Tuesday, December 17, 2013

All dressed up and no place to go.

That's a saying, right?
That's a not-quite-accurate description of how we feel right now.
We are prepared. Our house is ready, our emotions are ready, our kids are ready, we are trained, we are supported, our lists are checked. And we're at home, waiting, sometimes feeling like we've gotten stood up for a big date.

But, we know that's not true. We know we have some place to go, somewhere God has prepared us for; that He hasn't stood us up in our party dress. So, we continue to live in the meantime. Prepared and being prepared further by the waiting, the trusting, the exercise in patience.

Training at CIT was great. We met great missionaries, had awesome instructors, were loaded up with challenging ideas. Everything was top-notch, and we were sad to leave. While there, holed up in the mountains in an area curiously called the "tri-cities" (I swear I didn't even see one thing resembling a city), we were out of touch with reality. We arrived back to real life and were greeted by snow, homework, and Christmas.

Thanks to Amazon Prime, we are ready for the holidays, and now have one week at home before we head out to see family, meet two brand new nephews, and welcome Ben's parents back from a long trip to India, and then celebrate my brother's wedding in Texas.

Because we're only home for six days of Christmas, there is no tree in our house this year. Thankfully, the kids' teachers at CIT trained them to be flexible missionary kids, and they are satisfied with this version of Christmas.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. 

As our family gathers for Thanksgiving today there are many things I am thankful for. 

I am thankful for the many ways we have experienced God's love, mercy and grace over this last year.   There have been many days this year where I have woken up before the sun comes up.  I love seeing the night sky turn into morning and watching light fill the sky.  Each day His supply of love, mercy and grace have been new in our lives.  10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman has been a theme song for us.  There's a verse that goes, "When the sun comes up, there's a new day dawning, It's time to sing your song again, whatever may pass and whatever lies before me, let me be singing when the evening comes.  There was a morning where I took this picture of the sunrise and told Susie I know we might face some hard evenings along this journey, but I'm excited and thankful for every sunrise that we can face together as well. 

I am thankful for health.  Last year as we celebrated Thanksgiving, Susie had just finished a brief stay in the hospital after her first round of chemo.  It was very scary.  I knew she had at least 5 more rounds to go and was unsure as to how it would affect her mind and her body.  I am thankful that God gave her energy, strength and grace to face each round.  I am thankful that she completed her chemo in April.  I am thankful that since January of this year, each of the 5 MRI's she has had, have been stable - no new tumor growth! 

I am thankful for God's ability to restore.  There is a song that reminds me of this, it is called Beautiful Things by Gungor.  Susie is a beautiful thing God has made.  He has been restoring her energy each and every day since she finished chemo.  This Fall has been wonderful to see, as she has been able to re-engage fully to being mom to four young kids.  As a dad and husband, I cannot tell you the joy in my heart as I watch her with the kids.  It brings a smile to my soul and makes me very thankful for God's ability to restore. 

If you couldn't tell already I am very thankful for my wife.  I am thankful that I can spend another Thanksgiving with her.  I am thankful for who she is, a woman of filled with grace, love, beauty, humor and wisdom (especially when she has google at her fingertips)!  She has been and continues to be God's greatest tangible expression of love to me.  I am thankful for how she has handled all of this.  She tackles each day with a determination to make the most of what is in front of her, regardless of the circumstances and regardless of how she feels.  She is awesome and I am so thankful that she is my bride.

I am thankful for our kids.  Our kids have been resilient, gracious, strong and tender.  I told them after our Thanksgiving meal last year that when they got older, daddy would tell them how hard this past year had been.  With tears in my eyes I told them they have been such source of strength for daddy.  This year, I could tell them the same thing.  They have been a rock for me and for Susie each and every day.

I am thankful for the opportunity to learn.  I have done more reading this year than any other year in my life, thanks to the doctoral program I am in.  I have learned more about Missions and Development than I even knew was out there.  I am so thankful for my cohort and all that we are learning together.  I look forward to the continued learning and however God might use what we are learning in our future to help bring affect change into our world. 
"In order to work on these serious problems, aspiring ambassadors of global reconciliation need to go to school, gain expertise in the discipline, develop skills in a specialized field, build cross-cultural capabilities, and practice as interns under the tutelage of experienced professionals."

Hoksbergen, Roland (2012-06-01). Serving God Globally: Finding Your Place in International Development (p. . Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
There are many more things I am thankful for, like the fact that so many of you continue to remain engaged with us and continue to help us.  I could go on and on about that, but the kids have woken up and I need to wrap this up.   My prayer and my hope is that in the midst of what you have faced this year, regardless of what your evenings have brought you, that you would be reminded of God's love for you as you enjoy this day of Thanksgiving.  May your year be filled with reasons to be thankful. 

Happy Thanksgiving. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A praise and a commercial

I had an MRI last week and got the official word from my doctor today that things look stable and unchanged, which in the brain cancer world is great news! We are thankful to God for a good report. And we are thankful for medical people who have been faithful to communicate with each other and with us across networks and via email.

And now, the commercial.

We are at pre-field cross-cultural training at a place called CIT. It hasn't yet been a week, but we love it, are learning a ton, and are already confident that this experience is worth it in every way.

So. You might know or come across missionaries who are raising support and they will tell you that they need to go to training, sometimes for around two years. Often, missionaries in this situation have a hard time raising support because the American church tends to value expediency and such. My commercial is this training is important, it will be a key factor in how long they make it in the field, and if you meet any of these people, please support their effort to get adequately trained for the mission God has called them to.

And, to our supporters who have made it possible for our whole family to be here, thank you so much. More of an update later, but I'm in class and should be paying attention!


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Cloud gets bigger.

The cloud of witnesses.

On our "get involved" page, we listed a few people to pray for, alongside of whom we've been walking this path of brain cancer. Since we last updated that page, two of those prized saints have been called home to Jesus. Phoebe Fair was just a little girl, younger than Charlie, older than Annie. She was loved and treasured by her Jesus-serving family, and by strangers like us who prayed for her and reached for our phones each morning to check for news of her health.

Bob Guge, a dear family friend, passed away just this week. He will be remembered on this earth for making the world more beautiful with his many children and grandchildren (and grandchildren still to be born) and with his lovely, award-winning art.

I knew Phoebe only through her parents' words and Bob through the eyes of my childhood, but I share with each of them things that are precious and defining - a specific brand of sickness, and a savior who promised to transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things (cancer, death, pain, suffering, loss) to himself.

Bob and Phoebe, what's that like?

Fairs and Guges, we persist with prayers for your comfort and peace.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

I heart Coach Ben

My husband is gifted and called. It took me years to realize that, a little longer to admit it out loud, but the more I explored in my own mind how God had made Ben, and what He had made Him for, the more deeply I grew to love him. (And Him).
When Ben decided to leave his global leadership role to be with me and the kids more consistently, I was heartbroken. Other wives nodded in sympathy. Their eyes said, "yes, husbands are so annoying when they're home all the time." But that so isn't it. I love having Ben home, working or otherwise. I was sad because I had grown attached to seeing him shine in the spot given to him. (There's more to it than that, but it definitely wasn't sadness at him being home)
In the last couple of years, I have remained steadfast in my belief that while I am so honored and thrilled that Ben gives his family the bulk of his time and energy, he was made for more. Not for something more important, but something in addition.
We have pressed on to what we believe that is - leadership, learning and service in the global sphere; for the time being, Brasil.
Only one thing has caused me to question that: seeing Ben as a youth soccer coach. When I watch him patiently, firmly, consistently encouraging, cajoling, and herding these little squirts who are way too young for anything organized, I feel so proud.
When a kid is scared, Ben will pick him up and carry him around the field. When a little girl doesn't believe she can score like the boys, Ben will teach her she can. When a little boy (say our little boy) decides examining grass is more interesting than defense, Ben will holler until said little boy drops the grass and lifts up his head. When a ref makes bad calls, Ben will tease him. When a ref irresponsibly refuses to blow his whistle and kids are getting hurt, Ben will not let it go.
I love it. Yesterday was our boys' last games, and everyone got medals. More importantly, they each got a man to get on his knees, look them in the eyes and tell them why they are great.

That being said, I am so happy soccer is over. Ohio novembers are cold!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Champions of Hope Videos

Well, this is a few weeks overdue but I have secured access to the videos from The Champions of Hope event at the Miami Valley Hospital.  Thanks so much to all of you who have prayed and encouraged us along the way. 

Enjoy watching the presentation which includes a video the foundation did and Susie's acceptance speech. 

Susie and I wish all of you could have been with us that evening.  As weird as it was for Susie to accept a "cancer award," it was a great night to celebrate all that God has done in our life over the last 20 plus months.  Our hope remains in the Lord because of who He is and what He has done. 


Saturday, October 12, 2013


Susie and I had the privilege of attending the Pink Ribbon Girls, Ignite the Fight Event.  What a great event it was!  The Pink Ribbon Girls help families who are going through Breast Cancer by providing meals, housecleaning, babysitting and many other services.  One of the many highlights of the nights was hearing how families that were going through breast cancer were being helped by this organization.

There were many emotions and thoughts that were running through me as I was hearing these stories.  My heart was moved as I heard of a young couple who was pregnant navigate breast cancer treatments.  Throughout the night my heart was filled with thanks as I reflected on the many ways we have been supported, helped and cared for over the last 20 plus months. 

Susie and I are so thankful to so many of you that have helped us in a number of ways.  You have provided meals, gift cards, watched our kids, given to us financially, cleaned our house, done our laundry and the list goes on and on.  We know we have expressed this in the past, but as we left the Event tonight, Susie and I just wanted to let you know that we truly appreciate the many acts of kindness you have shown us and our family.  We are so thankful  to each of you! 

For more information about the Pink Ribbon Girls, please visit their website: http://www.pinkribbongirls.org/

Friday, October 4, 2013

Surivivng Breast Cancer Awareness Month

I was catching up on Downton Abbey this week, and was surprised that one of the characters had a breast cancer scare. It got me curious and so I did a tad bit of research (google and wikipedia - I'm so ivy-league) on the history of breast cancer and learned more about how long it has been plaguing women and how its status as a taboo topic (maybe they should have called it "mammary cancer"?) led to its danger as women feared to talk about it, investigate their symptoms, and get treatment.

That was actually helpful for my attitude going into this month. Because, the pink. The NFL and their stupid pink towels (Cleveland Browns, you did not look cute last night). The pressure at Kroger that if I don't pick the pink thing, I'm against breast cancer awareness. It boiled over inside me when I saw a commercial for pink 5 hour energy drinks. They're not all offensive, but I find this one about "good deeds" to be so. A company that exists to make money by selling stimulants (whether or not they're harmless is up to you to decide) should not in my opinion imply that it is a "good deed" to buy their product. This is not awareness, and it is not - as far as I can tell - "help." It's marketing.

You certainly know someone, knew someone, or know a friend of a friend who has been affected by breast cancer. By all means, let this month inspire you to reach out and help them or honor them with your help. But, I would encourage you to be creative with your help and not buy everything that's being sold to you in a pink package.

I was recently introduced to Pink Ribbon Girls, a local organization that actively serves and helps young survivors of breast cancer in my area. It does so in specific and concrete ways - including meals, rides, babysitting, house cleaning, etc for women in treatment. It's not vague. Do you have an organization in your area that could use your generosity to help women who need it?

If your area doesn't have something like Pink Ribbon Girls, and you'd like to help Breast Cancer patients, call or stop by a local oncology center. Ask the nurses there if they know of any needs that you could help with. Ask which organization or church they see around a lot helping people, and see if you can partner with them.

And one more thing. Do not, ever, in my presence, say "Save the Ta-tas." This I find repulsive. For goodness' sake, save the women. The ta-tas? Most women I know who have had breast cancer would quickly sacrifice her "ta-tas" for a few more years with her kids, or for the chance to have kids. If we make the fight against cancer about boobs, we are taking this whole thing way beyond "awareness," and into objectification. Sure, it's a sort-of catchy slogan that works on a tshirt (or a million tshirts), but it completely misses the point. Breast cancer awareness shouldn't be about boobs - it should be about lives and health, and women - mothers and daughters and sisters who deserve to live with or without their "ta-tas."

Ok, well thank you for indulging my rant about Breast Cancer Awareness month. Thank you, Susan G Komen, and the NFL and all the others who have made it ok to say "breast cancer" out loud. Now that we are all more aware, let's focus on the women who live with it, their families, the doctors and nurses that take care of them, the researchers who press on, the foundations who fund them, and the volunteers who give up their free time to serve others.

Oh, and I know it's a pain in the butt to comment on this blog, but if I have misrepresented anything here, please try to correct me. Also, I'd love if you use the comments section on this post to link to organizations or groups that interested readers can support.

And, let's not forget the less sexy body parts that are affected by cancer - brains (should be the sexiest!), ovaries, prostates, skin, thyroids, lungs, bonesmesothelium, obviously there's more but Annie's waking up from her nap.


Monday, September 30, 2013

Embassy update

Thanks so much for those of you that prayed for us last Friday.  As we were flying to the Embassy, the Lord used Joshua 10 to remind me that He indeed was with us and was going before us.  We certainly experienced that throughout the day!  

Our trip to the Embassy went really well.  I have experienced many Embassies and I was very impressed with this one.  They were friendly, wanted to help and genuinely and expediently moved things along. 

Here is a brief summary of where we are:

We have submitted all of our paperwork (37 documents) for our visa.  These types of visa requests are processed in Brasil so the Embassy here has sent down the documents to the office in Brasil.  They will review it and either approve us or let us know there is more information they need or deny us.  Technically speaking, we can't see any reason why we would get denied as we meet all of the qualifications they have identified.  So most likely we will be dealing with option 1 or option 2.  Susie and I are praying it's option 1, a speedy approval.  In terms of timing, we don't know how long this might be.  It could be a month or longer.  We will continue to stay in touch with the Embassy in DC and they will let us know when they hear something from Brasil. 

That's the update.  In addition to everything that happened at the Embassy, Susie and I enjoyed traveling to one of our favorite cities, enjoyed time together and time with Susie's Uncle and Aunt.

In the meantime, we are continuing life here and preparing for a departure to Brasil hopefully in the next few months.  We have begun to talk with an international moving company, the kids school, our cross-cultural training leaders, our supporters and soon-to-be-supporters and have regular meetings with our team in Brasil via Skype at least once a week.  Thanks for your continued prayers as we navigate life day by day. 

In helping us prepare for our hopeful move, what's one thing you would bring with you if you were moving to another country?   

Thursday, September 26, 2013

chasing paper

Thanks to our faithful Brazilian friends, we have all the papers we need to apply for our visa (we think), tomorrow we're hopping a flight to DC to apply in person - hoping to shave some days off the processing time by doing it in person.

Please pray for Stephanie and the kids tomorrow. Ben's been gone all week so far at a training, so it's been chaotic anyway.

Please pray for God to smooth out the inevitable travel obstacles: delayed flights, overbooked rental cars, sick consular officers, whatever it might be that could get in the way of a smooth trip.

Please pray for favor with whomever ends up evaluating our paperwork. Because most of the documents are in Portuguese, we will have a hard time to answer questions if necessary.

We are also praying that we might get some clarity on the timeline for receiving a visa. We've heard anywhere from 2-6 months, and it would be helpful to narrow that down a tad so we can plan for school, training, moving, etc. 

Please pray for us... Ben's travel this week (no longer something we're used to) has left us both wiped out, and we have a very early start to the day tomorrow.

Thanks! We'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Temporary survivor

Well like Ben previewed, I was honored at Miami valley hospital's Champions of Hope event as a survivor. Getting an award for surviving a terminal disease feels a lot like getting an award for not being dead yet. In that case, we should all get awards because we are temporarily surviving whatever it is that is going to kill us. (Happy thought for the day).
Really, though. For me there was so much irony wrapped up in this award business because my medical circumstances and my spiritual reality both work together to make survival sort of a non-issue for me. I know that:
1) I will die. Don't know if it will actually be from brain cancer.
2) death will not be the end of me. Jesus said, "because I live, you also will live," and, "I will come again and bring you to myself that where I am you may be also."
3) my days on earth can be lived in freedom. Because of Christ's complete work on the cross, I don't need to spend my time ensuring my future. I can live in pursuit of loving others, developing talents that I enjoy, and seeking truth. I can live in Ohio or move to brazil. I can go through the drive-through and eat crappy food with my kids at their school.

It was a fun night and it was super kind of friends and family to attend and support me since I was super nervous about giving a little speech.
both sets of parents came into town for the fun.
I also got to buy a new dress which I loved until I walked in and another honoree had the same dress on! I had finally convinced a friend to trade dresses with me when I got distracted and it was too late and I just had to be mature about the whole thing and roll with it.
yup - those dresses are exactly the same!
It really is inspiring to think of the people we all know that are dealing with cancer and then the many many people who are involved in their care and support. Doctors, nurses, techs, family, friends. I know a lot of times it feels satisfying to criticize the medical industry but there really are some true heroes that work really hard to make people's darkest, most hopeless days more comfortable and happy.

Also, I got a trophy so my kids are really proud of me.

I know Ben is just itching to post a video of the thing but I would prefer that not happen. To try to hold him off a bit, I'll share some pictures and the text to my speech. I'm more comfortable writing than speaking.

I find this so ironic because I stand before you as someone who has made it through a long year and a half of my cancer journey, but someone who has a cancer with a 100% recurrence rate and no cure. So being a “survivor” is quite temporary. And
what kind of Champion of hope am I if there is no hope? How do you have hope when it is so dang hopeless?
But I do. I have so much hope. Because, to me, cancer isn’t a battle at all. I don’t like to call it a battle because that implies that there are two options winning, which is beating it, and losing, which is dying from it. And probably unless I get hit by a bus first I will die from this (hopefully not for a very long time). But, I can’t lose, because my victory has already been won for me.
Cancer can take away my security, my future, my abilities, my energy, my sanity and even my ability to go to the bathroom. Cancer can and probably will win the battle. But the things that I need to be victorious faith, hope and love, have already been given to me and can’t be taken away from me.
I can be sad at the losses my family has had and will have because of cancer. I can be heartbroken at the thought of my kids losing their mom someday. I can worry that I might not be there when they need me, but I can’t lose hope, because my hope isn’t in surviving and it isn’t in a cure that might be found someday. It’s in what already happened thousands of years ago when my savior gave His life to ransom mine so that whatever kills my body cannot threaten who I am in Jesus.
I know that all of us here think differently about spiritual things, but together as patients, caregivers, loved ones and medical professionals, we’ve all had to face mortality, and so we’ve all given it some thought. For me, facing my death has made it more important that I examine my longheld beliefs to find my reason for hope, and I’d like to offer that reason to you: not in what might be, but in what already is. You are already loved by the God who created you. He already paid the price for not only
your sins, but for what this broken world has taken from you. He is already standing at the door to your heart, asking you to let Him in. He has already bought you your hope and your Life, and waits to walk through your journey with you. And that’s where I find hope in the hopelessness.
I brought this book that I read to my kids. And when they’re not there, I read it to myself because I love it so much. It’s called The Jesus Storybook Bible, and it’s my favorite Bible. There’s a part I want to read to you. It’s right after Jesus died, and then came to life again, and paid a surprise visit to his friends to show them that He was alive and real.
Jesus’ friends were afraid. So they were hiding in an upstairs room with the door bolted shut. But that didn’t stop Jesus. He just walked straight through the wall.
“It’s a ghost!” Thomas screamed and hid under the table.
But it wasn’t a ghost.

“I’m hungry,” Jesus said. “What’s for lunch?”
Peter gave him a fish. They all hung back and watched him eat it. This can’t be, they were telling themselves. It’s impossible. It’s not happening.
But it was right in front of them.
“Delicious!” Jesus wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and grinned. “Can a ghost do that?” He winked. And then they all laughed.
“I’m really here!” Jesus said.
And he really was.
The friends felt their hearts would burst from the happiness. They ate together and chatted happily. And every now and then, they’d just gaze at Jesus, and have to touch him to be sure they weren’t dreaming.
Jesus had a real body but this body was better. It had come through death and couldn’t get sick or be killed again. This body would live forever. Jesus had come back with a brand new body.
Not only were sad things coming untrue, the friends realized, they were becoming new again. Was God going to make everything new?
Jesus said, “I am the Savior and the Rescuer of the world.” And they knew, because he couldn’t stay dead, because Jesus had come alive again, that somehow everything would be alright.


Oh and guess what? Some papers we needed have arrived from brazil and on Friday we are taking a quick trip to DC to try and apply for our visa. You know what to do! (pray)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

My Champion of Hope

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to introduce to you, the Miami Valley Hospital's Champion of Hope for 2013, Mrs. Susie Thomas!  

Yes, tonight, Susie will be honored as A Champion of Hope through the hospital where she received a majority of her care.  A few months ago I had the privilege of nominating her for the award and within a few weeks she was selected.  Tonight we will enjoy a gala, with a lot of the doctors, nurses and support staff at the hospital.  At first, Susie was unsure how to feel about a cancer award, but lately she's been excited that she got to buy a new dress and some new shoes!  

There are so many reasons why I nominated Susie.  I was pretty sure the amount of pregnant brain tumor candidates are fairly small, so I thought she had a good shot to win it.  Just kidding, here are a few of my real reasons why she is my Champion of Hope:

Like many other champions she has been courageous in the midst of adversity.  She has faced her tumor and everything surrounding it head on.  Sure there have been moments of fear, incredible pain and uncertainty, but what a courageous champion she has been.  There was no obstacle, including those terrible Lovenox injections, that she shied away from.  There was nothing that caused her to crumble with fear.   

She has been victorious.  For the journey she has endured for the last 20 plus months, she has come out on top.  Not in a cocky way, although there was a period of time where she did think the fact that she was awesome, was reason to believe that nothing really bad was going to happen to her.  But I digress.  Every thing that has come her way - weird symptoms, seizures, surgery, carrying a baby, radiation and chemo - she has come out on top.  Not one of those things beat her down or made her quit.  Whatever the obstacle was she took head on with beauty, joy, humility, laughter and love.  Unlike other champions who compete for a prize, trophy, fame or money, Susie's thoughts were focused on her Savior, her Simon, her Talya, her Charlie,  her Annie, her husband, her family and her friends.  Her prize was not money or a championship belt, but hugs, kisses, poopie diapers, nights out, Bachelor and Big Brother viewings, packing lunches and being creative in so many ways.  She wears these prizes so well each day.   

Finally, why has she been able to do this?  Well, she has pointed us to the reason for her hope throughout the journey.  During this season through her actions, her words and sometimes even just by laying on the couch and doing nothing, she has pointed each of us to her Savior, Jesus Christ.  She is the first to admit that her hope is secure because of what Christ's did for her on the Cross thousands of years ago.  His love for her is why she can and does hope in Him.  Completely and totally because of His great love for her, she has been secure in the midst of incredible uncertainty to live with a hope that is certain.  She has taught us all how to live with hope in the midst of pain.  

When my kids, grandkids or any one else asks me the question, 'Who was the greatest champion you ever saw?'  my answer will be clear:  Susie Thomas.  My bride, my best friend and my love.  She has taught me what it means to be awesome, what it means to be courageous, and what it means to be a champion.  It has been an incredible joy and opportunity to experience all of this with her in the last 20 months.  I am so blessed and my life will never be the same because of Susie.   

The gala is set for tonight.  We hope to have the video the Foundation has done of Susie available on our website in the next few days.  Hopefully, we will also be able to show Susie's acceptance speech.  

Thanks for journeying with us.  Your encouragement, support and love have helped us.  As a way of celebrating with us in the comment section, please let me know:  

What are some reasons you think of Susie as a Champion of Hope? 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

8 year recap

I blinked and 8 years happened.

Eight years ago, in what seemed like the most dramatic way possible (but wasn't), we welcomed Simon Parayil Thomas into the world and became a small little family. Looking back, I think he was colicky, but at the time I assumed all babies screamed for hours in the evenings. It didn't even matter, though, because he started sleeping through the night at 5 weeks old. He was my only baby that did that.

Then he turned one (traditional clown cake), and we moved to India. We unpacked our bags and he turned two. He toddled the streets of Bangalore, managed to never get hit by an ox cart or a bus, and won the hearts of many local kids. When our friends and teammates left to return the US, Simon and I were buddies for the final two months of our life in India. We walked everywhere together and figured out how to fill a day without Target, play dates, libraries, or splash parks.

When he was two, he had a Elmo and Ernie cake and had his first taste of grief when we lost our sweet baby Elijah. Though he doesn't remember it now, he was fully aware of it then, and God taught me some great things through his eyes. One day, right after Elijah died, Simon and I were on a walk in our neighborhood. Simon was still processing the confusion of having known there was a baby in mommy's tummy, and now learning the baby was "gone." He kept repeating, "baby nap baby nap." Determined to be as honest as possible, I kept explaining, "he's not sleeping honey. The baby died and he is in heaven with Jesus." But Simon insisted, "baby nap." We walked by a group of puppies - there were stray dogs everywhere, and they were only cute when they were brand new like these were. Simon got so excited and was crowing, "Look mommy, puppy nap, puppy nap!" I looked to where he was pointing and saw the dog. A brand new puppy - dead and bloated, crawling with flies, already gone enough that it would be clear even to a toddler that it wasn't sleeping. 

That night, I was reading from a book on heaven, and the author mentioned that God often refers to death as sleep. It hit me that to Simon death was sleep and I kept wanting to tell him the right thing, but he already knew the right thing. And I knew with a certainty that I still cling to that God had taught him that. God, in his faithful love of my son, had been at work in Simon's heart teaching him truths that I couldn't quite explain. And I learned in that moment that God had already begun his relationship with Simon at a time when Simon needed God most. And I learned that no matter what happened, God would walk with my kids through their life, starting before they had any idea.

Then Simon turned three (race car cake) and was in the midst of another intense change of culture. He got extremely shy and cautious, and often freaked out in new situations. He became a big brother to Talya and picked out a hideous stuffed horse to give her when she was born.

All of a sudden he was four (ambulance and fire truck cakes) and started going to school a few mornings a week. Still shy, he cried and screamed those first few days, but grew to love it.

By the time he turned five, he was a different kid - friendly and confident, and a big brother to newly-adopted Charlie. He celebrated with a super hero party and asked his friends to bring spare change to help build a clean water well in Rwanda. He was beginning to learn to use his powers for good.

Things really started speeding up when Simon turned six (Cars party). He was in full-time kindergarten and getting smarter by the minute. He decided that Miss Popp was the smartest person in the whole world, or at least way smarter than Mommy. Continuing to use his powers for good, he received the citizenship award at school.

And then came seven. All of a sudden, I needed an education in Star Wars. On his seventh birthday, I was in the midst of radiation therapy and he knew his mommy had cancer. As far as I know, he really couldn't conceive of what that meant, other than that I was in bed a lot, bald, and that his grandparents were around a lot more.

And now. What the heck? He's eight. And I felt healthy enough to give him a huge ninja party (emphasis on silent not deadly). And he was old enough to blow up his own dang balloons.

He's in his ninth year of life, and I can't help but wonder will this be the year that he is faced with grief again? When he's 25 and on a date with the girl who he'll marry, will she be falling in love with him while he tells her about how he was 8 years old when he finally had the courage to ask his parents "what happens if the tumor comes back?" (Obviously, I completely imagine this happening in a scene on the bachelorette. Please Jesus, not that)

I don't know. But I do know the lesson I learned when he was two: that whatever God has planned for him, his Spirit will be with him the whole way - explaining the truth of the hardest matters and reminding him that death is just the sleep before we wake again on the last day.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Bayley got married

You might remember our wonderful nanny/family assistant/babysitter/friend Bayley. She got married this summer and graciously involved our three big kids in her wedding: Simon as ring bearer, Charlie as sign bearer (it's a new cute trend that you're very familiar with if you're on Pinterest) and Talya was the flower girl.

We've been blessed to have Bayley as an unofficial part of our family, and it was an honor to watch her begin her new life with Evan. The following is a letter I wrote to her on her birthday last week. She is allowing me to share it with you all - and I'll also include some cute pics of the kids. And, look, I found a way to link to her amazing wedding pictures.

Dear Bayley,
Your wedding was beautiful, which was only a little surprising because the day had the worst possible weather forecast. Even knowing that, there couldn’t have been any of us there who know you who actually believed that YOUR wedding day would be anything other than beautiful - because of who you are: glowy-beautiful, inside and out.

Ever since I got diagnosed, wedding vows make me cry. Because you really have no idea what you’re signing up for, but you go ahead and make the most permanent promise of your life, based solely on knowing the person you’re promising.

I’m a cynic. You know that. So, you wouldn’t be surprised that when I hear young kids say those words, part of my brain does a mental eye-roll because I got married young too. And, I know that when you say, “In sickness and in health,” you picture a romantic night in, cuddling on the couch with chicken soup and Vicks. And I also know that what you actually get is a big fat tumor on your brain that somehow makes you so constipated, the word “romance” sounds like nails on a chalkboard.

And your wedding... well, if a cynic was looking for a place to roll around in the mud, your day had all the needed dirt. Painfully beautiful couple, supportive family and friends, husband who sings during the ceremony, you’re not old enough to drink yet, and even the weather decides to cooperate when it’s not supposed to. I mean, blech.

Except, it wasn’t blech at all. And I’ll tell you why. Because when I looked up at the front row, there was your mother-in-law in a wheelchair. Living with a disease that has robbed most of what she should have had in her adult life. And next to her was her husband, who I’m sure would have carried her to light her candle if he’d needed to.

A cynic says, “those kids have no idea.” But who can say that to you? Because you do. You and Evan know what you’re getting into. You know what “in sickness and in health” means because you’ve seen it, grown up with it, and haven’t run from it. You know that “for better or worse” can mean some really hard things. You know that even though God held back the storms on your special day, He may not choose to hold them back on your life.

And, you know that the possibility - no the certainty - of rain is what makes the sun so  beautiful.

And, so when you said those words, and Evan said them back to you, I cried, but I didn’t roll my eyes. I beheld the beauty of your in-laws’ and of my own husband's faithful love, and I prayed. I sort of feel the need to confess what I prayed, because part of me feels guilty about it.

God, let them know sickness along with health. Let them be richer and poorer. Let them have better and worse. Give them the opportunity to live out every single vow they’re making, because it’s not the promise that makes a marriage sweet, it’s the keeping it.

It’s not just marriage, of course. Every person gets the chance to live a life of complete fulfillment in trying circumstances. In Philippians 4, Paul says, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” It’s kind of become a cliche that suffering brings us closer to Jesus - I’ve always believed that while secretly hoping I didn’t ever need to test that theory. But, I have had to test it. I’ve been brought low and I’ve abounded with joy. I’ve lost things that were precious to me. And, even in my faith, I still feel the full weight of those losses. But, just like I’ve relished the chance to know Ben in sickness and health, plenty and in want, I get to know Jesus like that too.

I am so privileged to be a part of your cloud of witnesses, not just as you made your vows, but as you keep them. You are a beautiful woman and child of God.


Charlie fell asleep on the way to the wedding, and had a hard time recovering.

See? Tears all the way down the aisle... but he still looked cute.

Simon practically sprinted down the aisle with that ring box. He is a boy who takes his job seriously!

These girls looked gorgeous.
epecially with matching shoes.

Talya had a huge smile.
We left Annie at home so we could enjoy the evening....

...but she got to show off her cute dress at the rehearsal dinner.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Back to school special

We love our kids' school. (That being said, I'm still sad that my dream hasn't yet come true of them running into their Pop-Pop principal's office for tootsie roll pops and hugs, but you never know what could happen someday) So, even though we're disappointed that we're not in Brazil yet, it was fun to tell them that they get to go back to Bethlehem Lutheran and see their favorite teachers and friends again.

Simon is in 2nd grade, Talya is in (all-day) kindergarten and Charlie is starting his first-ever school experience with four-year-old preschool three mornings a week. The older two are in uniforms. I wish you could have seen the fury on Ben's face when we were standing in Children's Place and I told him that Talya can't wear pink. Our school has one of the most flexible and least expensive uniform policies ever, but this daddy was crushed to picture his princess in khaki and navy for 9 whole months. We compensated with sparkles on the backpack, headband and twinkle-toe shoes that are so bright they might give me a seizure.

Here are our proud pictures!

Charlie - Pre-school

Simon (2nd) and Talya (K)
Annie (never allowed to go to school or leave home)

Along with school, I had my most recent check-in with my neuro oncologist and my latest MRI looks good. I've had no further symptoms or episodes, which are all good signs and I've regained all my energy (except the energy loss that I sustained upon having a fourth child - apparently that's permanent).

So, I guess I'm fit to resume my agenda-signing, reading-chart-signing, homework-helping, lunch-packing, schedule-remembering, appointment-making-and-cancelling, nap-time-enforcing duties. Good thing Ben is around a lot to help with that!

Brazil status remains as it was. We have days where we feel hope that it could happen soon, but most days indicate that we'll be waiting on paperwork processes for a while still. We are working on waiting; using our time well without filling our life up. Please keep praying for us in all of this.

I wanted to tell you something funny but I can't think of anything right now.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Hurry up and wait

*For the super-short version, scroll to the end.*

Life is like a trip to the airport. You plan and prepare and pack and print things out and decide when you need to be in the car and then make sure you're ready a half hour before that. You make everyone go potty twice and pack more snacks and wear your sneakers because no matter how much you prepare, you're going to be late for something. You speed just a little to get to the airport, but not too much because you can afford to be a few minutes behind schedule but not I-got-pulled-over late to the airport.

You herd everyone in and calmly direct everyone to carry their own darn backpacks and wait patiently at the counter while the attendant loses you in the system and you smile politely at the people who stare you down for daring to fly on the same plane as them with your four kids.

You pray your way through a crowded security line and breathe a sigh of relief when Junior parts with his stuffy without a major temper tantrum. You refrain from hugging the TSA agents since kids don't have to take their shoes off anymore. You stuff everyone back into their sweatshirts, backpacks (still carry your own darn backpack!), etc and retrieve everyone's lovies and stuffies and headphones before you sneak a peek at the clock and silently curse yourself for not leaving 15 minutes earlier.

And then you speedwalk/sprint/drag your kids down to Terminal Very-End-of-the-Airport where there are no bathrooms or snacks or open seats or available electrical outlets for last-minute iPad charging.

And then you look up at the sign and see that your flight is delayed and you have all the time in the world. And you're left with the bare minimum because you only let the kids pack what they could carry in their own darn backpacks and juice boxes are too heavy to carry and the baby falls asleep, which means whenever the plane takes off, she won't be tired anymore and you can almost hear all your careful planning whooshing back through the terminal on the people-mover.

Hurry up and wait - that's the expression, right? It applies to travel. To adoption. To getting to just about any medical appointment.

It applies to us right now. Brazil is still in the works. We've garage saled, purged our home of every single happy meal toy, prepared, said goodbye, listed the house, filled out three bajillion forms that relate to human resources, started learning Portuguese. And now we wait.

We continue to mentally and emotionally move South, while being physically locked in to life here. That's not a complaint; it's just a status update.

It's actually been (for me) an emotionally exhausting journey. I can do the hurry up part, but I really stink at the waiting. I remember a year ago, when Ben first relieved himself of his leadership role at AIA, how incredibly hard that was for me. Because I loved his job. It was great for him, and he was great at it. Seeing him in that role felt like getting a window into the specific reflection of God's image that was created in Ben. It was hard for me for lots of other reasons too. But I remember saying to Ben and to our boss, as I finally came to accept Ben's decision as right and good, that "I just need to start the process of figuring out what's next. I want a goal, something to move forward towards, while my health is holding us back."

And we did start that process - gingerly, cautiously, prayerfully, but with purpose. And we were asked about a role that seemed like a good fit. And as we prepared to accept that, we were asked to "hit the pause button" on that plan. And that was sad for about a million reasons, but it led us to the place where we began to consider an international move to Brazil. And that felt joyous, victorious, and beautiful. Everything about that felt (and still feels) right to me.

And now, it's becoming clear through circumstances beyond our control that we need to wait for at least a few months before we can move to Brazil. And that feels sad for about a million reasons. Our enthusiasm for this calling, our belief in this mission, our love for our Brazilian co-workers, our desire for a family adventure, the peace we've found in the process of surrender have all combined to put our hearts and minds on an express jet to Brazil. But, there are a few elusive documents that we need before we can apply for our visas. And the visa process itself takes 3-6 months.

So, just like in the adoption process, we've come to a hard time of waiting.

We're not giving up or changing course. While we were hoping to arrive in Brazil this Fall, we are acknowledging that this process is going to be longer than we thought, and that when God says "it's time," He will walk us back down the path of purging, packing, and real estate.

This morning we had a call with someone who was helping us process the delay, and he said some things that were helpful. He described how when people do team-building exercises where they have to walk blindfolded, they tend to veer right or left. And, unless someone points this out, the walker doesn't know to correct it. It took him about 20 minutes to realize that Ben and I - when exercising our faith - tend to veer towards action, while some people veer towards waiting. Neither is right or wrong, and both often take discipline. For us, who want to turn our obedience directly into plane tickets, it's going to take some discipline to wait on God for his timing on our departure.

And that's the update on Brazil. We continue to lean on your prayers.

Life in Ohio will look much like it did this past year - kids in school, Ben working on his doctorate and our support, me keeping up with them all and helping however I can. But this year does NOT include chemo or radiation, so for that I'm excited!

*Sometimes I use so many words that I get confusing. Here's the super-short version: We are still planning on moving to Brazil. We wish we could go next week, but we don't have our visa yet, and we probably won't for a while yet. So, we're waiting on that, and that makes us sad, but we still trust our Jesus.*

Friday, July 19, 2013

CRU Staff Conference

This past week, we were able to be with our CRU and Athletes in Action family.  Over 5,000 staff from around the US and some friends from around the world gathered in Ft. Collins, Colorado. 

We enjoyed a great time of being together, seeking The Lord, worshipping and praying together.  Susie and I had the treat of being out there sans kids and were able to enjoy meaningful times with several of our friends.

Tonight July 19th, you can watch the main session of the conference live, which will start at 6:30 Mountain Time at https://csu2013.cru.org/. Tonight they are looking at the theme of Courageous Faith.  They interviewed Susie and me and will be on around 7:15 Mountain Time.  We are so humbled that they chose to interview us.  We pray God's love and grace are on display.

We came home a day early from the conference so we could be with Annie as we celebrate her first birthday today!  We are so thankful for how God protected her and blessed us with her.  Every time I look at her, I'm reminded of God's overwhelming love.  

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Some time away

We always enjoy time away, especially at Lake George.  Not only is it beautiful, but it's where Susie's grandparents live and most if not all of her mom's side of the family comes to each year.  This year, though we were up there before the Lake was warmed up, it did not disappoint us. 

The kids loved the water, even at 65 degrees.  We spent at least 2-3 hours swimming, testing out their new boogie boards in preparation for Brasil, canoeing or kayaking.  The kids loved exploring the point, they loved time with their grandparents and uncles, aunts and cousins.  They loved going to Great Grandma and Big-Pop's house everyday to play checkers, cars, trains, paint, etc.  They even slept in every day and Susie and I loved that!

I made a pact to myself, that I would not indulge in any treats while I was up there, except of course the soft serve ice cream at the Wind Chill and S'mores by the camp fire.  It worked out well for the whole family as there was never a stretch of more than 1 day before we made a Wind Chill run!  

Being at the Lake is always a special gift.  This year seemed especially so.  To see the kids run around, swim, and enjoy all the Lake had to offer.  To be there, knowing that there was not another treatment that Susie had to endure when we got back made it even more special.   

After 10 days at the Lake, we are back home.  We are trying to make progress with our house, our visa and an overseas training that we will need to complete before we can fully transition to Brazil.  Susie has been hard at work preparing for our bi-annual staff conference.  She is on the conference team and using many of her creative juices to make it a memorable time.  Please continue to keep us in prayer as we navigate some of these details and travel again in a few days for the conference.  Thanks for continuing to pray for us and care for us.  We truly appreciate it.  

For those of who you think I'm talking up Lake George, here is a quote that might put this Lake into perspective:

"Lake George is without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw; formed by a contour of mountains into a basin... finely interspersed with islands, its water limpid as crystal, and the mountain sides covered with rich groves... down to the water-edge: here and there precipices of rock to checker the scene and save it from monotony."
-- Thomas Jefferson, May 31, 1791

Friday, June 14, 2013

Happy, Happy, Happy week!

This week is a very fun week for Team Thomas.  There are birthday's, recitals, soccer games and a party!  Charlie turned 4 and Talya turned 5!  What a joy to celebrate them both.  Susie and I are so thankful to be their parents and count it an absolute joy, almost all of the time.

Tonight is also their dance recital.  Yes, Charlie is in dance, much to my dismay.  Personally, I don't think the boy needs to be encouraged any more to be the center of attention!  He does that just fine on his own.  I am glad though that he did it.  Talya on the other hand, should be in a tutu with a tiara prancing around, like any princess should!  It will be fun to see them both tonight on stage.  Talya is a pro and will do just fine.  We'll see how Charlie does under the lights.  Either way, we will be celebrating at the China buffet afterwards! 

Tomorrow is the kids last soccer games.  Charlie and Talya's team - the Lions/Princesses - have been a treat.  They are a bunch of 3, 4 and 5 year olds.  It has been fun to watch each of them grow/  I have thoroughly enjoyed coaching each of them, especially Charlie and Talya.  If you haven't kept up with Susie or me on facebook, Charlie dominates on the offensive end, while Talya cleans up on defense.  Simon's team - the Lightning - play in the Champion's League as they are 7-10 years old.  It has been fun to teach them and coach them.  I have loved being Sy's coach each season over the last 3 years.  Sy does an awesome job in the goal and is developing into a good field player. 

In the midst of all this Susie has been doing great.  It seems that the side effects of the chemo - nausea, dizziness and tiredness - are all wearing off.  She has seemed more "back to normal" and it has been a joy to see.  We had another good visit with one of her doctor's this week, and continue to be hopeful about how her brain is healing.  We are very happy!
 As we've gone through a very happy week, we ask you to pray for some friends that are going through some harder times:
Thanks for praying for us and for our friends that we have met along the way.  Some days are happier than others for some.  Thankfully the Lord's love remains the same.