The Joy of Easter

Our cat Zelda loves to join Grace’s morning Bible reading times 🙂

Ivan: At Easter we celebrate the completion of Jesus’ work that began when He was born as a baby in Bethlehem. Christmas and Easter are bookends of Christ’s ministry on earth. For thirty-three years, Jesus – the infinite Creator of the universe – lived as a human in order to rescue us from eternal separation from God. The Timeless entered time; the glorious King became a suffering Servant.

What an incredible miracle.

Do we believe this? If the answer is “No,” or “I’m not sure,” I invite you to ask, “Why not?” For some, the idea of miracles itself is preposterous. Miracles can’t exist because the supernatural doesn’t exist. But are you sure?

Because whether we believe in a supernatural reality or not, we are placing faith in our belief. What happens if we live our lives believing there is no God, only to meet him on the other side? These are important questions to consider – perhaps the most important questions of all – and I invite you to search the Scriptures to see if what Jesus claims is true: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

For those of us who do believe Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is a historical fact with spiritual consequences, my question is, “Do we believe this enough?”

We often live as if the Cross was the end of the story, not the Empty Tomb. Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for our sins; He suffered so that we wouldn’t have to. He paid our debt on the Cross.

If the story ended there, we would have a cancelled debt but no credit; no defeat, but no victory. It was when Jesus came back to life in a glorified, resurrected body three days after He died that he proved He is truly Lord over life and death. If we place our trust in Him, death no longer has mastery over us. We no longer in the kingdom of darkness but in God’s kingdom of light, truth, and love.

Do we live like we believe this every day? I often forget that the Spirit of God Who raised Christ from the dead lives in me (Romans 8:11). Instead, I try to live by my own power, my own strength, trusting in my own abilities and wisdom. This is foolish.

Not only has my debt been paid in full – a debt I could never have paid on my own – but I have been freely given “every spiritual blessing” because I belong to Christ (Ephesians 1:3). God is daily offering an unimaginable wealth of love, joy, and peace that comes from knowing Him and delighting in Him. Too often I choose to look somewhere else.

May this Easter renew our daily submission to the Lordship of Christ. May we gratefully accept His gifts of eternal life, of the Kingdom of God being made real on earth. May we reject the foolishness of relying on our limited and corrupted selves, or on other things that will never fully satisfy. Rather, may we trust in the sufficiency and abundance of Christ’s love more and more each day. This is the love that brought Him to the Cross; this is the power that raised Him from the dead and will renew us day by day until we cross the threshold of physical death and see Him face to face (2 Corinthians 4:16).

This is eternal life. Happy Easter, everyone!

Almost There

Grace met her thesis chair in-person recently!

Hello Blogging Family, May is almost upon us! I’m writing to give a short update about Grace. You may remember that back in January Grace passed her 45-hour review for her MFA in Creative Writing. Well, at this point she’s very close to finishing her thesis!

Grace’s thesis will be a book about her accident and our life in San Jose afterward. Her deadline is the end of May, so she probably won’t be posting on the blog between now and then. Thank you all so much for your support! Our prayer is that God will be glorified through this book and that His goodness will shine bright when things are dark in our lives.

Practically Perfect

Grace doing her 45-Hour Review on Friday

Hello blogging friends, I’m pleased to announce some great news: but first, some context (drumroll please…)

Grace is a creative artist. Throughout her childhood and teenage years, and early adulthood up to the accident, Grace developed and shared her artistry through her violin. Losing the ability to use her left hand, and thus play the violin, has been a tremendous loss for Grace, perhaps even more so than some of her post-accident health challenges.

But her inner creativity, not to mention sharp intellect and relentless determination, has not only survived, but thrived: starting in 2019, Grace has been pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). This degree is 90-credit hours long, which is longer than many doctorate degrees. The 45-Hour Review is an important milestone marking halfway completion, after which a student is cleared to complete their thesis course. During the review, faculty evaluate a portfolio of a student’s best work created during the first half of the degree.

Well, Grace had her review on Friday, and…she passed! With flying colors. Actually, with a perfect score. Yes, I am definitely bragging about my wife right now. I am so proud of you, Grace!!! To God be the glory.

Friends, Grace works so hard every day in so many ways, not least in refining her craft as a writer. Watching her persist in the face of immense challenges inspires me to be better each day; Grace is an incredible role model for me in this way.

Between now and May, Grace will be putting the finishing touches on her thesis, which Lord willing will be a book detailing the events surrounding her accident. God allows bad things to happen for a reason, and Grace and I hope this book will be a blessing for many, by showing how God is bigger than anything we may face in this life.

Thank you as always for your support; in a literal way, your support on this blog helps fuel Grace’s passion as a writer! We couldn’t do this without you. SDG.

Hills and Valleys

Hello Friends,

I hope you are doing well as we near the end of October. This post will be brief, but I wanted to share that Grace has been struggling with new health challenges related to her traumatic brain injury (TBI). As she’s mentioned in previous posts, Grace’s doctors finally found a medication that controls her seizures enough for her to go outside without sunglasses, watch some movies, and enjoy some other “normal” activities, although she does still have a few seizures every month.

In the past weeks, complications with Grace’s TBI have brought me and Grace’s family into a new stage of caregiving. We are still working with doctors to find a medication solution for these new complications. Grace is not ready to write again just yet, but when she can she’ll provide some additional details regarding these new developments.

In the meantime, she asked me to post this devotional that I shared with my colleagues as part of a devotional series at the VCS Conservatory a few weeks ago; I hope it will encourage you. Thanks for continuing to walk with us through hills and valleys!

TBI Update

Throwback to our beach day in December 🙂

Hello friends, I wanted to give a brief update about Grace’s status. Back in February, a resident in our condo complex complained about a “maintenance issue” that the previous owners had left unresolved. The resident also became aware of Grace’s disabilities, and began harassing her daily while I was at work. This behavior continued even though the “maintenance issue” was being addressed; Grace was so distressed and intimidated that she couldn’t adequately communicate to me the severity of the situation. Unfortunately, this meant that it lasted over a month before we addressed it decisively.

Although the resident has stopped their harmful behavior, their actions imprinted on Grace’s brain to the point that Grace is unable to function at her normal baseline. Grace’s TBI symptoms are still highly aggravated, and she’s undergoing professional treatment to help her return to daily life without being in a constant state of “fight or flight.” She misses you all, and looks forward to writing here again as soon as she feels better. Thank you so much for your prayers and support!

We’ll Be Back…

Hello friends, I hope you had a wonderful Easter weekend 🙂 Grace is going to be taking a break from posting on the blog for some time because we’ve encountered some circumstances since our move that have really aggravated her TBI. We appreciate all your prayers and support so much and look forward to returning once things settle down a bit.

God is good, and no detail of our lives escapes His notice, or falls outside His plan. His grace is always more than enough, and each day brings us closer to our true home with Him in Heaven. Blessings to you all as we start a new month!

The Roaring 2020’s

Merry Christmas everyone! 🙂

Dear friends, we find ourselves at the end of 2020. Books and movies will chronicle the events of this past year, but each of us has our own unique record in our hearts and minds. A new year is around the corner, filled with hopes? Fears? Or the unknown?

But also filled with God’s unchanging, unending love, mercy, and grace. Our Lord will never leave us nor forsake us, and that includes during 2021.

Proverbs 16:33 tells us, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” And James 4:13-17 reminds us that we don’t know what will happen tomorrow, and therefore should commit all our plans to God’s will.

With that understanding, I’d like to share some of my goals for next year, to encourage all of us to wisely use the time God has given us. We cannot determine what happens to us, but God has given us the ability to respond.

At the macro level, with God’s help I intend to keep serving Grace as her husband, keep teaching my junior high and high school students at VCS, and keep integrating at our local church, Hillside Church in San Jose.

At the micro level, here are some more specific objectives:

  1. Complete my dissertation. I began my first doctoral class in June 2018 and am now entering the dissertation phase of my degree. Lord willing, by the end of 2021 I will have completed my EdD in Organizational Leadership at Grand Canyon University.
  2. Memorize Psalm 119. The plan is to memorize 16 verses per month, with the other days of the month being review days. “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11)
  3. Read The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Pilgrim’s Progress, and Brave New World. One of my ongoing personal quests is to read major literary works that are “gaps” in my personal reading. In 2020 I read Anna Karenina, Augustine’s Confessions, and The Aeneid.
  4. Learn French. One of Grace’s and my dreams is to travel to Europe, and so I’d like to attain at least a basic conversational level.

Friends, God brought us through 2020, with all its losses, challenges, and heartbreak, for a reason. There is still much need for salt and light, much need for workers in God’s harvest field, much need for the feet of messengers to bring the good news of God’s salvation.

What are some of your goals for 2021? We’d love to read them in the comments below.

Let us enter the new year gratefully, humbly, trusting God to keep His promises and enact His will in our lives.

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.'”

(Lamentations 3:22-24)

Movin’ Right Along…

SM20 Blog moving pic
Listening to Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear sing this song will brighten your day 🙂

 

It’s the middle of 2020, but for many of us it might feel more like the middle of an eon of undeterminable length. Our familiar boundaries of work-life and home-life have been stretched if not erased, and the hope of returning to normalcy varies by day.

There is no denying the difficulties which have engulfed our communities and our nation, but I am so thankful that God cares for each of us individually. He also wants us to keep encouraging one another, and Grace and I are thankful for your prayers and support which remind us that we have a family of believers who intercede for us consistently.

So a brief update on how Grace and I are doing: healthwise, Grace has had no major changes in her neurological conditions. For now she continues to interface with doctors and maintain a stable baseline. Grace and I are both continuing our online education, and I am preparing to start my fourth year of teaching at Valley Christian in August. Praise God for three completed years! The leaders at VCS have been working around the clock to prepare for the upcoming school year, and while many aspects of schooling remain undetermined due to circumstances, I am thankful for their godly leadership of our school; their love for God and for our students, parents, and teachers is apparent in everything they do.

Finally, Grace and I are excited to announce that we purchased a condo last month! The actual unit is still being built, with an estimated completion date of sometime in November. Our apartment lease is up early next month, so Grace and I will stay with her parents until our condo is ready. Praise God for His provision, even and especially during difficult times. A move is a big transition under normal circumstances, but Grace’s TBI makes it more difficult for her to handle. She’s asked me to share the good news about our move in the hopes that she’ll be able to share more of her perspective in the upcoming months.

Thank you again for your prayers, cards, and encouragement. Please know that every kind word and deed is noticed and so appreciated! God bless us all as we continue to pursue Him first in all aspects of our lives. I’ll conclude with one of my favorite Scripture passages, so applicable right now for many of us:

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 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 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Every Good and Perfect Gift

Blog pic 2 Window
A window to the world.

 

Politics, masks, vaccines, the economy. Are these the metrics of life as we know it? Life and death and everything in between have been on the forefront of our collective minds for weeks now. The stakes suddenly got higher and we now have so much more to lose.

Or do we? Death has always been around the corner–what are 80 or 90 years compared to eternity? Jobs, relationships, and health have never come with a lifetime warranty. But perhaps what has changed in the past weeks is our awareness of how fragile the pillars of our lives are, how little is actually within our control.

VCS has been on Easter Break this week, and so I’ve had extra time to think about all that’s happened recently. These verses came to mind:

O Lord, what are human beings that you should notice them,
    mere mortals that you should think about them?
For they are like a breath of air;
    their days are like a passing shadow.” (Psalm 144:3-4, NLT)

What does God owe us during shelter in place? What can we rightfully claim from the world and each other? How much of who we are, what we own and what we enjoy is only by the unmerited mercy and bounty of God?

Nothing, nothing, everything.

I find that I need to be careful not to feel entitled to things for which I actually have no entitlement. All the goodness to be found in life comes not from myself, or from others, but from God:

“So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.” (James 1:16-18, NLT)

Hope during times of peace is an ideal; hope during duress is real.

Strength, character, faith, joy, peace, kindness, and a host of other godly virtues can be tested and revealed now in our lives in ways that simply would not have been possible before. Our losses during this time are greater–for some of us, immensely more so–but so is our experience of redemption in Christ.

Apart from Him, these days only serve to remind us how contingent our lease on life is. With Him, these days and all earthly days to follow are just the prelude to our true life.

And for that–for Who He Is and all that He’s done–there’s everything to thank Him for, coronavirus notwithstanding.

Beyond the Bite

SP20 In-N-Out pic
“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.