Movin’ Right Along…

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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

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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.

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…

SP20 Jaw accident pic
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!

Three Years Since the Third

Utomo Music Pic
“Celebrating 11 months of marriage, and looking forward to a month of concerts with my best friend!” – This was the caption Grace posted around Thanksgiving three years ago, when we thought we’d have a whole month of Christmas concerts ahead.

 

Dear friends, today marks three years since December 3, 2016, when God allowed a rogue driver to drastically change the course of our lives. In preparation for this post, Grace asked me if we are where I thought we’d be three years out from the accident. She asked me how I felt at the three year mark, and where we see ourselves going from here. My initial response to her questions was, “I don’t know.”

When something as terrible as Grace’s accident happens, the stakes in life suddenly get much higher. The balance between “needs” and “wants” shifts pretty dramatically and almost all your time and energy becomes devoted to keeping the boat afloat. At least something like that has been my experience. Have I had time to pause and feel what the accident has been like? Yes and no. I wouldn’t describe myself as shutting out the painful feelings associated with hardship, but at the same time my experience has been one focused mostly on just trusting God to get me and Grace through each day.

Wake up, go to work, go home and help Grace, do my own doctoral schoolwork, sleep.

The reason I don’t know if we are where I thought we would be at the three year mark is that Grace’s recovery has not followed a typical upward trajectory. To be sure, we went through the initial critical phase and have long since been in the plateau phase; but Grace has had some unexpected seizure developments during that plateau, and we are still working with neurologists to get a better understanding of what is going on with her brain and what we can do about it.

Where do I see us going in the next five, ten years? Health-wise, who knows. Hopefully we can continue to tweak Grace’s medication so that she won’t have a seizure every time she encounters a bright or flashing light. Lifestyle-wise, both Grace and I are in school, so I would look forward to finishing our degrees as our next significant life goal.

As difficult as the past three years have been, I wouldn’t change a thing about them. Not because I wouldn’t rather have had an easier, more pleasant time; but because God’s always in control and His plans are always best. Hard times do have a way of helping you realize just how much you need to rely on God and His help.

So if I could share, here are some reflections from the past three years:

  1. The accident was not an accident. God is Sovereign, and everything He does is for His glory and the ultimate good of His children (Rom 8:28).
  2. Human understanding is frightfully limited; God’s understanding is limitless. The “accident” didn’t change the course of Grace’s life as God had planned it; it only changed our understanding of how we thought Grace’s life should go (Prov 16:9).
  3. No one is entitled to an easy life. In fact, Jesus promised us that we would have trouble on earth (John 16:33). But Jesus also reminded us that He has overcome the world with its many sorrows and troubles.
  4. We all know there must be a greater good out there. The brokenness of this world serves as a cosmic sign pointing toward the redemption offered to us by God (Rom 8:19-24).
  5. This life is short; Heaven has no time limits. All the suffering we experience now cannot be quantified against the infinite goodness of living in perfect harmony with God and those who have accepted His gift of eternal life (Rom 8:18).

We could go on and on about God’s boundless goodness, mercy, and grace. The more I reflect on these things the more grateful I am that God would love us enough to care for our eternal wellbeing so passionately. He didn’t leave us to suffer; He took on our suffering and made something beautiful out of it (Isaiah 53:5).

Friends, we are grateful for your prayers and support thus far and can’t wait to keep moving forward with all of you. Please know that Grace and I also pray for you, that God would help all of us serve Him well and bear faithfully the tasks He has entrusted to each of us during our time on earth. Our prayer is that God would continue to renew our hearts and minds each day so that we will better know Him and understand His purposes throughout both the big and little moments of this life (Phil 3:8-10).

Remember, the battle has already been won! Rest in that truth, and don’t forget to let others know! 🙂

Life after Stanford

Grace Stanford pic
Enjoying the sun at Stanford!

 

Hello everyone! Happy mid-August. Grace and I have some updates for you all, so here we go!

Grace has finished her appointments with the specialist at Stanford. We’re grateful that a new medication from the Stanford doctor has improved Grace’s seizures so that when she encounters a light trigger, her body no longer goes completely limp. Her left hand still locks up though.

However, starting around May Grace has experienced migraines that come regularly after seizures. At worst these migraines have lasted 15 days, during which time Grace experiences intense pain, light and sound sensitivity, and nausea, despite multiple migraine medicines. Since these migraines can take days before they subside, every new seizure that occurs during a migraine prolongs the total migraine length.

Grace’s doctor at Stanford has recommended that we connect with further specialists back at Kaiser, so our relationship with members of the medical community continues to blossom. Doctors still don’t know exactly what’s causing Grace’s brain to do what it does. The plan is to continue to gather data in the hopes of finding a treatment plan that can address Grace’s sensitivity to light triggers.

So thank you for continuing to pray for us! God uses you all to sustain us on our journey. He is always able to do for His children more than any of us can ever imagine. He is always greater than anything this world can throw at us. Thank you all and to God be the glory!

Summer Summary

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Current mood…

 

Hi everyone, Happy Summer Break! At least for students and teachers, that is 🙂

I know we haven’t posted for a while, and this is more of an update than a post, but we wanted to let you know that we haven’t forgotten about you! Grace is still working with her doctor at Stanford, and we are still waiting for more definite news to share with you on that front. The process has been grueling for Grace recently, so we still really appreciate all your prayers and support! It looks like she will finish around mid-August, and we will keep you updated as we can until then. Thank you for walking faithfully with us, we can’t tell you how much that means. God bless you all!

The Man Who Hit Me (Part 2)

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Grace sent me this picture with our (then) kitten about an hour before the accident.

 

Ivan: Hi all! Happy Wednesday. This post will deal with events going back to the moment of the accident over two years ago, but first a brief update from the present: Grace is continuing to work with her new doctor at Stanford. Her doctor is gathering more information and working on putting together what we hope will be a viable treatment plan. Thank you for continuing to pray for us!

Now, for the main part of this post. The “me” in the title refers to Grace, and “Part 2” refers to our earlier post, in which we introduced a key character in our accident narrative: the driver who ran a red light on Saturday, December 3, 2016, and changed our lives forever.

I was not with Grace that afternoon as she waited for her crosswalk light to turn green and proceeded to step into the crosswalk to cross Magnolia Avenue in Riverside, CA. She had planned to get some food at Subway before meeting me to go a Christmas concert where she would play later that evening. When her light turned green, Grace took a few steps into the crosswalk as Mr. Driver (not his real name) failed to stop his car at his red light.

The information we have regarding this accident comes from video footage from a traffic camera at that intersection. This camera recorded the fact that, at the moment of impact, Grace’s head crashed through the car’s windshield, giving her a skull fracture at the back of her head; her body landed on the hood of the car. Mr. Driver stopped for a few seconds, moved his car forward a few yards, then braked so that Grace’s body fell on the road. Then he pulled over to the curb, where the police and paramedics eventually found him.

Grace’s accident was not a hit and run.

The Riverside Police Department was able to give me copies of Mr. Driver’s information. Grace and I know his name and where he lived at the time. Presumably, he has access to Grace’s information. We have never once heard from him since the time of the accident, even though he lived around the corner from our apartment complex.

In the forthcoming days and weeks I learned from a police detective investigating our case that, in the state of California, drivers who hit pedestrians are not charged criminally unless the pedestrian dies. Therefore, despite the severity of Grace’s injuries and the irreparable damage done to her quality of life, Mr. Driver has only been financially and legally accountable for his driver insurance’s minimal policy limit, and perhaps a ticket for running a red light.

God has been gracious to us in the time since the accident. He has always provided for our needs, not least through the tangible actions of many people who have sacrificially given of themselves to help us. Grace and I thank God for all of you!

At the same time, the fact remains that our accident serves to demonstrate how hope for ultimate justice should not be placed in human institutions. We are all flawed; our attempts at establishing a just society are also flawed. Yet God’s grace remains.

It would be an endless undertaking to enumerate the ways in which God makes His love and unmerited blessings known to us. Among these, Grace and I are thankful that God has chosen to allow Grace more time on earth; that He has given us family and friends who have more than supported us throughout our journey; that He brought into our lives attorneys who worked with us selflessly and patiently; that He himself never changes.

Our hope and prayer is that those of us who know God will continue to seek Him more and more through whatever He chooses to send our way, and that those who do not yet know Him would come to understand who He is and what He has done. Mr. Driver, Grace and I pray these things for you.

In the words of our Lord Jesus: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

 

ER’s and EEG’s

SP19 Stanford EEG Pic
So proud of you, Grace! Always keeping a great attitude no matter what.

 

On January 24 something very unexpected happened. For the past year or so Grace’s seizures have looked the same: light trigger, left hand comes up, body freezes, then the seizure releases after a few (or more) minutes. However, last Thursday morning while I was at work Grace had a “normal” seizure which then abruptly morphed into something we hadn’t seen before. Her whole body went limp and she struggled to breathe. Paramedics rushed her to the ER where, after several tests, doctors concluded that she had had some sort of rare but not-to-be-unexpected brain flare up. Monitors showed that although outwardly Grace looked like she was struggling to breathe, her brain was still receiving enough oxygen in between gasps. They told us we shouldn’t worry, and she was released later that day.

Last Saturday morning Grace had another of her “new” seizures, but having been reassured by doctors two days before, we kept her at home and she rested afterward. Later that night, however, another seizure came, and this time Grace  looked like she was struggling for air even more than before. We called 911 for the second time in three days, and the paramedics once again brought her to the Kaiser Santa Teresa ER near our apartment. It was around 7pm.

Eventually doctors decided that Grace should be transferred for an inpatient EEG monitoring, but since Kaiser Redwood City was full, she was transferred to Stanford Medical Center instead. The ambulance didn’t come to get her until 2:30am, and between the ride over and getting checked in Grace only “slept” from 4-6am that night. By now she had had several more of the new kind of seizure.

The EEG ran throughout Sunday morning, during which time Grace agreed to have a seizure purposefully induced via a doctor shining a light in her eyes. By Sunday afternoon the doctors informed us that the EEG results were inconclusive, and they recommended further outpatient treatment at a Stanford center specializing in neurological disorders.

Grace went home that afternoon and has been at home this past week. We are doing our best to resume our normal daily routines while dealing with the seizures as they come. I have tried to share this update with you all as concisely as possible, with the understanding that as a whole this past week-and-a-half has been unexpected, scary, and tiring.

At this point we are waiting to finalize our referral process to the Stanford center, hoping for little or no exposure to light triggers so that Grace can at least rest and resume her daily routine as safely as possible. Thank you so much for your prayers for us, and we will keep you posted as we learn more! God is faithful and good through it all.