Sheltering Week Three: Time for SPIES

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Ivan’s students were getting on Daisy’s nerves this week…

We form habits in twenty-one days. Those of us in Northern California are beginning our third week of Shelter-at-Home, which means we’re solidifying our unusual lifestyle. If you live elsewhere, you might be beginning your at-home journey or watching the news and wondering if this chapter will reach you, too. But wherever you fall on the sheltering spectrum, we’ve all had to adjust to social distancing, reduced resources, and potential illness over the past couple of months. Hopefully you’ve been able to build constructive habits to manage our new limitations, but if you’re still looking for some tips, feel free to check out this post.

As much as that post is a great place to start, there’s still more to thriving at home than setting goals, making to-do lists, and working out. Thriving implies holistic wellness, which includes mind, body, and spirit. Ivan learned the SPIES evaluation technique during undergrad at CBU, and I overheard him sharing it with his students this week. I wanted to post it here since it’s a wonderful tool for evaluating holistic wellness and setting positive intentions.

First, give yourself an overall rating in each category on a scale of 1-10.  “1” = “not at all” and “10” = “excellent.” The questions help you understand how to rate yourself and also make your answers more specific.

 

SPIRITUALLY: Am I connecting with God each day? How much?

PHYSICALLY: Am I eating well and hydrating enough? Sleeping? Exercising?

INTELLECTUALLY: Am I challenging myself to learn/grow? How?

EMOTIONALLY: What is my overall attitude like? Why?

SOCIALLY: Am I staying connected/investing in those around me? How?

 

Now that you’ve finished the quiz, go back and pick at least one category you’d like to improve this week. Hopefully this can give some inspiration for Shelter-at-Home Week Three as you keep building positive habits. And as always, stay healthy! 🙂

 

Ready for Shelter-at-Home Week Two?

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Quick photo op before Ivan started “classes!” 🙂

“I can’t! It says my username is already taken!”

“Well, that means you need to make up another one.”

Spying on Ivan’s work life was my favorite part of Shelter-at-Home Week One. 60-minute online classes may be sprints compared to the 90-minute live marathons he runs on “normal” weeks, but even these sprints proved enlightening – especially to my homeschooler’s brain. Equally enlightening were exchanges such as the one above. A simple sequence like downloading an app and creating a new-user account perplexed some junior highers, the generation we’ve labeled hopeless technology addicts.

As to the technology itself, most of Ivan’s classes weren’t exactly Zoom-friendly. The choir kids produced zero appealing sounds during their single attempt to sing into their microphones, and the piano kids logged into class without expecting to actually play the piano. (Some don’t have a keyboard at home.) But “sheltering boredom” played to Ivan’s advantage. Video lectures and group discussions were suddenly much more appealing once students realized Netflix only goes so far in one day. Learning and recreation had effectively swapped places – or at least negotiated a truce.

But what about those of us whose grown-up diplomas are stuffed in tubes or displayed on walls? How did we process our Shelter-at-Home Week One? I’ve noticed three recurring themes as I’ve scrolled my social media feed: Creative indoor activities, rants about the new “rules”, and variants of “In these uncertain times…” As someone who’s “sheltered-at-home” for three and a half years and currently “shelters in bedroom” when Ivan turns on extra lights to teach his classes, I’d like to offer words of encouragement to both inspired and anxious shelter-ers. For those of you stretching your creative limits and spreading your success on social media, keep up the good work! Learning isn’t linked to age or education, and what better time to learn a new skill, recipe, etc., or revisit an old one, than right now? You never know how sharing your experience might encourage someone who is feeling isolated or depressed.

For those who might be feeling overwhelmed by multiplying government orders, distressing news reports, sick loved ones, or just plain loneliness…Our times are certainly uncertain. We’ve grown complacent about wars, natural disasters, and even sickness as long as it’s somewhere else. What makes COVID-19 so disturbing is that it’s right here. But so is God. And God is more certain than any vaccine or treatment plan. If surfing social media feeds your anxiety, perhaps consider stepping away for a couple of days. I ‘ve reduced Instagram/Facebook use during difficult periods of my own recovery journey, and benefited from each break. There are plenty of other ways to connect with loved ones (think texting, phone calls, and Skype or FaceTime) that don’t expose you to negativity. But no matter how you opt to keep in touch with family and friends, make sure to keep in touch with God first. Praying and memorizing encouraging Bible verses are great places to start!

Whether you’re working, studying, or exploring new ways to invest your time at home…Wishing you a safe and healthy Shelter-at-Home Week Two! ❤

 

If you’re not a Christian but you’re curious about what it means to trust God, you can find out more here.

 

COVID-19: Hunker Down Like a Pro

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Ivan took an art class for teachers shortly before VCS closed last week 🙂

I climbed out of bed reveling in the glorious “Ahh” feeling that accompanies any Spring Break, much less a Spring Break that magically produces a stay-at-home husband. But my “perfect break” reminds me just how un-perfect this week – most likely these next several weeks – will be for most of us. San Jose was put into “Shelter at Home” status starting at 12 am this morning due to COVID-19. For those of you living in areas that are less impacted by the virus, “Shelter at Home” means we have to stay inside our homes except for essential activities like buying groceries, caring for relatives and pets, etc. School, work, church, and other social activities are canceled…hence my stay-at-home husband. (For the record, he is still teaching his classes online 😉 )

Being trapped indoors for several weeks sounds daunting – perhaps even terrifying, depending on your baseline activity or anxiety level. However, I’ve been “trapped” indoors for around three and a half years due to my neurological disabilities and I’ve learned plenty of tricks to keep my days not just full, but meaningful. Some of these I learned in occupational therapy, some I learned from managing online school, and some I learned from plain ol’ trial and error. Hopefully they can help y’all relax and view this time as an opportunity instead of an obstacle.

  • Make a plan. I was never a to-do list sort of girl before my accident, but I quickly became one afterward. Writing out a list of things to accomplish each day keeps you from feeling bored and also gives you a mood jolt every time you cross something off your list. “There’s nothing to do” is a dangerous slogan. There’s always something to do if you look hard enough. Besides, the more you say something, the more likely you are to believe it.
  • Set goals. This goes hand-in-hand with your daily to-do list but is more fun since it gives you concrete markers to aim for. Is there a book you’ve been wanting to read? Give yourself a certain number of days to finish it, then schedule a certain amount of reading time into each day. What about that Spring Cleaning project you’ve been threatening to start? Now’s the perfect time! The great part about being inside for a few weeks is that you don’t have to tackle everything all at once unless you want to. Instead, you can spread projects over multiple days by scheduling just a chunk of time per project per day. The important part is to stay consistent. Ready for the fun part about goal-setting? REWARDS! True, your reward bank might be a tad limited at the moment, but I bet you still have some rewards you can enjoy when you meet your goals. Or, if you really want something exotic, make another list of rewards to enjoy once you can go out again.
  • Stay active. This is a HUGE one for me. I have to exercise around an hour a day due to residual physical deficits, but did you know the average adult needs 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 times per week? None of us will be going to the gym any time in the near future, but you can find plenty of exercise videos on YouTube. For those of us who are fans of walking or running on the treadmill, Spotify has exercise playlists organized by BPM. I’m trying the 140 BPM playlist for at-home walking (I can’t run)…my only disclaimer is I’d be careful about this option if you live on the second floor of an apartment complex! And friendly reminder, “Shelter at Home” doesn’t mean you can’t go on an outdoor walk by yourself or with a family member. Fresh air is always the best medicine…just stay away from strangers while you’re taking it! 😉
  • Set time limits. This one is both a “do” and a “don’t.” Scheduling activities to occur at certain points throughout your day and deciding how much time you will spend on each of them is a great way to make time fly. I’m frequently surprised at how quickly the time passes between my alarm ringing at 5:40 am (thank you, Ivan!) and my medication alert clattering at 5:30 pm. That being said, it’s a good idea to set limits on screen time as well. Vacations are notorious for Netflix and gaming binges, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. But we’re in this for a lot more than one week, and staring at screens for hour upon hour as you lounge on a lumpy couch is NOT good for your mind and body. So, enjoy your “guilty” pleasures but set a timer on your phone and make sure you’re getting up to stretch or…ahem…exercise. Even wiser would be investing an equal or greater amount of time interacting with those around you and exercising your mind through activities like reading or learning something new (podcasts are a great place to start!)

These are just a few of the tips and tricks I’ve discovered over the past few years. Feel free to comment below or on Facebook if you have some of your own that you’d like to share. It’s true that we’re in for a difficult few weeks, but I also think it’s an excellent opportunity to practice “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:16).

 

 

Care Given to Caregiver

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This past week Ivan finally got some much-anticipated pho…it was pho-nomenal 😉

12:25 am. Harp glissandos fill the darkness – my alarm is ringing. I linger for a moment as I try to focus my eyes  before sitting up and groping for my phone in an attempt to silence the harps before they crescendo to an obnoxious fortissimo. Ivan is due for his next dose of Hycet at 12:30, followed by another at 4:30. I’m not qualified to administer either dose – it requires pouring an exact amount of the potent liquid into a tiny syringe, and I can’t even feel my left hand, much less help him push the narcotic from the syringe into his jaws, which are wired shut. The first night I spilled his medicine all over the bathroom sink, and surgeons are loath to refill medications that are hallucinatory and potentially addictive. I should know. I’ve been on it myself. But Ivan used to wake up not two, but three times a night to care for me, and he’s been my primary caregiver for the past three years. And so I insist on giving him his Hycet. Just as I flip on the bathroom light and begin squinting at the bottle and the syringe (and praying I drop neither), I hear a soft knock on our bedroom door. Mom and Dad pad in softly, bleary-eyed and concerned. Mom supervises me as I administer the medicine, and Dad will spot Ivan to the bathroom if necessary. They’ll be back for the 4:30 dose, too. The truth is that as much as I wish I could help Ivan on my own – even for just one task – I can’t.

I think that’s what I’ve come to appreciate (if that word is remotely applicable) about these past two months. It takes my brain longer to begin sorting traumatic experiences than most people’s, but I’m coming to realize that my stress as a temporary caregiver is a fraction of what Ivan and my family have faced for the past three years. True, I’m also more physically and mentally limited than they are, but I think the application is the same: no caregiver is an island, and no care given is as straightforward as it appears. At first I was embarrassed that Mom and Dad got up to check on me every time I administered Ivan’s midnight meds: cue me wasting an entire dose by spilling it in the sink. Plus, as I haven’t admitted until typing this very post, I take so much “sleepy” neurological medication myself that I easily could have slept through one of his doses. I can’t cook, I can’t drive, and I can’t do heavy housework, so my daytime “contributions” while we stayed with my parents involved sweeping, folding laundry, managing schedules, and keeping tabs on Ivan’s daytime needs (although my ability to meet those needs varied). As I watched my family work cheerfully with and around me every day, I realized they and Ivan had already been doing that for the past three years. I hope I’ve always understood that caregiving is a gargantuan enterprise, but I know I’ve never comprehended how relentless it feels, even for a few weeks.

God created humans to function in community, and while each member of my family contributed their part to the big picture, none of us was independently sufficient for this trial – especially me. Even we as a family unit weren’t completely sufficient, and remain incredibly grateful to all those who stepped in and provided resources when we found ourselves stretched too thin. I know this post reprises events from Ivan’s accident that we’ve shared before, but I wanted to contribute some final thoughts as a “care receiver” who tried on the role of “caregiver,” if only for a few weeks:

“A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” ~ Ecclesiastes 4:12

Beyond the Bite

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“I’ve missed you…”

 

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21

Happy Valentine’s Eve everyone! When I posted my last blog post on January 19, Grace and I were still staying at her parents’ house and our plan was to not move back home until I could chew again, which wouldn’t happen till my arch bar was removed. At that time, we were still working with Kaiser to set a date for that procedure, so we thought we had at least another two weeks with Grace’s parents. We ended up moving back to our apartment the next day.

Among the many obstacles Grace has to face every day are the lingering effects of her traumatic brain injury (TBI) which she picked up at the time of her accident. TBI comes in many shapes and forms, but since Grace’s is in her frontal lobe, her symptoms include difficulty with executive functions including planning, decision making, and emotional processing, among others. You can imagine how hard these past few weeks have been for her after my accident on December 15, when she had to care for her caregiver.

The morning of January 20 proved to be a turning point for Grace; as hard as her family had been working to care for both of us, Grace’s brain needed to return to her apartment, the place it was most familiar with and in which Grace could best function. This development took all of us by surprise, and required some problem-solving to figure out how to maintain my recovery diet now that we were in two locations. Grace’s family has continued doing everything they can to help us settle back into our “normal” pre-jawbreaking routine. Thank you guys!

It took Kaiser about another two weeks after our move to finally schedule my arch bar removal, which took place last Friday, February 7. I had originally opted for using anesthesia for the procedure, but ended up choosing the non-anesthesia route in order to gain three days of appointment scheduling. Looking back, I’d have stuck with the anesthesia option; but the procedure worked out, and I got to enjoy an In-N-Out double-double with grilled onions, mustard fried, with animal fries and a chocolate shake, the next day (I had to cut up the burger, but it turns out deconstructed In-N-Out is still amazing).

The days following my procedure were eventful, to say the least. On Saturday, Grace’s sister Anna got engaged to her now-fiancé Robert! We are so happy and excited for them and can’t wait for them to embark on this new chapter of life. Talk about a pre-Valentine’s Day surprise!

This past Monday my ENT doctor confirmed that my right ear canal is healed. Praise God! However, I have since developed multiple sores on my gums and tongue as a reaction to my arch bar removal. One of my maxillofacial doctors has prescribed a special mouthwash, so hopefully that will help, since the sores have actually prevented me from eating and talking normally.

They say life is a rollercoaster, and it feels like Grace and I just traversed a section of the track full of loops and drops and unexpected turns. But the final destination is more than worth it! Thank you all as always so much for your prayers and support. We mean that more every time we say it. God blesses us through you, and we continue to pray that God would use all of us to reflect His light into a world that needs it.

To Chew or Not to Chew

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Throwback to when I wore bunny rabbit ice packs after my jaw surgery!

 

Hi everyone! Happy Sunday 🙂 Fun fact: Grace’s family are ardent Packers fans, and as I type this the Packers-49ers game has just started. Where does my football allegiance lie? With Arsenal FC.

Yes, it’s been rough going for several (read “many”) years for us Gunners fans, but who knows…

Anyway, here are some updates on my jaw recovery:

Last Monday was my first day back at VCS. Although I’m not teaching classes yet, I’m spending more and more time at school and in the classrooms. My coworkers at school have gone above and beyond to make accommodations for my recovery. Thanks guys! 🙂

Last Thursday I had a follow-up appointment with my surgeon, who said that despite the severity of my fractures my recovery is progressing surprisingly well! Praise God. I still can’t chew, so smoothies and blended meals are still the order of the day, but hopefully in two weeks or so I’ll have a procedure to remove the metal wiring in my mouth (in my gums, actually) and return to the Land of Solid Food. No visas required.

Also, at a previous follow-up appointment my ENT doctor confirmed that my right eardrum is ok! When I fell my jawbone punctured my ear canal outside the eardrum, which is why I was bleeding out of my ear, but the eardrum itself is ok. I am very thankful for this outcome especially as a musician and music teacher.

So between now and the procedure in about two weeks, my surgeon gave me a jaw stretching exercise to regain full range of motion. I’ll continue to work on building up stamina so that I can return to full-capacity at work. Our current plan is to stay with Grace’s parents until I’m back to regular food.

Grace and her family are tired but doing ok, still taking care of me cheerfully and willingly! Grace is still dealing with seizures and migraines, and a heavy workload from school, but she continues to demonstrate incredible inner and outer strength and beauty every day. She inspires me and I learn so much from her!

Thank you all as always for your prayers and support. God brings us into each other’s lives so that we can encourage one another and spur each other on to good deeds. May God continue to shape us to become more like Jesus each day!

Speaking of speaking…

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Thanks so much to some young friends for these fabulous cards! 🙂

 

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!

Post-Surgery Update

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So Anna bought Ivan that shirt…

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.

Tis the Season for Asking “Why?”

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A season of liquid only does have some rewards…

“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.

Pre-Surgery Update

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Ivan in one of the rare moments when he’s not hibernating..

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