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.