Hi everyone, thanks so much for your prayers! These past few weeks have been interesting, to say the least, but I am at a point where I hope I can write to you all (somewhat) coherently 🙂 .
My recovery is progressing on schedule. Praise God! I just finished my first round of post-ops, and the results are surprisingly positive. All the doctors I’ve seen have commented on the severity of my jaw fractures–not to mention my concussion, loose teeth, and punctured ear canal–so I am very thankful that the surgery on December 23 went well, and that so far I am hitting all my recovery milestones on time. Also…I can now talk! My jaw is no longer wired shut, so speech is back. But I still can’t chew for another month, so my daily nutrition consists of smoothies, shakes, and blended foods. I may be marginally responsible for any recent increases in Jamba Juice stock.
Thank you so much for all the tangible and intangible expressions of love my family and I have received from all of you! Grace and I are still staying at her parents’ house, and despite the exhaustion of caring for me and helping Grace, we have all been lifted up by your care and generosity. From the prayers, messages, cards, gifts, and food, to the overall encouragement and well-wishes–thank you! Truly the Body of Christ is a wonderful thing to be a part of.
Grace and I will continue to keep you all updated as we can. Grace has resumed her online Master’s degree after her Christmas break, and I will start to ease back into my responsibilities as I am able throughout these upcoming weeks. Happy New Year to everyone, and may God be glorified more and more through us as we move forward this year!
Thank you for your continued prayers this week! Ivan’s surgery went very well. The procedure lasted two hours, and the surgeon was able to reset Ivan’s jaw without inserting any permanent hardware, which was our best-case scenario. His jaw is wired completely shut for the first two weeks, which means he’s limited to a liquid diet and “talking” through the Google translate app on his iPhone. (Any advice on how to switch “her” voice to a man’s voice would be greatly appreciated!! 😉 ) The surgeon will loosen the wires on January 3rd so Ivan can talk a little and eat some thick liquids. If everything continues healing correctly, Ivan should have the surgical “braces” removed in around four weeks and then begin jaw therapy to regain normal range of motion.
Ivan also has a follow up with an ENT surgeon on January 6th, which is when we hope to learn the extent of the injury to his right ear. Ivan’s inner ear was too swollen and obstructed by the jaw fracture for doctors to be able to get a clear view after the accident, but they believe he will have healed enough by January 6th for them to diagnose the original injury and decide if there is anything further that needs to be done.
Ivan’s been a trooper this whole Christmas week. He has yet to offer one word of complaint – either about the pain, the diet, or the restricted talking – and he also remembers to type “thank you” into his phone and be concerned about what’s convenient for us in spite of his high levels of pain. As a connoisseur of pain and the one who manages his pain medications, let me assure you…his pain is real.
I’d like to close this post with a giant thank you to our families. My family stepped in before I’d even discovered there was a problem that night, and they’ve been God’s hands and feet ever since. Changing Ivan’s bandages, preparing liquid “meals,” taking care of our apartment so I can stay with him, getting us to and from Kaiser, waking up in the middle of the night just to make sure I’ve woken up and given him his pain meds…this list really deserves its own blog post. Ivan’s parents have been here as much as they can to visit and encourage their son, and have brought him plenty of comfy clothes that can fit over his head, as well as broth and bottles and bottles of Ensure (at the top of the ever-shortening list of things he can actually eat). And finally, thank you, our church and blogging families. We learned three years ago that caregiving in the wake of an accident is a full-time job, and your acts of service have freed us to focus on Ivan’s needs in ways that would not have been possible were we doing this on our own. Thank you for taking time out of your own busy holidays to minister to us!
On behalf of the Utomo-Crosby’s, we hope you’ve had a Merry Christmas, and we’re thankful for all the love and prayers that brightened our own Christmas this year. Praise God for a positive surgery outcome, and we’ll continue to keep you updated after Ivan’s post-ops at the end of next week.
“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)
I don’t know how much pain was coursing through Ivan’s body after he woke in a pool of his own blood on our bathroom floor, but I do know it produced a very abnormal reaction. His first response wasn’t to care for himself. It was to care for me. Most people with Ivan’s injuries would have been too disoriented to think straight or to care much about anything even if they could. Ivan was not only thinking straight, but he was opting for the slowest possible route to the hospital so that I wouldn’t wake up. He worried that if I found him covered in blood I would panic, turn on the wrong light, and possibly have a seizure. So he did what I could never have done. He remained completely silent, texted Dad what had happened, and also told him NOT to call back so I wouldn’t wake up. Then he grabbed paper towels and began cleaning up in case I did wake up and check on him.
I knew Ivan had been feeling sick, but I was puzzled when I heard a thud, then silence, then scrubbing when he headed for the bathroom that night. I decided that he must not have made it to the toilet in time, but I finally got up to investigate when the scrubbing went on longer than it should have. I was horrified to find him seated by the bathtub, blood running out of his right ear and down the front of his clothes. It was not until later that I realized the clean bathroom floor under my feet on was the result of the past twenty minutes of scrubbing. When I asked him what happened, he only shook his head and pointed to a string of text messages on his phone. I could deduce from the texts that Ivan had fallen, that he thought he’d damaged his ear drum, and that Dad would probably arrive in around five minutes. What I couldn’t understand was why Ivan wouldn’t talk to me. The truth was that he didn’t want me to realize his mouth was full of blood. He finally managed to request some clean clothes, but as I scrambled into our bedroom I felt myself starting to get queasy from the trickles of blood I had seen. I’ve never done well around injuries, and I still get light-headed even after my own accident. Get yourself together, I thought. There’s something very wrong with Ivan and all you have to find is socks. Think of everything he’s done for you over the past three years. Just as I started blacking out, I felt Ivan beside me. “You’re going to vomit,” he forced out between clenched teeth. “Sit down in closet. I’ll get socks.” He’d come looking for me.
Ivan had fully clothed himself by the time my parents arrived at our apartment a few minutes later. I was still in the closet, trying not to be sick. The last thing I heard before Dad ushered him into the hall was Ivan telling Mom to go find me in the closet.
After three years of December crises – first my accident, then generalized seizures, and now Ivan’s surgery this afternoon – I’ll admit to being a little jaded by the season that celebrates “Peace on earth, good will to men” and “God with us.” But reflecting on the accident story above also makes me wonder if it’s a micro picture of what the Christmas season is all about. Those well-known phrases portray Christ as our ultimate caregiver-redeemer, a role that cost that baby in a manager a lifetime of humanity and culminated in torture on a cross. No flawed human illustration could claim any real parallel with the miraculous story of our salvation. But as I fight the urge to ask “Why?” while waiting for the man who’s cared for me the past three years to go into surgery this afternoon, I have to thank God for reminding me about the gritty side of Christmas. Christmas came at an unknowable cost to Christ. And though my family’s Christmases feel unreasonably painful from a human perspective, I’m thankful that they remind me of the priceless eternal life bought by that baby in a manger.
Hi everyone! Thank you for all your prayers and support over the past few days. I can’t tell you how encouraging every gift, comment, message, or text has been to us all!
Here’s what we know so far about Ivan’s injuries. He sustained severe fractures to his upper right TMJ in two places. One of the pieces that broke off appears to have punctured his right ear canal and may also have damaged to his right ear drum. The ear diagnoses are approximations based on his CAT scan and a partial visual exam. There is too much swelling and residual blood to see all the way into the ear, so we will have to wait till the TMJ fractures begin healing to know for sure. Ivan also fractured his jaw on the lower right hand side, but this fracture is less serious. There is some dental damage is well but, like the ear, this will be difficult to determine until his jaw has begun healing.
Ivan is scheduled for jaw surgery on Monday morning (the 23rd). The surgery is quite significant but it should be noninvasive if it goes as planned. Nevertheless, there is a chance they may have to place a small piece of hardware in the lower jaw depending on how things go in the operating room. Recovery time will also be hard to predict before we get to Monday. We will be living with my parents for the next couple of weeks since my own disabilities prevent me from giving him the care he needs round the clock.
As for Ivan, he has not complained once about the pain, nausea, dressing changes, or liquid diet…or the fact that those aren’t going away any time soon. Just thought y’all should know. 😉
As always, we greatly appreciate your prayers as we trust in God’s larger purpose for this trial.
“So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” ` 2 Cor. 4:18
Hello, blogging family. Today I’m writing a post I never thought I’d write. Today I’m writing to ask for prayer because Ivan had an accident of his own.
Ivan picked up a stomach bug over the weekend and fainted around 2 am Sunday morning, fracturing two bones in his jaw and puncturing his right ear drum. Dad rushed him to the ER around 2:15 am, and he was discharged later that morning to rest at home and follow up with an ENT specialist today. It appears Ivan will need surgery to reset the fractures in his jaw, but we aren’t yet sure to what extent or who will perform the procedure. These are the major points we hope to cover in his appointment. He is being incredibly brave, and it makes me incredibly sad to watch the man who has stood by me through thick and thin go through something even I can’t imagine.
For now, we greatly appreciate your prayers! I will keep you posted as we learn more, and will also share a longer post with his full accident story after things quiet down.
Also, a giant THANK YOU to my family who have moved us to their condo and are helping care for Ivan (read “doing all the tough jobs”) until he’s more stable. We’d be lost without them!
Sometimes it’s harder to write this than others, but I know God is good and this is still part of His good plan for us.
Dear friends, today marks three years since December 3, 2016, when God allowed a rogue driver to drastically change the course of our lives. In preparation for this post, Grace asked me if we are where I thought we’d be three years out from the accident. She asked me how I felt at the three year mark, and where we see ourselves going from here. My initial response to her questions was, “I don’t know.”
When something as terrible as Grace’s accident happens, the stakes in life suddenly get much higher. The balance between “needs” and “wants” shifts pretty dramatically and almost all your time and energy becomes devoted to keeping the boat afloat. At least something like that has been my experience. Have I had time to pause and feel what the accident has been like? Yes and no. I wouldn’t describe myself as shutting out the painful feelings associated with hardship, but at the same time my experience has been one focused mostly on just trusting God to get me and Grace through each day.
Wake up, go to work, go home and help Grace, do my own doctoral schoolwork, sleep.
The reason I don’t know if we are where I thought we would be at the three year mark is that Grace’s recovery has not followed a typical upward trajectory. To be sure, we went through the initial critical phase and have long since been in the plateau phase; but Grace has had some unexpected seizure developments during that plateau, and we are still working with neurologists to get a better understanding of what is going on with her brain and what we can do about it.
Where do I see us going in the next five, ten years? Health-wise, who knows. Hopefully we can continue to tweak Grace’s medication so that she won’t have a seizure every time she encounters a bright or flashing light. Lifestyle-wise, both Grace and I are in school, so I would look forward to finishing our degrees as our next significant life goal.
As difficult as the past three years have been, I wouldn’t change a thing about them. Not because I wouldn’t rather have had an easier, more pleasant time; but because God’s always in control and His plans are always best. Hard times do have a way of helping you realize just how much you need to rely on God and His help.
So if I could share, here are some reflections from the past three years:
The accident was not an accident. God is Sovereign, and everything He does is for His glory and the ultimate good of His children (Rom 8:28).
Human understanding is frightfully limited; God’s understanding is limitless. The “accident” didn’t change the course of Grace’s life as God had planned it; it only changed our understanding of how we thought Grace’s life should go (Prov 16:9).
No one is entitled to an easy life. In fact, Jesus promised us that we would have trouble on earth (John 16:33). But Jesus also reminded us that He has overcome the world with its many sorrows and troubles.
We all know there must be a greater good out there. The brokenness of this world serves as a cosmic sign pointing toward the redemption offered to us by God (Rom 8:19-24).
This life is short; Heaven has no time limits. All the suffering we experience now cannot be quantified against the infinite goodness of living in perfect harmony with God and those who have accepted His gift of eternal life (Rom 8:18).
We could go on and on about God’s boundless goodness, mercy, and grace. The more I reflect on these things the more grateful I am that God would love us enough to care for our eternal wellbeing so passionately. He didn’t leave us to suffer; He took on our suffering and made something beautiful out of it (Isaiah 53:5).
Friends, we are grateful for your prayers and support thus far and can’t wait to keep moving forward with all of you. Please know that Grace and I also pray for you, that God would help all of us serve Him well and bear faithfully the tasks He has entrusted to each of us during our time on earth. Our prayer is that God would continue to renew our hearts and minds each day so that we will better know Him and understand His purposes throughout both the big and little moments of this life (Phil 3:8-10).
Remember, the battle has already been won! Rest in that truth, and don’t forget to let others know! 🙂
Hi everyone! I can’t believe that it’s already time for Winter Break. My first quarter at SCAD was the hardest academic quarter I’ve ever encountered, but I’m grateful that it ended better than I was expecting. I should also be grateful that God popped my ego bubble before it floated too high, but I’m not that spiritually mature yet.
My first class was “Freelance Writing for Publication,” and covered researching and writing magazine articles. While most of the ten weeks was devoted to writing a variety of articles, one of our final units involved creating a professional website. I built a site but I delayed publishing until Mom got back from Europe. I needed a good head shot, and her iPhone generated much better photos than mine could.
Once she was un-jetlagged, we celebrated Mom’s return and my last day of school with a photo shoot in Willow Glen. The crisp air, morning light, and gorgeous leaves over-delivered – as did Mom’s camera. We only had about twenty minutes before my migraine took over, but those were more than adequate to capture what we needed.
They say you have to take about 50 pictures to get a couple of good ones, and we may have gone overboard since my family isn’t exactly photogenic and I did get hit by a car. You can imagine my delight when I scrolled our selection and discovered that the number of “keepers” was surprisingly high. Somehow, in spite of being on too much medication, living mostly in the dark, and having way too many seizures, I was looking pretty good. Mom took it one step further and said I looked like a model.
And then Ivan called at lunch.
Few husbands call their wives every single day, which is one more reason Ivan is about as perfect as anyone gets this side of Heaven. My phone rings at 11:20, I ask how his classes are going, he answers vaguely with something like “Pretty normal,” and then I start prying. But I sensed something was different this past Friday when Ivan brought up his classes before I could ask.
“So, umm, some of my junior highers found the blog.”
“Really? That’s great!”
“Well, I’m not so sure…it has lots of stuff on it and… ”
“Come on, I always post nice stuff about you! Maybe it’ll help them see you a role model.”
“Well, which ones were they looking at?”
“They found the one about you being a newt.”
For those of you who don’t remember, the “Newt Post” came after I was hospitalized at Redwood City for a 24 hour EEG. It begins with the famous Monty Python quote and a picture where I look very much like a newt, then progresses to a picture of me looking partially dead after having had 23 seizures in a row, then concludes with another picture of me looking like a newt. At least I’m smiling in the newt ones. The Newt Post is also from July 2018. All my visions of a professional website were immediately replaced by images of junior high boys nudging each other and air-dropping links to the post on their school iPads. Post-Millennial note-passing at its finest.
“How did they make it back that far??? We don’t even have a table of contents.”
“I don’t know. All I’m telling you is they did.”
“Well, did you tell them to stop?”
“Of course. But you know I can’t control what happens outside of class. Besides, you did post that. ”
He was right. I did post those pictures. I’ve posted lots of embarrassing pictures of myself during my post-accident journey, but I’ve always assigned them a higher purpose than comic relief. Then again, who am I to stipulate how and when God can use what I post?
In a masterful stroke of Providence, the website is still not live and Ivan’s efforts to convince his students that Mrs. Utomo looks and acts pretty normal just took a giant step backward. I haven’t had the heart to check how many recent hits that Newt post has gotten. But I do hope my heart is in a better place than it was this time last week. Blogging should be an act of faith, both in what I choose to share and in where it ends up.
“Stop, kids, stop!” Ivan never shouts, but he did this weekend. We were spectators in our own nightmare: a vacant crosswalk, a “WALK” pedestrian light, an oncoming car. This time the pedestrians were two pre-teen girls. But this time Ivan was there.
Oddly enough, we were at that intersection because I’d been hit by a car three years ago. Grad school ensures I’m mentally exhausted every day, but relegation to a tiny apartment grates on my soul eventually, and outings provide my main emotional release. The intersection of Daylight Savings Time with my neurological impediments demands these excursions take place before 4 pm, which has been tricky with my parents’ recent vacation and Ivan’s hectic schedule. Hence my cabin fever and our decision to give me one last espresso shot before another week indoors. This outing was questionable since I was in the middle of a migraine spike, but I decided 20 minutes of fresh air and sunshine was worth it if we got my coffee to-go.
We heard the sirens before the police car rounded the bend on Raleigh road.
I closed my eyes to avoid the lights.
Looking back, this was the grace of God. I don’t think I could have watched the scene unfold, especially since it was too close to my own. Like me, the girls were exiting their apartment complex. They were following the traffic signal. Unlike me, they saw the car coming, but what were they supposed to do? We always tell kids to get out of the way when police turn on their sirens. If the girls ran back, there were cars. If they tried to dart to the other side, they’d be running directly into the police car’s path. True, officers are supposed to scan intersections for pedestrians, but these girls were tiny and would be easy to miss. Ivan also says they looked frazzled. What if they froze, then dashed in front of the oncoming car too late? Thankfully they hesitated in front of our Yaris long enough for Ivan to shout for them to stop. Whether his voice penetrated the thin windshield (very possible given the number of times it’s cracked), or God reached down and held the girls in place, we’ll never know. What we do know is they stopped.
I opened my eyes as we made the U-turn and continued on our way to Peet’s. Unlike my story, there would be no ambulance blocking that U-turn for the rest of the afternoon, no frantic families searching for their children. The two girls were giggling as they turned into the shopping center across from our complex. I wondered if they even realized what almost happened. It occurred to me that their fragile bodies would have been even less likely to survive that impact than mine had been.
Both Ivan and I were silent for most of the way to Peet’s. We briefly discussed if he could have done anything differently. No, not really. Honking was too dangerous. That might have spurred them forward into the police car’s path. Rolling down the window might have been too slow. Ultimately it was a split second of action, and the result was in God’s hands. Neither of us asked the weightier questions. Was there a split second of action in my story? Did anyone reach out? Call out? The security camera’s footage suggests not. Why? Why had I been alone? We’ll never know. What we do know is that, like those girls, my story is in God’s hands. “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” ~ Job 1:21
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of the times” is the opening line to one of my favorite Victorian novels, A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens. My curiosity was piqued when I spotted the line parodied on one of Dad’s writing manuals last spring. Blogging was a weekly staple, and I had begun browsing my journals for ideas to include in the accident bookI dreamed of writing. I’d been housebound from seizures for five months. If it was “the worst of times” as far as my lifestyle went, then maybe it was the “best of times” to brush up on my sentences.
God must have thought it was the best of times to begin more than a sentence overhaul. The manual was written by a copy editor; as I read her anecdotes, I found myself wondering if I could do a similar type of job. Then I thought of my plan to write my own book. Why couldn’t I learn from other writers by editing their work? I used to edit dissertations and scholarly papers while I worked at my old job, after all. When I Googled “copy editor” I discovered that anyone who wanted any sort of legitimate editing job needed at least a BA in English. Yikes. That I did not have. Still, I’d fantasized about studying literature for a long time. Wasn’t dovetailing my fantasy with a practical skillset a good reason to return to school? Having something to do while I was stuck at home reinforced this was the best of times for a scholastic endeavor. Ivan and I couldn’t find a “worst of times” counterargument.
We had no idea that BA in English would lead to an MFA in creative writing instead of part-time work as an editor. I’d like to think my sentences are pretty spiffy at this point – at least compared to the ones I was writing in 2018. But I’ve also been shocked to realize the difference between dashing off weekly blog posts and writing seriously at the graduate level. In the past eight weeks, God’s taken me from trusting my writing instincts, to scrutinizing my competence, to sighing in relief every time I submit an assignment at a somewhat decent level. God seems to have decided this quarter is the “best of times” to lead me into a season that’s not the “worst of times,” but is definitely an uncomfortable time. And this new uncomfortable time is reminding me that success is not the point of my daily life. Yes, I have to feel awkward and insecure as a writer before I can grow as a writer. But the truth is that no matter what the earthly payoff for my earthly pursuits might be, God calls me to a higher pursuit. Worshiping God and cultivating my walk with Him should matter more to me than getting good grades or being published one day.
God’s method of initiating my writing adventure and refocusing my attention on Him as I continue that adventure is unconventional, to say the least. It’s amazing that the opening line of my favorite novel and the title of a random book at my parents’ condo launched an academic journey that will end in 2023, and a writing journey that I hope will continue for many years after that. As for my spiritual journey, I am certain that will require a lifetime.
Hello, blogging family! The first fall weather of the San Jose year had our apartment smelling like cornbread and chili all week, and I selected this moment to write so I’m not tasting the pumpkin bread as it cools off. (No, curious minds, I’m not a baker. Trader Joe’s has wonderful mixes and Ivan is a wonderful helper in his spare time.)
This past month was not just the first month of Fall for everyone who doesn’t live in California. This past month was also my first month of graduate school. Last October I got a nagging curiosity about going to grad school after my English degree. I tried to talk myself out of that insanity: I have a brain injury even if you ignore the other neurological drama. Still, the thought wouldn’t go away. Ivan and I began praying about the idea and I started researching graduate schools. Not two weeks later, one of my CBU professors who didn’t know about my accident at the time, wrote me to ask if I was interested in continuing my education. We took that as God’s confirmation that my grad school idea wasn’t so insane after all.
I compiled a list of potential schools and decided to target two degrees: an MA in literature and an MFA in creative in writing. The MA in literature was a realistic choice since it was a standard degree in an area I enjoyed, and my CBU faculty felt confident I could get accepted to some good programs. The MFA in creative writing was a long shot. While “MFA” stands for “Master’s in Fine Arts,” it’s a terminal degree and is only called a masters because there’s no foreign language requirement. Furthermore, CBU only offers one creative writing course, so applying to MFA programs meant I’d have to submit work I’d done outside of school. I added a couple of MFA’s to my list because creative writing was my dream, but prepared to do an MA in literature.
My longest of the MFA long shots was the Savannah College of Art and Design. Yes, they are located in Savannah, GA, and yes, my family is from Savannah. But SCAD is also home to one of the top online MFAs in the country. Their program is 90 units long, and their thesis requirement is a publishable manuscript. I applied because – well, why not? But I knew my odds were scanty and went back to filling out the other applications on my list. You can imagine my surprise when my acceptance letter arrived three days after Christmas.
School started on September 6th, and I can honestly say I feel like I got hit by a….oh wait, I did. 😉
I haven’t been stretched this far by something I love since I left Eastman, and I do find myself working for around 7 hours every day just to keep up. But I love it! It’s a blessing and a wakeup call to learn from excellent faculty and classmates who are more experienced than I am. After all, the best way to improve is interacting with people who are farther along than you are.
I’m very grateful to God for a blessing that I called insane this time last year, and I’m thankful to my parents and Ivan for all the extra study time and encouragement they give me every day. Can’t wait to see where this next path will lead!