Monday, April 29, 2013

Even if... I am glad and rejoice!

Since I'm memorizing Philippians, any scripture referenced in the near future will be from there. Because, it's all I currently read. It's like when Ben was only reading and studying Joshua and EVERY talk or sermon or devotional he ever gave was from the book of Joshua for like 3 years. So, bear with me just like we all did with him.

You'll be able to track my memorizing progress through these blogs. My last post included Phil 1:20, and today we're all the way up to 2:17-18. I'll be through the book by the end of the summer, I'm guessing based on this rate.

Anyway, the point. "Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me."

On Saturday night, as you may have already known - Ben pulled off a massive surprise celebration of the end of this phase of my life with cancer. 15 months of surgery, recovery, birth, recovery, radiation, recovery, and chemo. He managed to get my whole family here (minus one sister-in-law and my nieces), and Matt & Kristy even made the long trip with their three kids to celebrate with us. 

So, I really had no idea this was happening. In fact, I thought I busted Ben a couple of weeks ago when I figured out that Kristy was coming to visit. I even apologized profusely for "ruining the surprise." But then, Saturday morning, people kept coming up from the basement. That I hadn't known were sleeping in my house. Like Mark and even his girlfriend Kim who lives in Texas. And Scott showed up. And I thought I figured out all the surprises. 

But then Ben made me wear a bindfold on the way out to "dinner." Which was really annoying. I wasn't sure where we were until he led me through a door into a building that has a very familiar (not in a great way) smell, and I knew exactly where we were... the AIA Headquarters. 

When he took the blindfold off, the first person I saw was my friend E. And I almost cried because I had spent the whole car ride trying to decide whether or not to tell Ben that he should have invited her to dinner. Then, I saw about a million other familiar faces and a screen up front that said, "Celebrating Susie."

And, I thought, oh no, I have to sit through a dress rehearsal of my funeral. 

But that's not what it was. There was a gorgeous cake, lots of bright and pinterest-y decorations, and soon you couldn't even smell what lives in the walls of the building's basement. It really was a celebration of finishing something. Not the disease, but a long hard stretch of it. Ben and I sat there while some nice and funny people said some nice and funny things, and it really felt more like a sequel to our wedding than a pre-quel to my funeral. 

Even my OB, whom I love, and who delivered Annie said some words and managed to avoid the embarrassing details of my delivery-room fears.

I think my favorite part was my brothers all being there together and speaking. They are at their funniest when they're together, and I'm so dang proud of them and I love showing off my awesome family.  And what about my dad? He's the most amazing school administrator/principal/headmaster/whatever kids are saying these days, but he should probably be a speech writer/speaker/author/preacher to boot.

I tried to express a few thoughts I had at the time, but what I wish I would have said is summed up in Phil 2. Even if I am poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, (Even if, in spite of your combined faith and prayers, I die of a brain tumor) I am glad and rejoice with you all (I am so happy and celebrate with you all who I love and who love me). And you should be happy too, and eat cake and give hugs and get dressed up and go to parties and say nice things. 

Thanks for the great night and a great year!

Oh, and so many of you wrote me beautiful letters that were put together in a beautiful book that I'll get today hopefully and I can't wait to read it. Thank you so, so much!

My mom has been avoiding speaking with me for weeks and successfully kept the surprise a secret.

My brothers at our wedding in 2001. I promised them that if they cooperated with the Indian suits for the ceremony, they could wear what they wanted to the reception. Not sure why they picked these. Rumor has it that they tried to find them for Saturday's party, but that the shirts are missing. 

And, here they are today. Much more fashionable.

E looked beautiful!
Kristy gave everyone the impression that we made a pact in college that she'd go to med school and I'd go to seminary, and because she's a Dr, you might have thought that she kept up her end of the deal. Actually, neither of us have. She has her PhD, but we both need to hit the books again to make good on our promise to fulfill our dreams. But, I think maybe we've moved on to different dreams: Kids, missions work, visiting and cheering for each other's kids at soccer games.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Beginnings of answers, and an invitation to prayer

You know how when you begin praying about something, it sort of seems unlikely that you'll receive an answer, but you pray anyway because you know that's the right thing to do? And, then God surprisingly and gently begins to unfold an answer before you over your whole life, and you have to remind yourself that it's not surprising at all because that's what He said He would do?

Well, I can point to some specific times in my life where that's been the gist of the story. And those times are my most sacred spiritual treasures because they remind me that This. Is. Real. and I haven't conjured up some drama in my mind or fallen victim to a weird mass-mentality thing.

I'd like to share here a letter that our ministry supporters should be receiving in their mailboxes right now. And, then, if you're still here, I'd like to tell you the longer version of the story. And, if in your generous, faithful friendship to us, you'd like to keep checking in, we'd like to answer your questions and bring you a little further into our journey of ministry.

OK, here's the letter:
In a recent web update to you all, I described my feeling of “eager expectation and hope” that was captured so eloquently in Philippians 1. We’ve described to you the process we’ve been through over the past 6 months to determine “what’s next” for our family as far as ministry is concerned. 
To sum it up, you might remember that in July, Ben felt certain that God was leading him to step down from his role as the director of AIA’s Global Leadership Council. This was heart-wrenching for both of us, for a variety of reasons - mostly because in that role we really felt as though we’d found our God-planned “fit” into His work here on earth through Athletes in Action. However, the depth of commitment and the amount of travel the job required was really not possible with the challenges we were facing medically. So, though it hurt, we let it go. It was really a beautiful gift that Ben gave me - to say goodbye to something he loved so that he could love me better. Ben remained insistent that he didn’t need to know what was next in order for him to know it was time to stop - and he lived that conviction with courage. 

But the question - Now What? was a natural one for us and for all of you who have supported us in our ministry. You all (and AIA) have been so gracious in giving us the time to first deal with the challenges facing our family, and then to wait on God before we answered. As we’ve prayed, we’ve been able to clarify a few priorities. This next season of our life together feels like a carefully-wrapped gift. We want to accept it, determined to LIVE, to grow closer together as a family, to LEARN more about God in new ways, and to SERVE some national staff whom we love and respect in a very critical time of their ministry. 

So, it is with eager expectation and hope that we ask you to pray with us about a specific ministry opportunity that we believe God has been leading us towards. What we are considering is moving to Brazil for three years (September 2013-December 2016) to help AIA’s national staff team lead and grow their ministry during a very unique time in their history. At the same time, we will be connecting with many sports ministries who have their eyes on Brazil for the Olympics and World Cup. Also, Ben will be continuing with his Doctor of Ministry, and what he is learning there ties in beautifully with what we see happening in Brazil.

This is timely for us because of my tenuous medical prognosis that seems to be opening a small window of freedom. This is timely for AIA because, for the first time ever, the World Cup of Soccer and the Summer Olympics will be happening in consecutive years in the same country, We also believe this is timely in the history and future of the Church as God continues to work in the Global South to build His Kingdom. I hope it’s clear that this decision is not final. Moving to Praia Grande, Brazil (near Sao Paulo) is what we want and are hoping for. We’ve prayed about it and sought counsel from people who know us well. Now, we’d like to invite you, our ministry partners, to begin to pray with us for God’s continued direction in this decision. There is a small mountain of details that we need your help and advice (and prayer!) in tackling, so we will be updating our website with lots of questions and projects and needs as we move forward. And, if God closes the door on this adventure, we will be sad, but we will be obedient. Please pray for us. 

Oh wait! You have questions! We can predict a few of them: What about medical care? How will you educate your kids? Are you insane? What does your family think?

For now, I’ll just assure you that we’ve asked ourselves all of these questions and have felt God’s gentle assurances. We’ve also begun the careful process of seeking answers, and will do our best to share what we’ve learned. To start, we are confident we are not insane. As far as family goes, I’d hope they’d be a little sad to see us move further away, but they’ve expressed their support and encouragement. However, understanding your potential curiosity, we asked my mom to weigh in. She wrote a letter to you, and we’re posting it on our website for you to read.

Actually, we’re going to try to flesh out several of these things on our website. We send out these prayer letters about every 4-6 weeks, so to stay current, we ask you to go to over the next few weeks as we address some of the following:

The process and mechanics of how we are sent.
Housing - here and there.
Medical care. 

Finally, we (without the kids) are planning to take a vision trip to Brazil next month to begin exploring some of these details in person. Feel free to keep the questions coming (call or email Ben). And thank you for your faithful prayers - you’ve taught me so much.


Ben &  Susie (who just finishied chemo!) Simon, Talya, Charlie, (who are all starting soccer tomorrow) and Annie (who is crawling!)

Now, do you mind if I tell you a longer version of the story? (warning: the "longer version" is really just a way of me saying "I was right!")

In 2003, we went on our first international tour together with AIA to Sao Paulo, Brazil. We helped lead a team of young basketball players, doing clinics, playing games, sharing the gospel, and completing our time with a week-long basketball camp hosted by Atletas em Acao (AIA Brazil). Our time there was so special because it was the beginning of our international experience at AIA, and because it was there we met the staff of Atletas em Acao, and began to fall in love with their families.

While we were playing a game in the beach town of Santos, I - a clueless newlywed - declared to Ben, “I could live here someday!”

Then, on August 6, 2012, on the way to my first radiation treatment, I asked Ben, “If we could live overseas again, where would you want to go?” He said, “North Korea, Pakistan, or Brazil.” So, obviously, Brazil it is! :) 

(You’re welcome, Mom & Dad.)

And speaking of my parents, here's the letter they wrote you, is right over here.

This is a picture of me and Ben on our first trip to Brazil - not too far from where we hope to live - in 2003.  

Monday, April 8, 2013

'Tis so sweet

Well, I don't really have a whole lot to say, but wanted to check in and say hi and let you all know how we're doing. We are back in Ohio after a week in beautiful sunny Cabo, Mexico. I mean, really. We were spoiled by the gift of using a friends' home down there, and sunshine is so good for the soul. We all came home nice and peely-crispy, just as it should be after spring break. While we were there, we realized that it was the first time that just the six of us spent an entire week together. No meetings, doctor appointments, visitors, etc.

(Okay, I do NOT in any way equate the joy of having visitors -especially our great family and friends - with the drudgery and misery of going to the doctor, but it was just that cancer has caused a lot of ins and outs in our home. So, to hang out all day every day with just each other was a rare treat. And, honestly, it would not have been nearly as enjoyable if we'd tried to pull it off in our own house. As it was, there were some moments when there was near bloodshed.)

So, do you want the medical update? I find it ironic that my treatment process is ending in much the same way it began - with us navigating a confusing decision that probably has no right or wrong and has to be made on very little evidence, data or concrete opinion from a doctor.

The good news is that my last MRI was still stable. (Ben probably told you that already). So, standard treatment goes like this: surgery (check), radiation (check), temodar (oral chemo) for six to twelve months. Wait wait wait with lots of MRIs. When the tumor comes back you start the cycle again with some adjustments. So, I've been taking temodar five days a month for five months. I start the sixth cycle tonight. That should be the end, right? Probably, maybe, I guess if we want it to be. Huh? No kidding.

Scientific research basically shows that patients with six months of chemo have better outcomes than patients with zero months of chemo. There has been no testing done to determine if prolonging the treatment improves the outcomes. So, "most patients" take 9-12 months. So, we can do that if we want.

Well who really wants to take pills that knock you out of living life for half the month every month? But who wants to stop taking pills that could keep you living life for more months? 

I THINK this will probably be the end of treatment for me. Neither Ben nor I (Ben or me? Ben or I? Why can't I remember 9th grade grammar anymore? Brain tumor? Mrs. Heath? Help!) are interested in prolonging something that isn't necessarily helpful. But we'll get through this week and see how it affects me and revisit the situation later.

Does this remind anyone of a year ago when we had to decide if we were going to treat my cancer or wait on the baby? With virtually no scientific data on whether or not radiation would harm Annie in utero? Just a lot of "we thinks," and "anything's possibles." 

I love looking at the future through the lens of how I know the story ends - there will be no sickness or sorrow or pain. I also love looking at the future through the lens of how I know it's gone so far - Jesus is so trustworthy. Right now I'm memorizing Philippians. (Which, if you know me well, is a little weird, since Paul kinda rubs me the wrong way. It's fine - we'll work it out in heaven.) Anyways, Philippians 1 has my new favorite gem of a phrase:

"It is my eager expectation and hope..."

Eager expectation and hope. I don't know what will happen but I know that I am eagerly expectant and hopeful. And if Paul can be that way in prison, I can be that way while I down 340 mgs of temozolomide. 

And anyways, I'm still scraping a sunburn off my nose AND my windows are open AND we just celebrated Easter (at a Spanish catholic mass), so it's SPRING. What better season for eager expectation and hope?

'Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus
Just to take him at his word
Just to rest upon His promise
Just to know "Thus sayeth the Lord."
Jesus, Jesus how I trust Him
How I've proved Him o'er and o'er.
Jesus, Jesus, Precious Jesus
Oh for grace to trust Him more!