Falling Forward

We probably drank way too much boba this summer…

It’s hard to believe tomorrow will be the first day of Fall! This summer has certainly been a season of “various and sundry trials,” to quote the book of James. The NorCal fires swept through San Jose in August, and many of us are facing other challenges, from racial tension to COVID-19 uncertainty, regardless of where we live. But whatever we’re facing, we can be sure our trials are not accidental. God never gives us more difficulties than He gives us the strength to overcome, and they’re hand-designed to help us look more like Him. So with that in mind, I’d like to take a moment and share some updates as we head into a new season.

For those of you who’ve been following our housing situation, Ivan and I are  still living with my parents. Our new condo was originally set to be completed in November, but some of the crew contracted COVID-19 and the updated completion date has been pushed back to March. This is wildly different from what we envisioned when we purchased the unit in July (and when my parents agreed to let us crash in their spare bedroom for “a couple of months”), but we’re grateful Mom and Dad are graciously accommodating the delay, and we trust that God’s timing is perfect. Also, all three kitties have finally negotiated a satisfactory truce after 3+ weeks of squabbling.

On a more exciting note, I’m beginning the second year of my MFA in creative writing. I remember beginning online classes for my BA in English back in May 2018 (in spite of medical concerns that school would be too tiring), so it’s pretty crazy to think that I’ve already made it through my first year of grad school. I still have 3.5 more years to go since the MFA is the writer’s equivalent of a doctorate (it’s 90 units long), but one year still feels like a significant milestone. And speaking of doctorates, Ivan is beginning the third year of his EdD. He doesn’t have a hard “end date” since he had to take a short break after his accident, but we’re hopeful that he can finish somewhat on time. (It’s about a 3 year degree). I’m very grateful for everything God is enabling him to accomplish in spite of taking care of me, overcoming his own setback, and working full time! 

This summer also brought several health milestones. July marked two years from my last in-patient hospitalization and one year from my last ER trip, which I think we can agree are GIANT positives. August also marked one year since I finished my time at Stanford’s neuroscience center. I spent twenty-four weeks at that clinic since it’s one of the top research centers for my type of brain conditions, but unfortunately my treatment ended without identifying a definitive solution. This was extremely disappointing at the time, but God has used the past year to reinforce that I can build a good life with the blessings He has given me (family, school, online church, etc.), even if I don’t participate in all the activities we’d  consider “normal” for most twenty-seven-year-olds. 

As always, thank you for your love and support and for sticking with the blog! We’re all facing difficult times and I hope we can encourage each other to stay strong and keep trusting God: 

“You faithfully answer our prayers with awesome deeds, O God our savior.” ~ Psalm 65:5

The Raw Truth

Ivan enjoyed some hard-earned sushi for Labor Day weekend 🙂

I do not like sashimi. This might seem surprising since Ivan is Chinese Indonesian and I enjoyed a decently multicultural upbringing. But the fact remains – I do not like sashimi. You could almost say I detest it. 

My unfortunate dispensation toward raw fish began at age seven, when my family moved to San Gabriel while Dad was in seminary. San Gabriel is a fascinatingly diverse area of Los Angeles, where over half the residents identify as Asian, and less than a quarter identify as white. What I remember noticing about it the most was that I couldn’t read very many signs. It was difficult to find affordable housing while Dad was in school, but somehow my parents heard that an apartment complex in San Gabriel needed new managers and they applied for the job. After all, apartment managers live rent-free.

The complex owner, a businesswoman from Hong Kong, invited my parents to dinner to “seal the deal,” and Mom and Dad asked to bring us along since childcare was as unaffordable as rent at that time. Ms. Dong agreed – although I’m sure this was not what she had in mind – and we found ourselves in a dimly-lit Cantonese restaurant in the heart of San Gabriel. It bears mentioning that we were still relatively fresh from the South, so everything about the restaurant and Ms. Dong’s business dinner was bewildering. First off, she ordered the whole meal. Americans are used to selecting their entrees individually, but in many Asian settings the host orders dinner for the entire table. This was disorienting but ended up being expedient since I don’t think my parents could decipher the menu. 

Then there was sakeSake is a heated rice beer, and is often part of sealing business deals. Except my parents didn’t drink. My seven-year-old self fixated on the sake immediately, and was so curious to see what Mom and Dad would do with it that I didn’t pay attention to the unfamiliar foods they were spooning onto my own plate. I’m assuming that Mom didn’t really notice what she was serving me, either, since she hates most kinds of seafood. I can imagine her forcing me to taste the sashimi out of sheer politeness – and possibly out of guilt about the forthcoming sake debacle – but I can’t imagine her letting me bite into a piece of raw fish with zero warning.

Yet that is exactly what happened. I remember looking down at my plate and marveling that Asian people ate giant slices of raw carrot. I remember chasing the three-inch orange oval  around my plate with my chopsticks unsuccessfully. (The fact that its texture was decidedly not that of a raw carrot must have escaped me.) I remember finally chomping down on my prize and being horrified by the tough, juicy, fishy thing that was everything a fresh garden vegetable is not. Somehow I swallowed it. I was so mortified by my non-carrot morsel that I can’t even tell you what my parents did with their sake. 

The dinner must have gone decently well, however. Mom and Dad managed the complex until a rental house opened up next to the seminary, and we greatly expanded our knowledge of Asian culture during our time in San Gabriel. Dad went on to serve at a Mandarin church, where I developed a deep and enduring love of most Chinese food…except anything to do with fish. (I realize sashimi is technically Japanese, but still.)

Fast forward to dating Ivan. We hadn’t been together very long when he brought up the dreaded “S” word. His family had driven down to Riverside to attend his senior piano recital one weekend, and they took me out for my first taste of Indonesian food before they drove back up to Northern California. (Ivan describes Indo food as something like a blend of Indian and Thai cuisine). I thought it was delicious but rather tame compared to some of the edgier Mandarin dishes I’d sampled as a kid, and apparently this analysis emboldened him to bring up the one category of Asian food I desperately wished to avoid.

“How do you feel about sushi?”

“Uh, sushi?” I froze. I could either play the dumb white girl who didn’t understand what sushi was, or agree to go on a sushi date and choke in front of him. “I don’t really like raw fish.” Dumb white girl it was.

“Yeah, but you wouldn’t be eating straight raw fish. Sushi has sauce, and seaweed, and rice, and all sorts of things. Sashimi is raw fish.

Of course it was. But I was (irrationally) hoping that ignorance could somehow rescue me from the whole predicament. I felt sure that if Ivan got me in a sushi bar, I would wind up eating sashimi all over again. “I dunno, raw fish just really grosses me out. Even with all that rice and wrapping and stuff. I bet you can still taste it’s raw.”

“I’m serious! Sushi is a whole other thing. It’s totally different from sashimi. Promise.” Ivan looked so sincere – and like he so sincerely needed me to try sushi – that I realized I was at a crossroads. Dating him was going to mean revisiting things I thought I knew about myself, and things I thought I knew about Asian culture. I’d entered our relationship confident that my childhood had given me all I needed to be the ideal intercultural girlfriend. This sushi dilemma was a micro-issue, but it alerted me to the fact that I might not be as ideal as I thought I was. 

“Okay.” I sighed. “But this is a one-time thing. And absolutely no sashimi.”

“That works. I’m pretty sure you’ll find something to like. And if not, there’s always those California rolls. But what’s with this whole sashimi thing?”

I debated divulging my childhood trauma this early in the relationship. “Umm…why don’t I try it first, and then, umm…tell you later.”

I did tell Ivan my sashimi story later, albeit not during that first sushi lunch. He reacted more compassionately than I expected, even refraining from ordering sashimi until I finally observed that he could eat whatever he wanted as long as he stayed on the other side of the table.  I’m pretty sure I ordered a California roll for our first lunch, and for many lunches afterward. (California rolls are made mostly from avocado and cucumber, plus a little raw crabmeat in the center.) Eventually I did take my life in my hands with other “safe” choices like salmon rolls, tuna rolls, and yellow tail rolls, but I confess that California rolls are still my favorite. The salmon and tuna ones are often too fishy – unless they’re prepared just right – but yellow tail is a decently solid choice. 

Needless to say, I still do not like sashimi. 

Fighting Fear

Bay Area fires edge toward San Jose; evacuations widen - The San ...
Very grateful for all the firefighters who are doing their best to keep us safe!

 

When I am afraid, I will trust in You…” Like most toddlers, I was terrified of thunderstorms. Like all Southern toddlers, I encountered them at least once a week (usually more often) during the summer. The worst ones came in the middle of the night. Mom and Dad couldn’t do anything about those thunderstorms, but they did try to improve how I reacted to them. I remember them giving me a cassette tape of Steve Green songs while we were living in Orlando, FL. The tape probably had lots of nice little kid songs on it, but I remember us listening to the “When I am Afraid” song over and over again. Three-year-olds internalize music faster than almost any other input. I must have sung that song as I played around the house during the day, but I particularly remember singing it in my bedroom during those awful midnight thunderstorms.

I didn’t realize until I was older that the “When I am Afraid” song is actually just Psalm 56:3 set to music: “But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in You.” Looking back from the ripe old age of 27, I’m very thankful for those thunderstorms and that cassette tape because they ingrained this verse in my mind. It looped in my head continuously during the early days after my accident, and it still plays on repeat once I cross a certain anxiety threshold.

Many of us are facing significantly more uncertainty and loss now than we were when I posted about San Jose’s freak lightning storm last week. I’m grateful that my and Ivan’s families have been able to stay in our homes thus far, but the number of families in our Hillside and VCS communities who have evacuated or lost their homes seems to increase every day. It’s one thing to read about natural disasters happening in distant locations, but it’s entirely different to face one in real time.

These fires seem like the latest link in a chain of inexplicable crises that have impacted us in 2020. It’s easy to ask “Why, God?” or to give in to bitterness, or to crumble before the overwhelming uncertainty of it all. But these crises can also enable us to share the gospel by demonstrating there’s a different way to face difficulty – a superhuman way. And that way begins with trusting God’s goodness, even when we’re most afraid.

When Opportunity Strikes…

Lightning
Thanks to Deanna Rosa for sharing her amazing photo from yesterday! 🙂

CRACK. I was fumbling around for some bagels to throw in the toaster early yesterday morning when the kitchen went white. Strobe-light white. Light is silent (according to my non-scientific opinion), but this light felt loud. I blinked at the toaster for the next couple of seconds, philosophizing over the implications of a silent flash. Was that heat lightning? Can heat lightning be that bright? Does heat lightning preclude thunder within a certain proximity? Can lightning even occur without thunder? Thankfully the absentee thunder arrived and prevented my mind from wandering to any more obscurely existential questions. Said thunder also reminded me that I’d burned up valuable seconds that I should have been using to get to our bedroom.

We’ve learned from experience that I have around 60 seconds between seeing a light trigger and having a seizure – only enough time to find a place to sit or lie down. I’d just wasted an indeterminate number of these seconds pondering the implications of noiseless lightning, when what I’d really needed was to get very far away from all the condo windows in case the rogue lightning strike turned into a rare NorCal thunderstorm.

I shielded my eyes with my hand and groped down the stairs toward our bedroom. Somehow I made it to the bed and tugged off my glasses just before the seizure started.

Between that seven-minute seizure (possibly my record for 2020), the heat wave that impacted Hillside’s second week of outdoor church services, and the pandemic anxiety that manifests in so many aspects of all our lives, the “Verse of the Day” from my Bible app this morning seemed particularly relevant:

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.” ~James 1:2-3

My health status often makes me feel like a magnet for “troubles of any kind,” so I have to remind myself that Ivan and I have been spared many trials that other people experience daily. I do excel at viewing my troubles as “opportunities,” though. The problem is that I don’t view them as the kind of opportunities James was writing about.

Unfortunately, I tend to view my troubles as opportunities for complaining rather than rejoicing. Counting yesterday’s seizure (and ensuing migraine), or the weekend’s stifling heat as opportunities for joy did not cross my mind. True, it crossed my mind today as I read those verses. But that’s just my point. Offering “retroactive praise” is relatively easy, since I can wait until I’m feeling physically and emotionally stable before I compliment God on a finished product I can already see. Giving thanks when the physical and emotional odds are against me and I can’t see God producing anything good yet? That is a skill I desperately need to cultivate.

So while I doubt San Jose has more spontaneous thunderstorms in its immediate future, and while I hope our  heat wave relents in time for Hillside’s services next weekend, I’m positive that God will unleash other surprises to keep honing my ability to praise Him in the moment. Retroactive praise is important, but present-tense praise is essential for developing that all-important character trait, endurance. That character trait might only feel good once I’m surveying my life from the finish line, but I’m grateful that God continues providing opportunities to consider troubles “great joy” – whether I like those opportunities or not.

 

A Tale of Three Kitties

 

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“There was a kitten with a patched eye and a calico cat with a frightened face….”

 

Prologue

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…it was a week of strategy, it was a week of speculation…it was a fresh start, it was a final chapter…it was a time of excitement, it was a time of anxiety…it was a period of imagining a golden future and praying furtively against catastrophes that were equally probable. In short, the events of Moving Week felt so much like news headlines that they must be compared – for better or worse – in superlatives.

There was a kitten with a patched eye and a calico cat with a frightened face in an apartment on Charlotte Drive. There was a black cat with a blank face in a condominium on Black Onyx Court. The feline monarchs of both residences were absolutely certain that things in general were settled forever.

***

As much as Ivan and I tried to anticipate every possible moving variable, our two cats remained wild cards. We knew they would accompany us to my parents’ condo, but we knew very little beyond that. You see, my parents already have a cat. While the Crosby/Utomo families have integrated two kitties several times (usually we add a kitten to a pre-existing cat), no one has mixed three pre-existing cats. But in spite of this uncharted territory, we could make some predictions based on personality:

  • Zelda, our extroverted kitten, would be unphased and probably end up dominating the other two
  • Daisy, our emotionally fragile cat, would probably have a psychiatric crisis but eventually adjust to her new environment
  • Scheherazade, my parents’ older cat, might be too apathetic to care about the two invaders. [Note: Her name is pronounced “Shuh-HAIR-uh-zahd,” which is a famous piece of classical music with a violin solo. I’ll let you guess who named her…;)]

My parents (and Anna and Robert) agreed these were fairly educated guesses. How hard could integrating three non-aggressive cats be? We concluded our moving day under the golden impression that worst (i.e. my TBI triggers) was behind us.

And then Scheherazade happened.

 

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“O Sleep! O Gentle Sleep!”

‘Herazade is a 14 pound, eight-year-old black cat. Daisy weighs ten pounds and Zelda weighs four, so she’s the size of both our cats combined. Her girth discourages physical effort of any kind, so we’ve come to know and love her as a furry mass that sprawls in various sunbeams around the house or lumbers over to her food bowl for a snack. Occasionally she’ll get up and scream to be held.

We’ve integrated enough cats to know better than to turn them loose immediately. After giving Zelda and Daisy a peaceful night in the “Cat Sanctuary” (aka our first-floor bedroom), we thought it was time for Zelda to meet ‘Herazade. Daisy had lodged herself under a corner of our bed and was unlikely to dislodge herself for several days, given her previous psychiatric history.

‘Herazade’s unseemly girth was sprawled in her “Cup” – a sort of UFO-shaped cat bed stationed in the second-floor living/dining area. Mom found the Cup at Costco last year. It was the only bed large enough to accommodate ‘Hereazade’s size, plus it came with a scratching post. Ivan and I had no trouble coaxing Zelda up from the Cat Sanctuary for a visit. Not only is Zelda hyper-intelligent for a 5-month-old kitten (I blame it on her being half Siamese), but she matches her intelligence with an equal – if not greater – dose of obnoxiousness. Most kittens would have approached the unfamiliar giant tentatively, but Zelda marched straight up to her drowsy victim and bopped her across the face.

This did not go well.

 

‘Herazade – the cat we believed incapable of anything more than an ungainly amble – shot over the edge of her Cup and across the length of the second floor, driving Zelda before her. If her vocalizations had been transliterated into a human movie, the movie would have been rated R. Zelda slid under a china cabinet just in the nick of time. If she’d been a quarter of a second later, we might well have spent the night cleaning up kitten fur. ‘Herazade devoted the next 15 minutes to screaming and trying to jam herself under said cabinet, most likely to exact a blood penalty for invading her territory. Zelda should be grateful there is a marked difference in spaces that are feasible for 4 lb. kittens vs. 14. lb. cats.

As for Zelda the Indomitable – the kitten who’d terrorized Daisy since arriving in our apartment at eight weeks old – this same kitten had become the terrorizee. Neither Mom, Ivan, nor I could do much about ‘Herazade till Dad got home, but after he removed her and restored order we all admitted that our Worst of Times was far from over.

 

“Well, what should we do next?” Mom was smiling at me over her Five Cheese Rigatoni. She always cooked the Rigatoni on special occasions, and tonight was our official “welcome dinner.” I looked up at her and shrugged.

“Why is it always me?” I’d been having a terrible week with my TBI symptoms, and as much as I’d have loved to add “Cat Heroine” to my resume, I wasn’t feeling particularly heroic.

“You always know what to do with the other cats. Besides – you got Daisy to get along with Zelda.” I resented the fact that she was right.

“Well, I can’t deal with this right now. Ivan – you’re going to have to take this one for me.” Poor Ivan never had any cats growing up. He didn’t even want to get a cat after we got married. He definitely didn’t deserve being saddled with a cat integration right after our move. But when is TBI ever convenient? Something had to give.

“Umm…okay.” He might have skipped a beat, or his mouth might have been full of rigatoni. I tried not to guess. “Maybe we could try a cage integration…didn’t you say something about that, Grace?”

I shrugged. “Yeah, sure. That way I guess we could keep Zelda in our bedroom all day and then take her up for a visit while ‘Herazade’s in her cage. At least she wouldn’t die that way.”

Mentioning the third cat lodged under our bed was out of the question.

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“Fools rush in where calicos fear to tread.”

 

Like all our previous cat plans, “Cage Integration” was not as simple as it sounded. There was ‘Herezade’s profanity, to begin with. Obscenities emanated from the depths of her cat carrier, sounds which sent Zelda scrambling the first few times we introduced her to her caged attacker. As for Zelda, it took her three visits to edge close enough to peek inside. Apparently near-death experiences scar even the most intrepid kittens.

And then there were the stakeouts. Not only had we underestimated ‘Herezade’s speed and verbal ability, but we’d also underestimated her intelligence. She identified both the Cat Sanctuary and our cats’ essential items – food bowls and litter box – then waited for hours outside the Sanctuary door until one of them responded to Nature’s call. If we accidentally left the door cracked, she’d unleash a war cry and charge in using her head like a battering ram. Daisy nearly eliminated litter box trips. I wondered if all were lost.

Never discount the power of a man with his cat.

With only three days until Ivan resumed work at VCS, and under intensifying reminders that Mom and I would not referee a feline civil war, the men reengineered “Cage Integration.” Ivan is the only one who can soothe me during my worst TBI episodes, and Dad posseses a bizarre telepathic bond with ‘Herazade (formed while Mom lived with us in Riverside after the accident). If anyone possessed the emotional intelligence to de-escalate the feline feud, it was probably the men.

I confess that I was too stressed to observe “Men and Cats” Day One, but was encouraged to learn that ‘Herazade only let out a single shriek and Zelda held her ground instead of shooting off to the Sanctuary. I heartened myself to witness “Men and Cats” Day Two, but opted out of active participation lest I reverse the previous day’s good fortune. I also ignored the fact that my default “flight” and “avoidance” responses were starting to resemble the cats’. Poor ‘Herazade demonstrated an admirable amount of tact on Day Two and restricted herself to a couple of low rumbles. Zelda rewarded this restraint by waltzing around the living area, stuffing her face in ‘Herazade’s food bowl, and trying to punch her caged opponent through the carrier bars. Clearly her fear of death had worn off. Ivan finally grabbed her and shuttled her back down to the Cat Sanctuary, but one thing was very clear. It was time to go Cage Free.

 

“Men and Cats: Cage Free” was to be a study in stealth and surprise. Dad would soothe ‘Herazade into her carrier and Ivan would let Zelda bounce around the living area like the day before, keeping her away from the cage until we were sure her opponent wasn’t going to throw a fit. After Dad unlatched the carrier door? Mom was optimistic about Cage Free’s results, Dad and Ivan were pleasantly neutral, and I was…anxious.

Mom seemed correct about “Men and Cats: Cage Free.” ‘Herazade self-caged, for starters. Fifteen minutes hunting under sofas and chairs revealed she was already installed in the plastic cage that was integral to our 4 pm “Men and  Cats” ritual. Five days of foreign feline invasion and four days of coercion had transformed ‘Herazade into a self-caging kitty. Her pre-emptive gesture might have been more tragic if it had been less practical, but at the time we just clicked her door shut and summoned her arch-nemesis. Zelda was more than willing to repeat her antics from the day before, complete with shloshing ‘Herazade’s water all over the floor and trying to see how much big-cat food she could fit in her kitten mouth.

I looked over at Ivan and Dad. “Do you guys think this is it?”

“I don’t know – you tell me.” Dad was sitting cross-legged on the floor next to the cage. “Do you think you can take it? We can wait until you leave if you want….That’s okay, girl!” It suddenly struck me as comical that he was torn between a brain-injured daughter and a traumatized cat.

“What do you think?” I looked at Ivan. He still had to deal with my brain-injured self, but at least his kitten wasn’t traumatized.

“I say we go for it. I mean, we know Zelda’s fast enough to get away. And ‘Herazade hasn’t resorted to profanity yet. But do you need to leave, Grace?”

I shook my head. “I think I’m going to stick this one out. It’s turned into some sort of bad soap opera with this whole self-caging thing.”

“Okay, then.” Dad collected himself from the tile floor. “Here goes.”

Even Mom gasped as the door swung open – thus commencing one of the more notable anticlimaxes in recent memory. ‘Herazade sat blankly in her carrier as Zelda trounced all over her beloved living room. The condo at Black Onyx Court had effectually been ceded to a five-month-old kitten – apparently out of emotional exhaustion.  Zelda’s ego ballooned to about three times its usual size after her cage-free victory, which has blessed no one but herself.

***

Epilogue

The feline monarchs of two residences, having been reduced to the single monarch and two vassals of one residence, are no longer certain that things can be settled forever.

The kitten with the patched eye rules two cats, two floors, two food bowls, and one litter box, and is mounting an attack on the elusive third floor (complete with a third food bowl and second litter box). The calico with a frightened face maintains the same fealty to her patch-faced sovereign that she originally swore in the apartment on Charlotte Drive, and still depends on said sovereign’s protection to venture past the Cat Sanctuary. The black cat with a blank face self-cages regularly and appears to have relinquished all hope of reclaiming the condominium on Black Onyx Court. The sovereign with the patched eye is enjoying the Best of Times.

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An Unnatural Move

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Looking forward to many more family dinners!

Yesterday marked the end of our three-year tenure at Ascent Apartments and the beginning of our new life as condo owners. Well, not really. We did move out of our apartment, but we won’t move into our condo until November since it’s under construction. Until then, we’re back living with my ever-gracious parents.

We’ve spent roughly 20% of our five-year marriage living with my family. Most Millennials would consider this decidedly weird (if not undesirable). Most parents would expect their married children to solve their problems on their own. But God’s used my accident to modify our preferences about most aspects of life, and I’m grateful for a family who’s willing to bridge the gap between the end of our lease and the closing date on our condo.

Moving back in with my parents isn’t the only thing that’s caused me to reflect on our lives since the accident. Ivan mentioned in his last post that I was struggling with too many TBI symptoms to spend time on the blog. This was all too true. My “normal day” is streamlined for my brain to navigate as optimally as possible: I follow a detailed schedule from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed, generally do the same activities on the same days each week, and work on school assignments long before they’re due. I keep all my things in the same places around the house, and put everything back as soon as I’m finished. As long as nothing changes in any part of my routine, I function like a normal person (usually).

And then we started planning our move.

Ivan did his best to preserve some semblance of my “normal day,” but that became more difficult as time passed. It wasn’t long before my old traumatic brain injury symptoms started to resurface. While I have occasional mild “episodes” when I encounter an unexpected or open-ended situation in daily life, these are so few and far between that we often forget I have any deficits at all. Now that daily life had become a TBI trigger, Ivan and I were faced with the uncomfortable truth about how much of my brain injury I carry with me. Praise God that we’ve found a way to camouflage it most of the time, but it’s still very much there.

But this post isn’t meant to be a rehashing of my old injury. Instead, it’s a testimony to what God made possible through Ivan’s commitment to honor Him. As much as Ivan understands my disabilities, I know that living with someone whose mental age can change on a dime – or who can panic and not even know why – tests the limits of even the most committed spouse. No one can be “emotionally bulletproof” (to borrow Ivan’s analogy) all the time. But I also know that in spite of the relational and logistical odds against him, Ivan got us moved without losing control of his temper. I’m sure that if the roles were reversed, I’d have lost mine regularly. Whenever I asked Ivan why – or how – he was so patient with me, he’d remind me that God has been even more patient with him.

It would be easy to pass this off as a heartwarming anecdote about how remarkable Ivan is, but I’d like to suggest that this kind of patience is available to all of us. Yes, some people are definitely more naturally patient than others. (I would fall more on the “impatient” side.) Some people are also more forgiving and understanding than others. But no one, no matter how nice they are, is naturally patient and forgiving and supportive every single day…while doing a ridiculous amount of manual labor…while the person they’re forgiving and supporting does almost nothing. (Ivan was the packer-in-chief since I only have one good hand). That kind of patience is supernatural.

Watching Ivan succeed at the humanly impossible this past month has challenged me to reexamine my own approach to following God. I often enter a situation with good intentions, but my efforts fall short because I try to accomplish them in my own strength. Rather than making myself the judge of a given situation, I should consider things from God’s point of view and ask for His help to overcome the selfish reactions that are ready to surface at any moment.

Like Ivan told me, God has shown all of us far more patience than we’ll ever be called to show another person. Even better, God understands our human limitations and gives us more than enough grace to share with others – no matter how challenging our circumstances. 2 Cor. 8: 9 has been one of my favorite verses since I was a freshman in college, but it’s become even more vivid this past month: “And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.”

 

 

Three Years in San Jose

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We also added a brother-in-law in 2020!

 

Hi everyone! It’s the end of June, which marks the end of our third year San Jose. Our life is radically different than I imagined when we made the hot (un-scenic) drive from Southern California three years ago. I imagined completing occupational and physical therapy with Kaiser NorCal’s elite therapists. Once my traumatic brain injury finished healing, I thought we’d explore our new city and integrate with the communities at Valley Christian Schools, Ivan’s new job, and  Hillside Church, where my dad is a pastor.

We found an adorable apartment five minutes away from my parents’ condo so Mom could help me while Ivan was at work, and I picked up therapy right where I’d left off in Riverside. So far, so good! But as most of you know, our “ideal” fresh start lasted only a couple of months. I developed a perplexing (and as yet unresolved) seizure disorder in October 2017, which transitioned into a hybrid seizure-migraine disorder last summer.

But as I reflect upon our journey over the past three years, I’m struck by how many blessings God has showered upon us, blessings we certainly would have missed if our lives in San Jose had gone according to plan:

  1. Ivan started his doctorate. He’s always wanted a terminal degree and hoped to begin one after finishing his masters, but we thought he’d have to delay that dream indefinitely when my accident transformed us into a single income family. But God opened some amazing doors soon after he started working at VCS, and he’s close to beginning his dissertation.
  2. I went back to school. Although my seizures make it extremely difficult to leave the house, they don’t impair my mental function. We decided to invest in my remaining abilities, and I enrolled in an online BA in English since I love literature and would like to write a book about our accident story. That program went really well, and I’m currently working on an MFA (terminal degree) in creative writing.
  3. I’ve laid the groundwork for a book about our accident story. The thesis for my MFA is a book-length manuscript, so I hope to get professional feedback on a first draft of my book. Using our story to share the hope Christ offers to those going through trauma has been on my heart ever since I started the blog in 2017. My degree is 4.5 years long, so the book is still a long way off, but it’s exciting to realize I could begin working on it soon.
  4. We’ve developed an unusually close bond with my parents. Most people think of their twenties as a time to enjoy independence and even a little recklessness, but it’s been the opposite for us. From midnight phone calls, to meal drop-offs, to Mom baby-sitting me after seizures (I wish there were a more sophisticated description of that one), they’re only a text or a five-minute walk down the street. Are there times I envy the twenty-somethings who do whatever they want, whenever they want, however they want? Absolutely. But I’m so thankful to the Lord for parents who never tire of providing the physical and emotional support we need, no matter how much or how often we need it.
  5. We’ve experienced unconditional love from our Hillside and VCS communities. Therapy taught me to compensate for my original TBI deficits, but we still haven’t integrated with VCS or Hillside due to my subsequent neurological disorders. That hasn’t kept them from embracing us, though. Whether through online interactions, short visits, meals, or other creative outlets, we’ve felt connected with them since we arrived in San Jose. Every time we’ve faced a crisis – and there have been more of those than I’d like to count – we’ve received an unbelievable amount of love, prayers, and gifts. We’ve also been humbled to realize that much of our support comes from friends we’ve never met in person.

So I may be writing this hunkered next to the window for natural light (our overhead lights trigger migraines), but I realize how many good gifts we’ve received after moving to San Jose in 2017. It’s hard to believe it’s already been three years, and yet in many ways it feels like we’ve been here much longer. What I know for sure is that we couldn’t have made it this far without God’s blessing, my parents’ commitment, and our communities’ support. These are unprecedented times for our nation and the world, but even amid global transformation I want to pause and commemorate God’s faithfulness in our lives. And as always, many thanks to our blogging family for your love and support!

A Second Chance for Daisy!

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Daisy doesn’t do selfies…

Hi Everyone! It’s hard to believe I’ve come to the end of my school break. As I said in my last post, my blog plans for this break changed drastically based on the current events of the past few weeks. I’d planned to spend the break posting updates and stories from the past quarter; given the seriousness and and momentum of our nation’s move toward socio-political change, I felt that my original ideas were best left for another time. That being said, I think that it can be good to step away from serious topics for a few moments to de-stress.

So keeping that in mind, I’ve decided to post one vignette from break before I go back to school. It’s not meant to detract from the significance of current events but rather to provide some uplifting entertainment for anyone who’d like a quick break.

***

“Great,” I wiped my nose with my hand. “I think she just went on my leg.”

“What? Are you sure?” Ivan’s eyes darted sideways even though he was driving. A tear slid down his cheek.

I shifted the blue vinyl pet carrier on my lap. Sure enough, there was a large stain on my right leg. It was moist, and it expanded as I tilted the carrier. “I thought this thing was supposed to be leak proof.”

“Well she probably hasn’t gone for, like, a day now,” Ivan sniffed. “Man. I’ve got to get myself together before we get there.”

 

That morning was to be Miss Daisy Mae’s last. Our beloved fur baby had been sick for a few weeks, prompting me to break my family’s rule of thumb: “Cats heal themselves.” We attribute this rule to Gi, my grandmother and a chronic cat owner. Gi has always been right, at least when it came to minor ailments. (I’m excluding parasites and serious injuries.) Given enough rest and TLC, our cats have pulled through and lived to ripe old ages. So far, my aunt’s cat Cilla holds the record at seventeen years old.

But not poor Miss Daisy. At barely three years old she was crying, eschewing the litterbox, and ignoring to the ministrations of her owners and baby sister Zelda. Off we toted her to The Vet. Five days of oral antibiotics later and…she was worse. Given that the more specialized treatments The Vet suggested over the phone were (literally) above Ivan’s pay grade, a trip to Cat Heaven seemed like the only merciful solution.

Ivan and I both burst into tears after I hung up the phone that morning. This might seem reasonable to all you pet lovers, but Ivan only burst into tears a couple of times in the initial days following my accident, and I have yet to see him cry about it since I woke up from my coma. He took the news about Daisy extremely hard, to say the least. We both did. She’s rescued us from ourselves countless times since we adopted my “therapy” kitten in 2017. My TBI causes separation anxiety as well as difficulty adjusting to any kind of change, and Daisy was there for me when Ivan started working full time. She’s still there for me when he works after school or on weekends. She sits with me during seizures and sleeps with me while I rest afterward. As for Ivan, suffice it to say he was NOT a cat person when Daisy arrived as a furry bundle of energy. But lonely nights when I was in the hospital and tense evenings studying for school soon convinced him just how much he needed a “cat buddy” for his own mental stability. I sometimes suspect she cuddles with him more than with me.

All that to say, neither of us could imagine life without our Daisy, but neither could we imagine life with her in her current wailing, litterbox-free condition. And so we wrestled her into her blue carrier (the fact that we were sobbing probably impeded the process unnecessarily), and began our ominous drive to The Vet.

 

“She’s getting worse, not better,” I tried to enunciate through my mask. I hoped the large, pungent stain on my leg would prove my point.

“Well, the tests on Monday were very unusual, and if she’s not responding to the antibiotics we could try…” He began listing the dreaded Unaffordable Treatments. I’d hoped it wouldn’t come to that. Some irrational part of me had hoped he’d intuit our plight and offer a ticket to Cat Heaven right away. But no. Now we would have to shout our tragic request through our masks and the six feet of requisite distance. I looked at Ivan.

“You see, that sounds too expensive,” he countered. Smart, I thought. I hadn’t considered easing The Vet into it. “Do you have anything else?”

Long Pause.

Thankfully Ivan didn’t crack.

“Well, we could put her on a special diet and an anti-inflammatory for a couple of weeks and just see what happens.” At least The Vet didn’t sound accusatory. I raised my eyebrows at Ivan, hoping he’d get my drift.

“Okay, I guess we can try that. But how long before it would work?” Yes! Dragging this out isn’t very merciful either.

“I’d say give it at least seven days. Then we could do more tests or the…”

“We’ll take to food and the anti-inflammatory.” I was proud of Ivan for holding his own, especially with Cat Heaven lurking just around the corner.

We were mostly silent on the ride home, but we were dry-eyed. The air was putrid now that the heat had ripened the stains on my leg and in the carrier. Neither of us complained about it, though. Daisy was also in that carrier. I glanced at the food and pills in the back seat. She might be on a ticking clock, but at least she was still in the carrier. “Well,” Ivan said finally. “I guess we should pray that the food and medicine work.”

 

It’s ten days later and Daisy is nowhere near Cat Heaven. Her “budget treatment” didn’t work overnight, but she stopped crying on Day Two and made friends with the litterbox on Day Three.  She’s also back to wrestling her sister, which is a plus for everyone involved. Daisy obviously needs physical activity but we desperately need someone to remind Zelda that she doesn’t rule the world. It’s amazing how quickly a kitten’s ego balloons when she goes unchallenged.

Daisy might not have healed herself per Gi’s mantra, but she is on the road to healing nonetheless.  We hope she has many healthy years ahead of her before joining the family Feline Hall of Fame.

 

Kind Words

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“Kind words are like honey—
sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” ~ Proverbs 16:24

I spend a lot of time thinking about words since I’m a writer. I also spend a lot of time thinking about health since I’m disabled. This is one of my favorite proverbs since it links the two so beautifully – and so universally, even if you don’t write or face health issues on a regular basis.

My last post suggested I’d spend my June break sharing stories about our recent family developments, especially since I took a bit of a blogging hiatus during the spring. (This was partly to regain emotional equilibrium after Ivan’s fall, and  partly because it’s challenging to crank out blog posts and grad school assignments.)

But plans change, and our nation entered another crisis this past week. Unlike the health and quarantine topics in my COVID-19 posts, I feel that adding my opinion on current events would create more noise than content – especially given the plethora of words swirling in the media and on the streets. And so I’ll let my favorite proverb speak for me, for the time being. Kind words are the best words to bring health and healing.

A Month to Remember!

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Happy end of May, everyone! It’s been a hectic month for the Utomo/Crosby families, but it’s been a blessed one, and I’m glad to be back on the blog. 🙂

First and foremost, we’re no longer the Utomo/Crosby families. We’re proud to call ourselves the Utomo/Crosby/Stewarts after Anna and her fiancée Robert tied the knot on May 9th. Uniting their lives in my parents’ living room with Dad officiating and only three live witnesses (me, Ivan, and Mom) is the opposite of the church wedding they’d planned before COVID-19, but I’m SO proud of their maturity and God-focused attitude in the face of this trial. They never stopped smiling the entire day.

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On an adorable (but much less life-changing) note, Ivan and I added a new fur baby to our family a couple of weeks ago. Zelda Fitzgerald is a nine-week old Tortoise shell kitten and she has more spunk than Ivan, me, and Daisy (our other cat) combined. I named her after Scott Fitzgerald’s audacious wife and she’s taking her namesake quite literally. (Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby as well as some other great novels and short stories.)

We – and the rest of California – are also excited as sheltering guidelines relax a bit and we begin the “new normal” other states have already implemented. The national revision of church closures is especially encouraging, and I’m proud to support Hillside which has complied with safety regulations throughout COVID-19. But regardless of your religious persuasion, please keep  prioritizing safety as we enjoy more flexibility in public activities and worship!

And that’s all for now. Look out for more detailed accounts of our recent adventures as well as future forays, especially since I’m on summer break!  In the meantime, I’m grateful for all God’s been doing in our lives, as well as the positivity I’ve observed in many of your social media posts. Joy and gratitude are choices – choices we can make each and every day. 