Sufjan Stevens’s beautiful rendition of “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

“Holy, holy, holy. Though the darkness hide thee…”

I turned off the car. The music stopped. Lindsay said she was scared. Nobody wanted to go in. I didn’t even want to go in. I had never heard of a “visitation” and had no idea what to expect. I said, “Let’s pray,” and we prayed that God would calm us down and help us say goodbye to Mommy. We were there to honor her. Let’s do it for her.

I dreaded the visitation and funeral, but they were much more meaningful and beautiful than I could have imagined.

We gathered as a family first — the four of us, Mom and Dad, So Young’s dad, her siblings, etc. One of my best friends (and my pastor) Kenji was there to minister to us. Many objects that were meaningful to So Young or that spoke to the person So Young was were on display around the room, including photographs, artwork she had made, and the old green Bible that So Young had given me the year we fell in love. In the dedication, she wrote that I should read it “cover to cover until the ink rubs off.”

Bible Inscription

Inscription from the Bible “So Young Park” gave me on July 18, 1993

We walked through the double doors to the room that held So Young’s casket. The casket was closed and surrounded and covered with flowers. I had never seen it before. Dad had selected and ordered it on my behalf weeks before. It was so perfect — beautiful and feminine. It was closed because I didn’t need to see her dead again to say goodbye, and the kids didn’t need to see their mother dead to know she was gone.

We stood in front of the casket. Some of us prayed. Some of us said words to So Young. Even I did this throughout the evening, as if she could hear us better there than somewhere else.

Soon guests began to arrive, and it was then that I saw the beauty of the visitation. I came to realize that I did not mourn alone. Many mourned So Young’s passing. Many were touched by her life as well. I felt so happy to see so many familiar faces, some that I had not seen in many years, that I had to subdue my enthusiasm. I was absolutely delighted to see all of you. You have no idea how much your presence meant to me.

Shannon had created a slide show with music in honor of her mom. I was surprised that people didn’t just mingle while it played. They really stood and watched it, many crying, even the throng of teens and preteens who had come to support Shannon and Lindsay.

I became a mobile receiving line as people approached me, wherever I was in the room. My brother arrived from California. I was beside myself with happiness at seeing him. It was so strange. He is the only person that created for me the same kind of comfort I felt when So Young was by my side. I kept trying to talk to him and stand beside the casket with him, but for the longest time I could never get a chance.

Kim arrived with her family. She brought the most amazing banner, which she had created at late notice in the hours since So Young’s death. I think she didn’t sleep either since So Young went to heaven. The banner hangs in my bedroom today. It is the most beautiful tribute to So Young I have ever seen: photos, scripture, hymns, quotes from So Young’s writings. Just amazing. She also brought gorgeous copies of So Young’s testimony and a large, blown up picture of her to place by the casket. Kim ministered to my girls the whole time she was there, comforting them with her words and praying with them. She stayed with us until nobody was there anymore.

I remember putting on my suit for the funeral the next morning.

I am dressing for my wife’s funeral. How do I look?

Dad let me borrow his overcoat, because the day was bitterly cold. I remember her doctor saying she would not live until the spring. It was if God was driving home the point: It is still winter. Well, I guess the doctor was right.

By some miracle, the funeral perfectly reflected what So Young asked for and would have wanted. She had given some pretty explicit instructions to about how she wanted it to be. We sat in our car two years before she died and discussed it all, waiting for another appointment with a brain surgeon. I took good notes.

It was to be a celebration, a happy event. Yeah right. So Young, don’t you realize how sad we would be? She wanted certain hymns sung. She wanted her testimony shared, funny stories about her told. Most importantly, she wanted the Gospel proclaimed at her funeral. She literally suggested an altar call. Kenji and I planned the service at my dining room table on Friday.

So many people came to the funeral. Almost 300. Again, I was delighted. I wanted to hug and high five people. I wanted to call to them across the room, I was so happy. But I tried not to act too happy or look around the room too much. How would it look if the grieving husband stood at the front of the church, grinning and pointing at people? “Hey! Wow! You’re here! Wassup?!”

All of So Young’s closest friends participated in the funeral, women who literally sat by her bedside and ministered to her while she died: Laurie, Linda, So Me, Jin, Kim, Sungjin, Grace. Each eulogy was personal and funny and proclaimed the Gospel in one way or another. We sang a lot of hymns. Kenji ended the service with a direct proclamation of the Gospel: “This is the message So Young wants you to hear…”

Her brothers carried her casket to the hearse. For some reason, her dad almost didn’t make it to the burial service on time.

It was bitterly, bitterly cold. I was shivering. It’s winter, right God?

God gave us the most beautiful snowfall while we buried my wife. Amanda and Ashton sang “Amazing Grace” by the graveside.

“The earth shall soon dissolve like snow
The sun forbear to shine
But God, Who called me here below
Will be forever mine
Will be forever mine
You are forever mine”

I will never forget that day. We mourned together with joy and hope.

How to Stop a Freight Train with Your Bare Hands

April 14, 2013 - 15 Responses

You didn’t ask for it. You don’t want it. But it’s here. And there’s no stopping it, try as you might. You can either stand in front of it, your arms extended, only to have it destroy you along with everything around you, or you can step aside. Either way, it’s not going to be pretty. But I believe there is some redemption in the midst of what is lost.

In this blog entry, I’m going to attempt to describe what it is like to be a young widower — for me at least. I can’t speak for everyone, but as C.S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed, despite my desire to be a lone, tragic figure, I am in fact a part of an army of widowed people now, many millions in the world today whose marriage has ended in one of the two ways they always end: divorce or death. It sounds morbid, but it is true. We lovers are all headed toward one or the other.

I’ve had a really hard time writing about this so far, not because it is some big emotional issue for me, but because there is just too much swirling around in my head. Every day I am thinking or feeling something that I haven’t thought or felt before. There is just too much. I’m going to try to capture some of the major aspects of my experience here anyway, even if they are just a small fraction of the real thing.

This is a long one. If you make it through the whole thing, God bless you. For the short version, read the headings.

Me and Linz

Linz and Me — Currently One of My Favorite Photos, Taken Last Night

Loneliness

Here’s a question for you: Why did God create Adam alone, knowing that “it is not good for man to be alone?” Did He want Adam to feel alone before He gave him a wife?

Well, God, I’m feeling it.

I’m usually OK when the girls are home with me. It tends to be loud and busy. There’s a lot going on. Fights. Homework. Questions. Piano. Chores. I realize that the kids are God’s gift from So Young to me in many ways, not the least of which is that they are a pretty good antidote to loneliness when they are around.

It can become difficult when I am alone at home for a few hours or days. (Please understand that this is not to say I never want them out of the house without me.) When I was alone for a week while they were in North Carolina, it was pretty hard. I just really longed for that human connection that I had when So Young was around. Nighttime is also difficult, pretty much every night.

It’s a strange thing to experience. You want her, but she’s not there. There are wonderful but inadequate substitutes. A lot of people say, “Talk to your guy friends.” Well, I have really good male friends that I can talk to and do, but it isn’t the same. I read one book saying something about widowers wanting “the feminine perspective” occasionally. That’s not it at all. You think I want to talk to a woman because I lack affinity with her? I don’t see things the way she does, so I want to talk? I don’t think so. I have always found more commonality in perspective than difference.

I can’t describe it well, but I have this feeling that talking to some dude isn’t enough. Talking to one of So Young’s friends, her sister, or my mom also isn’t enough. Even talking to God isn’t the same. I don’t have eros for God, after all. I need Him, but not in the same way. I’m pretty sure he “gets” that. (Again, see C.S. Lewis, this time The Four Loves.) It’s not a replacement. Does that sound terrible? It isn’t just about talking to a woman. I think it is about wanting So Young, and more specifically, not wanting to “be alone” in the way that God said it was not good for man to be alone. Sorry if that’s too personal, but that’s kind of the way it is. You probably won’t understand until you go through it.

I sometimes also have this sense of outrage at the unfairness of the way things are for widows and widowers in general. God took her, and there are rules about finding someone else that seem unfair to me. Husbands can talk to their wives. Single men can talk to their girlfriends or single women. Widowers, for a certain period of time that is different in everybody’s head, can’t talk to single women period. You have lost your only female companion. Too bad for you. There can be nobody else until we say so. I’m just telling you how I see it. Hopefully that isn’t too upsetting for people to hear.

A lot of it is just longing for the presence of this one person and realizing you can’t have it and never will again. There’s a song by the band The Welcome Wagon that captures this perfectly for me called “Would You Come and See Me in New York.” I’ve cried each of the dozen or so times I’ve heard it. It’s about a guy who wants his dad, who has died, to visit him in New York to see him now that he has gotten older and things have changed. There’s something about just having that person there and they aren’t and you can’t have them back but you want to. It’s really a visceral thing that is hard to articulate in words.

Fear

Lewis talks about a generalized sense of fear in his book A Grief Observed. I don’t feel that. I have a sense of fear about something Lewis embraced: the notion of my wife visiting me as a ghost after she has died.

You have to understand that I sleep in the room she died in, right next to the bed she died in. I have some pretty powerful visual images of her in that bed after she passed. And of course there are her hallucinations of children, corpses, etc. in the room, which weren’t pleasant and seemed almost demonic to me at times.

People have told me that she might visit me, I might see her, she might touch me, etc. I am horrified at the thought. This is not something I look forward to or that comforts me. I want her in heaven, which is where I believe she is, or “paradise” as Jesus described it to the thief next to him as they both died. I don’t know how it really is on the other side, but I hope for her sake she is not wandering around on earth, lost and perhaps tormented, still wanting to reach those she’s left behind. I don’t believe it, and the thought is no comfort to me. Those thoughts also make the night difficult.

There is also a general sense of fear that I too, like So Young, will die, and soon. The stress of the situation in itself seems to be enough. (And no, the stress of raising the girls isn’t it. Don’t assume I can’t handle it. It’s more complicated than that.)

Single dad-hood

Which brings me to still another point: Did I mention that I can handle this?

I’m going to step onto my soap box for a second. I get this feeling — and I could be wrong — but I get this feeling that there is a perception out there that I can’t raise my kids because, well, because I am a man. WRONG! I am just as capable of taking care of my girls as a single mom is, thank you very much.

I don’t need to be rescued. I repeat: Don’t try to save me!

I don’t need pity.

I am not overwhelmed.

Don’t read into my face too much when you see me. It is not the look of a man cowering in fear because he is surrounded by terrible little girls stomping all over him. On the contrary, my wife just died, and I may be a bit saddened by it. I may be having “a moment.” Also, I’m not a very smiley person in general. We are doing very well under the circumstances. I’m not perfect by any stretch, and neither is anybody else… OK, stepping down from my soap box now.

Regret

So much went wrong while So Young and I were together that I can’t help but feel regret. We had 20 years. That was half of her life. I would characterize five of those years as miserable for both of us, as my friends and hers can attest. When you die at 40, that’s a pretty good percentage of your earthly existence.

I always laugh to myself when I hear people vowing to live life with “no regrets.” Really? No regrets? You won’t make any mistakes? You’ve already learned everything before you lived it? I wish I could do that. I don’t know anyone who has.

There is this desire as I look toward the future with an understanding of the past that I want to do it better next time. If I marry again, and Lord willing I will, I want to do it right, or at least better, and learn from the mistakes of the past.

Waves of realization

Almost every day since So Young died, I keep remembering things she went through during the months she was declining and dying, and it pains me greatly. There’s not much to say about this one other than that it happens. I don’t intend to try to stop it from happening. I think I didn’t feel it while it was going on, so I need to feel it now.

Just plain sadness without any reason other than that So Young has died

Not much else to say about that one. Sometimes you just feel sad and cry.

A great sense of accomplishment

Almost since the day So Young died, I have had this irreverent thought that is absolutely true. It fills me with great satisfaction to think it, as strange as it is: We made it! ‘Til death do us part, as we vowed to one another on our wedding day. There were times we could have given up and very nearly did. Still, by God’s grace, we made it. This is one of the bright spots of this situation, although as I told Shanny the other day, too bad Mommy had to die for that to happen.

Upcoming Races!

April 8, 2013 - Leave a Response

I want to tell you about two races that many of us are running in So Young’s honor in April and May. I love the fact that So Young’s friends and family are mobilizing for various races these days. If you know So Young, you know that she was always recruiting people to run or do whatever she was into at the moment. It is so “So Young” to see former non-runners becoming enthusiasts because she has inspired them.

The big one is the Race for Hope 5k Walk/Run on May 5. By “big” I mean that it is literally a large race with a lot of participants. Also, we have a team and are fundraising for it. The Race for Hope in DC directly benefits two charities that work to fight brain tumors: the National Brain Tumor Society and Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure. So Young’s friends have formed a team for this race. We hope to raise $5,000 in her honor for the two charities. We are getting close, but we could use more donations and more participants.

http://www.braintumorcommunity.org/site/TR?team_id=60212&pg=team&fr_id=2021&fl=en_US&et=1oAZqTbQYLvfeE4YEhcNAg

If you are participating or just want a cool shirt honoring So Young, I invite you also to order a shirt as well. So Young’s friend Grace designed it and did a truly tremendous job. The deadline for buying a shirt is April 15.

http://www.customink.com/signup/2mrg5zqz

Alternatively, I think that perhaps Rose may still be able to order more of the red cotton tee shirts that gave us the nickname “The Big Red Machine” at another recent race. Contact Rose or me if you want one of those instead.

The other race is the Westridge Elementary School Knights on the Run 5k Run/1 Mile Walk on April 20. This race is special to us, because we ran it as a family several times and two of our girls went to the school for their entire elementary school careers. Audrey still attends the school. Registration fees benefit the school, which really is a great school and a major reason we live where we do. They have been so good to us over the years, and especially during this crisis. My understanding is that they plan to honor So Young at the race in some way, maybe by putting her name on the tee shirts. Here is the web site for the race.

https://runsignup.com/Race/VA/Woodbridge/WestridgeElementaryKnightsontheRun5Kand1MileFunRun?c25fix=bry

God bless all of you and thank you for your continued support! I hope to write a post soon about what it’s like to be a widower, since about half of the married people reading this post will lose their spouse during their lifetime, and it may benefit you to know what it is like. All love ends in sorrow, as they say. It’s been kind of hectic being a single dad, and I haven’t had as much time to write as I would like, although I would like to point out that I receive an unusual amount of support from family and friends.

KOTR

So Young and the Girls at the Knights on the Run 5k a Few Years Ago

One Month Later: So Young’s Message to You

March 28, 2013 - 8 Responses

So Young died one month ago today. It was actually at roughly 1 a.m. on February 28, 2013. I have been meaning for some time to write a description of her visitation and funeral to complete the story, but I haven’t had (or taken?) the time. I think perhaps I am daunted by the task. For me, they exceeded words. I know many people who attended feel the same way. For me, there was a realization that the grief at her death was bigger than me — that many mourn her passing — and also that the difference she had made while on this earth and even in her sickness and death was so much broader than I had imagined.

To commemorate one month after her passing, I’m posting the sermon that Kenji Adachi preached on the day of her funeral. Kenji is a close friend of mine and understood the situation intimately. It was strange planning So Young’s funeral with him, because it was actually kind of fun hanging out for that time. Anyway, here it is, a fitting and moving tribute to So Young. Please read it for the message. As Kenji said, this is the message that So Young wants you to hear today. 

There are many parallels with the death of Lazarus and So Young.

Both were sick with a mysterious illness and both had entered into a deep sleep. Many had turned to Jesus for help. In So Young’s case, people from all over the world reading her blog and were praying for her healing.

The Bible is clear how Jesus felt about Lazarus and his sisters. V.5 of John chapter 11 states, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”

And I want to be clear that Jesus loves So Young and her family with the same affections.

But the next verse is a paradox. Let me read it together with v.5, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.”

Jesus stayed in Jerusalem another 48 hours while Lazarus lay dying in nearby Bethany. All of us could’ve make the two mile journey to Bethany. It’s not a marathon.

So why did Jesus stay? Didn’t he understand Mary and Martha’s urgency and agony? Didn’t he hear their cries? Didn’t Jesus know that So Young was dying? Didn’t he love her?

Like many of you, I’ve witnessed so many of you pour out your love on the Gages: bringing meals, being with So Young, taking her out on lunch dates, bringing gifts for the kids, giving financial gifts. Doris Gage, Jame’s mother, calls them the hands and feet of Jesus.

I was at their home on Friday morning when someone brought the family a grand fruit platter, a large veggie tray, a sandwich tray fit for Samson and his family. So in order to make room in the fridge, we cleaned out the fridge full of home made meals. I’ve never seen that many mismatched Tupperware in my life.

I’ve witnessed Mark and Doris Gage go above and beyond their call as parents and grandparents supporting this family in unbelievable ways; always there for them – in many ways as the primary hospice nurse.

When So Young went home to be with the LORD, the first person James called was his dad. Mark came over immediately at 1am. (You have to understand Mark goes to bed right after dinner at 5pm Or is it 4:45pm?) A member of the Hospice Care team called James letting him know that she’s never seen this kind of love and care before.

I’ve had the privilege of seeing up close how much James has sacrificially loved his wife and cared for her night and day – sleeping in the same bed, feeding her, taking her to the bathroom, taking her in her on wheelchair dates to the Thai restaurant, putting Chap Stick on her lips, giving her medication every two hours, and sweet talking her and kissing her on the cheek.

It’s not out of the ordinary for him, because I’ve seen him love her like this for a good decade before her sickness – lavishing her with gifts, taking her on weekend getaways, writing love letters. James would write her a love note and leave it on the kitchen table for her to read before he left for work. That’s love.

Three weeks ago, So Young could barely mumble a word, but her girls were able to make out her words and put together a Valentine’s card for James. It reads, “Dear Hubby, Happy Valentine’s Day! I love you and the girls very much. Thank you for always taking care of me and protecting me. Always pray to God and love your Majesty in Heaven forever. XOXO Love, So Young”

That’s love.

Martha and Mary said, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

Everyone knew Jesus loved Lazarus. Why did he let him die?

Because in his love, Jesus had something better for Lazarus, something better than a healing; something better than life on this earth. Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”

God is made to look great not only in miraculous healings, but in death.

So Young did not suffer and die in vain.

James kept reiterating during her sickness, during her chemo treatment, in her coma, and even in her death that God has a special purpose for So Young, whether in living or in death – God wants to glorify Himself.

So Young said she cannot remember a day of not believing in Jesus Christ as the Lord of her life and Savior. She grew up a pastor’s daughter in a Christian home where she heard the Gospel. Because of this, she said she had a boring testimony – no gut wrenching story of redemption where Jesus rescues her from a life of rebellion and sin.

It bothered her, so she began to pray privately that God would give her a better testimony for Him. She writes, “I told God that I wanted my life to have a higher purpose and that I wanted to live out this life for Him. I didn’t want to come to God and say I did nothing with the life I was given. My highest hopes are to hear God say, ‘Well done good and faithful servant.’ I desire to be salt and light in this world that is darkness.”

God has used her suffering as a powerful example of true hope and true strength to all of us. She was on fire for the LORD, preaching the Gospel to anyone and everyone like she was the Korean-American Billy Graham – always talking about Jesus. She had a close friend visit her from another state and she shared the Gospel to her and led her to Christ. This friend flew back last week telling James that she is now on fire for Jesus, plugged into a church because of So Young.

So Young was an avid runner. She ran in 4 marathons and 4 half marathons. (For non-runners, a marathon is 26.2 miles; it’s like running from here to Krispy Kreme in Washington DC).

I was in their bedroom Friday morning looking at her marathon medals (James thinks I was snooping around…)

I looked on the back of the medals and there was an inscription that said “Finisher.” Because there are some who run the race and there are those who finish. So Young was a Finisher for the Kingdom of God.

This past Christmas, James gave her a special display rack to hang all her marathon medals. It’s two feet wide and says, “Always Earned Never Given.”

So Young was a wonderful and godly woman, but she knew was a sinner, who could never earn her salvation. It had to be given, out of grace.

Every religion and every worldview operates under a merit system that says if you do good, you earn a medal – except Christianity.

God’s standard of righteousness is too much. It’s like trying to run a marathon of 26.2 billion miles. Any misstep of sin would disqualify us, and it would also merit death. No one can finish the race of righteousness that God requires; not one.

So God in His great mercy and kindness sent someone who could perfectly run this race for us; He sent His Son Jesus and he finished the race for us. But his race did not end on a traditional victory stand, to be crowned the victor; it ended on the cross to pay our penalty for our sins for we failed to finish our race. So God took His only begotten Son and exchanged His perfect record and His perfect life and exchanged it for ours. God took Christ’s medals that said “Righteous Finisher” and exchanged them for ours that said “Condemned Sinner,” so that we, who once sinners could be counted righteous victors because of Christ.

And this means that death would not be final for us; there would be a resurrection and a new life where there is no more running and striving; no more empty races to run to earn earthly medals to prove that you are someone important; no more trying to be more righteous than the other person. Heaven and a new life and the resurrection from the dead awaits for any sinner who places their faith in Christ’s work and not our own.

In 2010, So Young ran her last marathon and did not finish because her eyesight was too blurry. She stopped at the 18 mile mark. She did not earn a medal. But on her medal display hangs a Marine Corps Marathon from 2012. So Young didn’t run the race, someone else earned it and gave it to her as a gift of grace.

Three days ago on Wednesday, February 28, 2013 So Young Gage crossed the God’s finish line once and for all; it wasn’t earned; it was given freely. Christ finished it for her, because he loves her.

She has crossed the finish line – absent from the body and is present with the Lord – resting and rejoicing with Jesus on the Victory Stand in heaven; where there is no more tears and sorrows; no more blurred vision or brain tumors; and no more sin and death. Because So Young believed Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

If So Young was here, she would want you to believe in this wonderful news.

Do you believe Jesus is the resurrection and the life – that He has lived the perfect life that God requires from us?

Do you believe Jesus died for your sins to pay for the penalty of sin?

Do you believe Jesus rose again to prove that He was God and has the power over sin and death?

Have you placed your faith in Jesus’ work to finish the race you could not run?

Shannon, Lindsey, and Audrey – I want you to remember how much your mom loved you and the godly race your mother trained and ran like her marathons. I want you to know that finished well with Jesus. God used her life, her suffering, and her death to glorify His Son Jesus. May you continue this legacy.

James, may you never forgot the emotions behind your wife’s Valentine’s card.

“Hubby I love you and the girls very much. Thank you for always taking care of me and protecting me. Always pray to God and love your Majesty in Heaven forever. XOXO Love, So Young”

God exceeded your So Young’s prayers; he gave her not just a better testimony, but an incredible one. She has crossed the finish line in victory and God praised her saying, “Well done good and faithful servant.”

So Young Moments: Caught on Video!

March 27, 2013 - 13 Responses

Here is a longer compilation of home videos of So Young that Shannon put together. I’m playing it at home every once in a while so I can hear her voice.

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