Archive for the ‘Hope’ Category

Visitation and Funeral
April 18, 2013

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.

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Good Days and Bad Days
November 25, 2012

From James:

This week started out great because we finally got the portable wheelchair ramps: all five of them, eventually. This was huge. It was excruciating for everybody involved to take So Young from the bedroom, down the stairs, to the car (more stairs), and back again. Now that we have the ramps, the only remaining mountain for So Young to climb when coming and going is the stairs to the top level. It’s still unsafe for her to walk down them, although she does it with much help, and it is exhausting and unsafe for her to walk up them. That should be resolved in roughly mid-December, when we get the chair lift. The fact that we have ramps and are getting the chair lift is an act of grace and generosity from many people. If I was to write a Thanksgiving post (and I didn’t, shame on me), I would surely mention the ramps, the chair lift, and pill organizers, but the latter is another story entirely… Here is a picture (not so great, taken at night) of the ramps.

Wheelchair Ramps!

Wheelchair Ramps!

Like clockwork, So Young seems to be gaining some energy now that the chemo is wearing off and Mom and the hospice people are working hard to get her on a regular, more balanced daily schedule. She also started gaining energy last month just about the time the second cycle of chemo was scheduled to start. She slept less on average this week and went out more because of the ramps. It’s a mixed bag, however, because she would be more alert but would have another tumor side effect worse than normal each day. Also, she tends to “crash” in the extreme when she does too much. So for example, I took her out of the house on Wednesday, Thursday, and (reluctantly) Friday. I say “reluctantly” because I don’t want to overdo it. On Saturday, she slept 20 or so hours, and her ability to swallow was quite impaired during every meal that day.

The tumor side effect that was worse today when I took her out of the house was her cognitive ability. I have mentioned this to many people, but there is a consensus that I am making it up or exaggerating it, because most people see her when she is sharp and alert. Today she was slipping cognitively a lot, particularly in the area of remembering the names of things, a disorder that is called anomia. We went to Starbucks. She loves a drink called the Salted Caramel Mocha. Previously, she couldn’t remember the precise name and called it “Salted Crack.” Very funny. Today, we made an earnest effort to practice and remember it, but after several rehearsals in a row, the best she could do was “Salted Vanilla Marshmallow Nut.” I am not kidding. She consistently said that after I told her the real name, and she was making a serious and earnest attempt to get it right. Cute but alarming. Believe me or not. I compare it to when she was falling down way in the beginning. It was an innocuous symptom that only I cared about and several doctors were puzzled about. One call to Johns Hopkins and an MRI later: Regrowth.

So this brings me to the title of this post: “Good Days and Bad Days.” You may see her alert and brilliant on one day, sleeping an absurd number of hours and incoherent the next. That’s the way it is. As a person highly invested in this situation, I am trying (and maybe only really trying) to not make too much of any one daily victory or any one daily defeat. Otherwise, I will be yanked around like crazy and probably would go crazy. Also, I can’t put too much stock in bleak pessimism or high-flying optimism. Why? Because it would drive me crazy and rob me of any scrap of peace I get each day. Neither might come true. I don’t control either. Nobody on this earth does. Why pretend?

This brings me to the subject of hope. What is hope? I have been asking myself that a lot these days, because most often I hear it in only one context: That the body might live. That is hope. Hope is that my physical body will live more years. That’s it. Then what? That’s why I only want to put my stock in hope with a capital H: Hope that, although my body will die, still I will live. That’s our hope. That doesn’t mean we don’t pray for miracles. I do every day. But what it does mean is that, when we pray to God for a miracle, we pray with the complete and utter realization that WE ARE NOT IN CONTROL. If we were, if all of our suggestions and earnest pleas came true, well, we would be God. We would not be what we are: People. With mortal bodies. In which we can put no hope. But in the meantime we hope for a miracle, with the certain Hope that, with or without a miracle, a person with So Young’s faith will live on.

When you are in a situation like this, you have these uncomfortable, grownup discussions that you never wanted to have and can’t handle. Today, So Young said, “Do you have some pills for me when I crash?”

I said, “What do you mean, ‘crash?'”

She looked confused and said, “When I die. Do you have…” motioning with her finger, as if to conjure them up, “pills. Like a pill bottle or something.”

“Do you mean something for the pain, in case there is pain? Is that what you’re talking about?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“Yes, they definitely will, So Young. I don’t have it now, but if there is pain, we’ll get it right away.”

“OK.”

“Why? Why are you talking about death, So Young? Are you worried about that?”

“I have a feeling death is close.”

“Why do you think that?”

“Because of my eyes getting bad and stuff,” motioning with her finger again.

I told her that she shouldn’t think about death. She shouldn’t worry about that. Our day and hour isn’t ours to know. We just have to take each day as it comes, trust God, and hope for the best.

Christmas Walk
January 2, 2012

From James:

We took a walk on Christmas. So Young was as happy during that walk as I have ever seen her. Here it is in pictures.

James and SY

Christmas Walk

Audrey by the Water

Shanny with Camera

Lindsay and Her Monkey

The Girls by the Water

James and So Young by Water

To our friends and family all over the world: Happy new year!

The newness of each year wears off in time, as does our enthusiasm to change, but God’s newness never does. “Behold I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5). So Young and I have seen God’s renewal again in again: in our hearts when He found us and every day since, when we first met, when we married, with each new baby, in our relationship with each other, and now as we pray for So Young’s healing and slowly — sometimes literally — see glimpses of light.

The next MRI is on 1/23. Throughout her story, that sequence of numbers (1-2-3) has been a reminder to So Young of new beginnings and that God is with her. We are hoping for more good news on that day and won’t be surprised when we get it.

Gifts Beyond Measure
July 25, 2011

From James:

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” – Romans 12:12

“Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.” – Psalm 34:8

Today we received tremendous news from Johns Hopkins. So Young’s brain tumor is no longer “lit up” on the MRI. This means that it does not have evidence of fast-growing cells anymore. Dr. Kristen Redmond, our radiation oncologist, described the MRI as “perfect” and said that the white area on the tumor is “diminished significantly, if not gone.” It turns out that the previous MRI showed a short-term side effect of the radiation that was more an indication of tumor cells being destroyed than new tumor cells growing. The tumor has not gotten smaller and is not expected to, at least from the perspective of the doctors. Also, we continue to pray that So Young’s eyesight will be restored.

So Young has a Grade 2 astrocytoma, and that type of tumor can become fast-growing (Grade 3 or 4), but hers has not. We got a taste of what it might feel like if such a thing were to happen. But more than anything, today we also got a taste of God’s goodness.

Early on, many people dropped everything to drive So Young to Baltimore. Still more people provided meals for us, for almost 8 months straight. Now they have given up food and sleep to pray for us. That is the most tangible and significant gift they could have given: faithfulness, trust in God, self-sacrifice, prayer, and hope. You really bore a great burden with us. We would be lying if we said we were never afraid, but we felt protected and confident all along because of you, our family.

So many good things happened this week. Over fifty people fasted and prayed. Wednesday was So Young’s birthday, and her friends lavished her with love and honor. A couple who has already been so kind to us offered (unsolicited, a surprise to us) to let us use their beach house later in the summer, free of charge. Those are just a few examples from this week among many. And I don’t know why, but I honestly felt like all the good things meant that something bad was going to happen, like God was cushioning the blow for bad news. He was not. He was preparing us for more blessings.

Isn’t that just like God? He isn’t only merciful, holding back punishment from us, born his enemies. He is abundantly gracious, lavishing gifts beyond measure on his adopted children.

How do we respond? How are we going to live our lives differently after God has given us so much? These are questions that So Young and I have been asking ourselves since this all started. We don’t have concrete answers yet, but we know that we want to pour out the same love we have received.

I don’t know that we will be able to keep up.

Follow-up MRI and Appointment: Hopeful and Afraid
June 13, 2011

From James:

We received inconclusive news from the doctor about So Young’s brain tumor today. Part of the tumor might have become fast growing. Then again, that same part of the tumor might be succumbing to the radiation treatment. Dr. Redmond believes it is probably the latter, but there is enough uncertainty that she is presenting So Young’s case before Johns Hopkins’s tumor board again next Monday. If they believe it might be fast-growing, they will probably recommend another needle biopsy to verify, but Dr. Redmond believes that they will agree with her assessment that it probably isn’t fast-growing.

(If you aren’t interested in the medical details, skip the next paragraph.)

Brain tumor MRIs are usually performed “with contrast,” meaning with an injected agent that can cause part or all of a tumor to appear more white in the image. My understanding is that the whiter all or part of a brain tumor looks in the image, the more likely that part of the tumor is suffused with many blood vessels and therefore faster growing. However, radiation itself can also cause parts of an otherwise slow-growing tumor to appear whiter, even though the cells themselves are still slow-growing. Three months ago, Dr. Redmond saw a small spot like this on So Young’s tumor and said it was not a cause for concern. But now the spot is perhaps twice as big and much whiter. She said this could mean that something is going on within the tumor vascularly as it deteriorates, but it could also indicate faster-growing cells. She said it was rare for tumors to become fast-growing “this soon.” Still, she wants a larger panel of experts (the tumor board) to offer their opinion as well.

So Young was very upset when she heard this news. She despaired that she might lose her life, and understandably so. I prayed for her and encouraged her not to assume the worst, since the worst probably isn’t true anyway, and we can’t know the future. Her point of view has improved considerably throughout the day, largely because of the prayers and encouragement of friends and family. She feels confident now that we will see a good outcome.

We have many earthly reasons to be hopeful. Her fatigue has improved. Her appetite is better. Her eyesight hasn’t deteriorated more. All of that is true. But as Kenji has said, these are ordinary hopes. We have a more extraordinary hope, no matter what happens, and that is our hope in Christ. He is very familiar with what So Young is going through. He shared our sufferings on this earth, even unto death. Because of Christ, So Young is confident of a very long life as well, here or with him — it doesn’t matter to her.

Remember early on, when I wrote that driving to and from Johns Hopkins was like going to church? We would sing hymns all along the way. Today it was something different. Maybe a different kind of church? Lacrae was blasting in the car, the bass pumping. Imagine a nerdy white guy like me and a Korean lady “bustin’ rhymes” as they say (or do they say that?) the length of 95. At first So Young cried on the way back, but pretty soon her demeanor changed. She was ready to fight.

How It Began: Part 5
June 3, 2011

From James:

This is the last in a series of posts describing the events leading up to when this blog began. To read the entire series, see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 .

After our old college friend advised so strongly against using the brain surgeon we had selected at Georgetown, we were at a complete loss. At that time, there was a sense that we were quickly losing time. We didn’t know the nature of the tumor at all. As far as we knew, So Young had a very aggressive tumor and only months to live. The neurologist had said “the prognosis is not good.” The Georgetown doctor had advised against deliberating too long. Yet we had already lost almost two weeks. As a precaution, I scheduled surgery with both Georgetown surgeons. Georgetown became our last resort if we weren’t able to find a suitable doctor quickly.

I remembered the countless, unsolicited doctor recommendations I had received from friends and acquaintances since November 12 and how I had assiduously ignored them. Frankly, I had been overwhelmed by the number I had received and didn’t know where to start. So I began pouring over the recommendations. Johns Hopkins kept coming up. As I looked in my inbox, I realized that I had a half-dozen specific brain surgeons at Johns Hopkins recommended to me by name. Our college friend had even said that he would go to Johns Hopkins if he could do it over again. Given those recommendations and Hopkins’ reputation, I began working aggressively to get So Young into Hopkins.

I contacted some friends to see if I could get So Young into Hopkins quickly, through the back door. I called our neurologist again, saying that Georgetown didn’t work out. Could he find somebody at Johns Hopkins? I also called Hopkins directly to go through their normal process, in case none of my references panned out. They told me that it could take up to five days for them to review her file and screen her. I told them I could overnight a copy of the MRI CD if they wanted it, and I emphasized some critical facts: mother of three, large brain tumor, only 38 years old. They said they would see what they could do.

Meanwhile, two of my emails to friends received unexpected responses. A pediatric neurosurgeon at Hopkins — a friend of our friends Hong and Christine — had offered to see So Young quickly. Also, Hayong had heard from friends who used to attend our church (Matt and Soogi) that they could refer us to a friend of a friend at Hopkins, Dr. Michael Lim, who happened to be a brain surgeon. I asked the pediatric neurosurgeon to talk to Dr. Lim, and Hayong’s friends also contacted Dr. Lim. Finally, our neurologist said he had contacted Dr. Lim on our behalf, so Dr. Lim would be calling us soon. (This was before we had ever mentioned to our neurologist that our friends knew Dr. Lim.) So essentially I had zeroed in on a single doctor, and I had people bugging him from all angles.

The next morning, I received an unexpected phone call. In a surprising gesture of humility, it was Dr. Lim himself calling me from his cell phone on the way to work. We set up an appointment for the next day, between brain surgeries. Usually, brain surgeons don’t contact new patients directly, and they certainly don’t schedule appointments.

The next day, as we sat outside his office waiting for him to come out of surgery, we noticed that his office number was 123, a number that So Young had assigned some significance to in recent months. We felt that it was a sign.

When Dr. Lim arrived and introduced himself, he said, “I want you to know that a lot of people care about you. You must be loved. Many people have contacted me on your behalf.”

During the consultation, Dr. Lim and his assistant, Tami, put us completely at ease. The doctor’s recommendation, having looked at the MRI, was the same as the previous two doctors: resectioning (partial removal) of the brain tumor, followed by radiation to shrink the tumor. He listed the many risks of the surgery but was confident that it was the right approach. But there was one difference in his approach. He said that he would present So Young’s case before the tumor board, which is a cross-disciplinary group of physicians who meet to review and weigh in on a patient’s case. It was a Friday. The tumor board would meet on Monday.

So Young asked the same pointed question she asked of the Georgetown doctor: “Do you believe in miracles?”

Dr. Lim paused as he thought about his answer. “Yes,” he said, “I believe that there are things that happen in the operating room that we can’t explain and that can only be attributed to God.” (As a side note, the “miracle” question is also featured in the movie Gifted Hands, about a Johns H0pkins neurosurgeon. Ben Carson’s character asks it — and answers it — during his Hopkins interview.)

So Young took it further.

“Will you pray for me?”

“I will,” he said.

Almost as important to So Young was The Running Question. Georgetown had strictly forbidden exercise, along with a host of other things. So Young told Dr. Lim how she had run 18 of 26.2 miles a couple of weeks before in the Marine Corps Marathon. Would he allow her to keep running, even long distances?

“Yes,” he said. “Just don’t do any extremely heavy lifting. We want you to stay in good health. But I don’t recommend you running alone because of your eyesight.”

We left Johns Hopkins that day with a great deal of peace.

On Monday, I received a call from Dr. Lim. The tumor board had decided against resectioning. Instead, Dr. Lim would perform a needle biopsy to take a sample of the tumor to determine its pathology. The type of tumor would to some extent determine our next steps.

This blog began around the time the biopsy was performed. The biopsy determined that the tumor is a Grade 2 astrocytoma, which is a slow-growing tumor that infiltrates brain tissue as it grows and can become fast-growing. The Johns Hopkins physicians recommended against surgery, because the tumor is very deep in her brain and surgery carried too high a risk of stroke and death. This disappointed me, because I always thought that surgery was an option. Radiation became our only choice, and even then Dr. Lim was skeptical that it would shrink the tumor (also a disappointment). The objective had become to stop its growth as soon as possible, not to make it smaller. Chemotherapy was considered but dropped. We are saving it in case the tumor becomes faster growing.

To this day, there is a lot of uncertainty, but we continue to see God’s hand in this situation, as the long and winding path to Johns Hopkins shows. Would So Young be alive today if we had chosen Georgetown? We have been blessed at Hopkins. What more is in store for us there? Maybe God has a miracle in store for So Young. Maybe He put us there to be a blessing to the people we meet, and to give our friends and family a chance to be the hands and feet of Christ, driving So Young to Hopkins every day, caring for us, feeding us.

So we don’t wait in fear, although often we are afraid, often discouraged. We wait in hope.

<< Part 4

A Dream
April 30, 2011

From James:

When So Young woke up this morning, she told me about her dream.

In the dream, she woke up from a night’s sleep and found that she could see perfectly. Her eyesight was restored. She ran out of the house and told everyone.

She went to see her friend Grace Oh and told her, “Grace! Your dream came true! I can see again!” (Grace recently dreamed that So Young could see again.) They screamed and embraced, jumped up and down.

She continued to tell everyone: friends and neighbors, people at church. She received a myriad of reactions, but overall everyone was amazed at the miracle.

So Young woke up early this morning, when it was still dark, and realized it hadn’t really happened. Her eyesight hadn’t changed. She was afraid of when the daylight would come, and she would encounter her profound loss of vision again in its fullness.

The dream affected her greatly. She cried as she told me about it. I gave her theological reasons why we suffer: for our sanctification, because of the Fall, because of the flesh. Jesus suffered, too.

She wanted to know why her in particular? I tried to explain there was no reason except to glorify God. She said she was losing patience with God. When would it end? My explanations didn’t seem to work too well, so I prayed for her.

This afternoon, So Young slogged a 9-miler. It really took a lot out of her. “I feel like somebody beat me up,” she said, resting in bed afterwards. But then she said she realized something as she ran. She realized that God’s Spirit was telling her, as she plodded along, that without this suffering, this loss of sight, she wouldn’t see as much as she has seen of Him.

Christos Anesti! And Therefore I Will Rise
April 24, 2011

From James:

Happy Easter, everyone!

Easter Egg Hunt

To get ourselves into the Easter mindset, So Young and I spent a couple of nights listening to Tony Campolo’s famous sermon, “It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Coming.” It has a broad application outside of this holiday. We highly recommend it:

http://www.tonycampolo.org/mp3/Its_Friday_But_Sundays_Coming.mp3

The kids have been home all week, so it has been very busy for So Young. I took Tuesday off to spend some time with the family and attend to some errands. I took everybody to the dentist, and then we went to Old Town Alexandria to exchange a pair of So Young’s running shoes. We then rushed back home to get ready for a ballet we attended that night, Sleeping Beauty, performed at the new Hylton Performing Arts Center by a Russian ballet company.

The highlight of the evening’s performance was our punchy kindergartener loudly commenting that she could see the male ballet dancer’s “bottom” (he was wearing tights) and lamenting what she perceived to be the immodesty of Sleeping Beauty’s costume. So Young has wanted the girls to attend a real ballet for years, and I think she was satisfied that we were able to do so.

The Ladies at the Ballet

So Young and the girls went on a picnic on Wednesday with friends. Sandy very graciously drove them all, and they had a great time. On Thursday, Mom took the girls shopping for Easter dresses, etc., one of their all-time favorite activities. Friday was sort of a “day off” for the Gage ladies, as by that time they needed a spring break from their spring break.

This week was a test, in a sense, of what the summer is going to be like for So Young and the girls. So Young is still struggling greatly with fatigue, which doesn’t necessarily affect anything when the girls are at school and I am at work. With the girls home all day, however, So Young is too tired in the morning to do much. Shannon was a trooper and helped out with the younger ones during the morning hours. I don’t have any concerns for the girls under So Young’s care and with Shannon’s help, at this point.

So Young’s appetite still isn’t great. I would say that she is still eating maybe one meal’s worth of food each day. She has aversions to food, but she also has cravings. They aren’t consistent, so we can’t plan around them. Still, she seems to be eating enough to be healthy, although she lacks the energy she used to have.

Unbelievably, we are still receiving meals from our church that end up feeding us perhaps four nights per week. Mom also prepares at least one meal for us a week, as well, so we are doing very little cooking.

Today we had a wonderful Easter with our church family. The mood of Easter can be so pure, unlike Christmas, which seems tainted. Here we are thanking God for the great miracle He has done for each and every one of us, and how there is hope beyond these frail bodies and this short time we have together on earth.

During a special musical performance, a member of the praise band sang the Chris Tomlin song “I Will Rise” with exceptional beauty. I remember playing this song for So Young as we drove to the start line of the MCM Half last year, the same race we are running together in May. The music itself really does rise, but even more so the lyrics lift you up. I cried as I sang along this morning (I wasn’t supposed to sing along), because it is such a beautiful picture of what things are going to be like for us some day, restored from these fragile bodies, into God’s presence, and all because Jesus himself rose up.

I Will Rise
by Chris Tomlin

There’s a peace I’ve come to know
Though my heart and flesh may fail
There’s an anchor for my soul
I can say, “It is well.”

Jesus has overcome
And the grave is overwhelmed
The victory is won
He is risen from the dead

And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles’ wings
Before my God fall on my knees
And rise
I will rise

There’s a day that’s drawing near
When this darkness breaks to light
And the shadows disappear
And my faith shall be my eyes
Jesus has overcome
And the grave is overwhelmed
The victory is won
He is risen from the dead

And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles’ wings
Before my God fall on my knees
And rise
I will rise

And I hear the voice of many angels sing,
“Worthy is the Lamb”
And I hear the cry of every longing heart,
“Worthy is the Lamb” (x2)

And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles’ wings
Before my God fall on my knees
And rise
I will rise

Pastor JP  preached eloquently about Thomas, who doubted and had to see Christ’s wounds for himself. Thomas’s conclusion, as ours: “My Lord and my God!”

It’s our prayer that this post finds you full of hope today. There is much to hope for, even when on the face of it, your circumstances may say otherwise, like it did for Thomas and the other disciples before Christ rose. Your present circumstances and even your past don’t determine who you are. There is a future that is more important, that defines who you are if you place your hope in God. It’s a future without death, pain, failure, disappointment, or sin, where we will live restored. This is eternal life, and it starts now for those who believe.

One Month After Treatment
March 1, 2011

From James:

“Don’t worry, Mommy. You’re going to be OK,” said our six-year-old Audrey the other day, after praying for So Young. “A lot of people are praying for you — even people you don’t know.”

That kindergartener’s prayers and the prayers of many others must be taking effect. About a month after the end of radiation, So Young is doing remarkably well.

On Sunday, she joined us on a family bike ride on a beautiful, pre-spring day. And she actually rode her bike. At first, she said she would “run beside us” while we rode to the school, which is a couple of blocks away. The kids said she should ride her bike, too, but I said that it would be too difficult for So Young, which of course made So Young want to ride her bike all the more. We rode all around the neighborhood, well beyond the school. She only fell once during the two-mile or so trek.

This was a risky stunt, I know, but you have to understand that I can’t contain the lady (and nor do I want to). So Young has been run/walking alone outdoors frequently since our first run together. She is avoiding tripping during her runs by lifting her feet more, especially when she sees cracks on the sidewalk or path. I tested her recently to make sure that she can see cars while she crosses the street, and she passed the test perfectly.

I’m not sure exactly how to run with her as a “guide” anymore. We took a second run together recently. I held her hand and called out many of the cracks and curbs, but she eventually got annoyed, so I stopped and she promptly tripped again, just like the first time.

All of this is to say that she is doing very well physically and remains persistent. It’s important that she continue her life in this and a myriad of other ways. We hope that this will be a very long race.

Another bit of good news is that the Johns Hopkins folks are weaning her off of the steroids in earnest now. The steroids reduced the swelling in her brain while the radiation was taking place, but they cause side effects like weight gain, which is really troubling to So Young. They also have negative side effects in the long term, such as permanent muscle weakness, which hasn’t occurred yet but could if she stayed on them. So we are weaning off and hope to be completely off in about two weeks.

Another recent change is that So Young is sleeping a lot better at night, without the assistance of medication. That is a direct result of her weaning off of the steroids.

We have a date for our follow-up MRI and appointment with the radiation oncologist: March 21.

These verses really struck me when I read them this week:

I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD. — Psalm 27:13-14

This tells me that as a Christian, I don’t merely have hope for heaven. I can also have hope here on earth (“the land of the living”) as I watch and wait for what He is going to do. Meanwhile, be strong and take heart.

Great Expectations for 2011
January 2, 2011

From So Young:

Hello 2011!

I have great expectations from my mighty God this year. I think God has given me a bigger faith and allowed me to grow through this experience. He has brought me through a faith journey to understand him better. He is taking me on this journey to better understand him and his heart for all believers and the lost.

I want to live all of 2011 not looking too far ahead but being thankful for everybody God has put in my life and the small things of daily life. Even though it is going to be hard, God is going to give our family the ability to do that. I don’t know what he has in store: if he is going to restore my sight and shrink this tumor so that I can do what every mom should be able to do for her kids. I have to walk by faith and not by sight — literally.

You hear all the time how the Spirit resides in people, but when you actually see his people moved to compassion — not just for other people but for you and your family — it is overwhelming. In the beginning, I said, “God is good, all the me.” I still believe that. If I wasn’t a believer when this all started, I would be now, because this kind of  love is amazing. If everyone could treat each other the way we’ve been treated, this world would be so much better for the hurting, the lonely, the unloved, the rejected, and the ashamed.

I don’t know why God has decided to pour out his blessing and protection on my family and me, but I am very strengthened and thankful. That’s how I want to choose to live 2011 — waking up thanking God because he worthy of all my thanks and praises and glorifying him any way I can, because his name is above all names. Some day, every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. It is by that name that people are fasting and praying for me. It is his name and faith in him that is going to take this immoveable mountain and move it.

“[Jesus] replied, ‘Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “Move from here to there” and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you'” (Matthew 17:20).

I’m going to live my life expecting great things because God is great. I believe that I will  able to tell this tumor to shrink, and it will. We are all looking expectantly at him — that he will do it if he wants to. God wants us to confess to him that we believe. Well, I do believe.

I just want to live each day for God and have a good attitude and a right heart. My resolution is to get back to doing the normal things I used to do. I want to continue running and sign up for the Marine Corps Historic Half. (If any of you want to sign up, that’s the one I’m signing up for.)

I feel such gratitude for all the people who have come out and done so much for our family, especially fasting and praying. I do feel the power of your prayers. If we were to list all the kind things people have been doing — our church, neighbors, friends, family, coworkers, etc. — you would be astounded to hear it.

Thank you and we love you! Happy New Year!