To Chew or Not to Chew

SP20 Jaw Accident Pic 3
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

SM19 Daisy Pic
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)

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.

New Directions for a New Year

morro bay pic
Happy New Year! 🙂


Ivan: Happy new year everyone! I’d like to give an update on how Grace and I are doing not only medically but also with life in general. We have some exciting career and education updates to share! That being said, I’ll start with the medical side and approach it somewhat systematically, so—please bear with me. 🙂 Physiologically, Grace still faces two main challenges: seizures, and the effects of her traumatic brain injury (TBI). Her seizures are triggered by light, or more specifically, sudden changes in bright light. This encompasses everything from sunlight glinting off of cars, LED headlights and taillights, exposure to LED lights in general, fluorescent lightbulbs around our apartment (which occasionally flicker), as well as unexpected videos or ads on TV, computer, and phone screens. These seizures drain Grace’s energy, and often a bad string of seizures takes days to recover from.


Because of her TBI, Grace needs a lot of structure in her daily routine. It is hard for her to face open-ended situations (like life), and unexpected changes to her schedule are hard to process. TBI also limits her energy so that she is only able to work on activities for around 20 minutes at a time before needing to rest. When Grace is particularly fatigued, she may even experience TBI episodes in which, for usually around 10 minutes or so, she regresses to behaving like a five-year-old child having a tantrum. She becomes upset and unable to process what I say until the episode passes, and she returns to her normal self.


Needless to say, Grace’s daily life is extremely limited. I feel so sorry for her—at times the imagery of a caged bird comes to mind. I remember how gifted, energetic, active, talented, and vivacious she used to be, and she still possesses all of those characteristics now, but is unable to fully express herself due to her physical limitations. It’s hard to see my 25-year-old wife stuck at home because even walking from our apartment to our car in the parking garage poses a serious seizure threat.


Yet her attitude continues to amaze me daily. She knows who she is—a beloved child of God—and she knows where her eternal future lies. She is a fighter who pushes herself beyond what anyone else (including doctors, at times) might recommend, and I believe God has blessed her tremendous efforts so that, despite her limitations, she has been able to accomplish more than many would have predicted.


For a number of months now, Grace has been enrolled in an accelerated online B.A. in English degree at Cal Baptist. In the face of huge obstacles, I have seen her persist time and time again, giving her absolute best even when it hurts. God has blessed her efforts to the extent that her professors, who were initially unaware of Grace’s accident and limitations, have highly acclaimed her work. Way to go Grace! Keep giving your best to God and He will take care of the rest.


On my part, I have been blessed to continue my own studies as well. I’m currently enrolled in an online EdD in Organizational Leadership at Grand Canyon University. God has been helping both Grace and I manage our responsibilities as best as we can so far, and we will continue to rely on His grace throughout this year and beyond, every step of the way.


No one knows what a year may hold, except for the One who knows all things—including human hearts. May we dedicate our lives to pursuing the One who pursued us first, giving Him all the glory and praise because He deserves it all and so much more. Thank you all for continuing to lift us up in prayer. Your love means the world to us, and we are humbled to continue to share our journey with you all! May God bless us and make us a blessing.


Daisy sleeping
Even Daisy feels overwhelmed and needs to rest sometimes!


Sometimes November’s busyness feels like it’s trying to keep up with December’s. Grace and I were discussing my rehearsal and concert schedule for the next two months and we felt a bit overwhelmed looking at all the blocked out dates on our calendar. It was around that time that I read Psalm 127 and a verse jumped out at me:

“It is useless for you to work so hard
    from early morning until late at night,
anxiously working for food to eat;
    for God gives rest to his loved ones.”

Wow. I don’t know about you, but most of the time I feel like I am constantly expending energy toward this worthy cause or that, and trying to rest intermittently. To be clear, this verse doesn’t recommend giving up work. Work existed before sin came into the world, as part of God’s perfect plan for mankind. But this verse does admonish us to do away with working anxiously.

Rest comes from the Lord. He reminds us of this in so many ways throughout the Scriptures, using imagery of lying down in green meadows next to peaceful waters, the unburdening of a heavy yoke in exchange for a light one, or multiple promises of peace that transcends human understanding.

If I know all of this, why do I sometimes still feel anxious and resort to working feverishly? Maybe it’s because I fall under the illusion that everything depends on me–that if I fail everything will fall apart. Well, thank God, everything doesn’t depend on me. It doesn’t depend on you. God works in all things to bring goodness out of messiness, healing out of pain, life out of death.

Now if I could just remember that…

As we enter a season focused on thanksgiving, I hope we will all pause for a moment–or longer–and give thanks for the true, deep, soul-satisfying rest that only God can give.

Caring for Your Spouse

Yogurt Run
We went on a frozen yogurt run 144 days before the accident…


Ivan: Spouses are called to care for one another, but things get really interesting when a severe, life-threatening accident gets thrown into the mix. I was 23 when a man ran a red light and hit my wife at 40 mph as she was walking in a crosswalk (there was a security camera at the intersection). Grace was also 23. “But we were so young!” Is there ever an “appropriate” time to become a caregiver for one’s spouse? There is something wholesome and sacred about all husbands and wives who stay together and care for each other till the end. I pray that God will give me the privilege of taking care of Grace for decades to come. That being said, you don’t usually think of couples in their 20’s operating under a “victim-caregiver” dynamic. Grace and I are very aware that we are not the only newly married couple to face something unexpected and devastating. We share our story in the hope that whoever reads our words may be encouraged.

What is it like being a caregiver for your spouse? It’s hard. It’s hard because everyone has 24 hours in a day and a finite amount of energy with which to take care of the many things that need to be taken care of in a day. Usually the demands of work and family life are enough to leave people feeling exhausted. Adding serious medical needs doesn’t help. Somehow you have to keep being employed and keep meeting “normal” social and relational demands while also helping your spouse. The spouse is understandably unable to do as much work (professionally and at home) as before, so the caregiver is responsible to make up the difference.

In addition, the spouse being helped is aware that “if it weren’t for them” their spouse wouldn’t need to be a caregiver. This can create feelings of frustration both at the situation itself and its effect on the caregiver. The caregiver also needs to be sensitive about how to “cope” with the exhaustion and frustration arising from the situation, because it would be easy to inadvertently make the “victim” feel responsible (even though in our case Grace is 100% blameless for what happened).

Sometimes I feel like there is a train called the “train of life,” and a major accident has derailed it. But somehow the train is still expected to function “as usual” because “life goes on.” How do you get the train back on its rails?

You push it back on to the rails and then you push it until the engine slowly comes back to life. Then you keep pushing.

Why do all this? Sadly, many don’t. Many give up and leave because “this wasn’t what they signed up for.” And if we’re honest, that reason (or excuse) makes sense. Then how do we account for that voice that says, “That’s not how it should be! Stay for love…”

No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13.

I never know when the next seizure will come. When they do inevitably come–because we can’t cocoon Grace in a life completely insulated from any chance encounters with light triggers or fatigue triggers–I have no power to make them stop. If I’m present with Grace and not at work or someplace else, I literally just sit there next to her and wait for the seizure(s) to stop. It feels completely helpless. People don’t like to feel helpless. But it’s part of my calling now to care for Grace.

There was a time last year when I worked many hours to make up for the income Grace lost because she could no longer work, and I was finishing my master’s degree, and I would come home, administer a blood-thinner shot in Grace’s arm because her knees were broken and she was stuck in a wheelchair and we didn’t want potentially fatal blood clots to form, then I would help Grace with her self-care, then I would clean her G-tube which had been infected and had developed pressure sores from being installed inappropriately, then I would sleep, wake up, repeat. But that was part of my calling to care for Grace.

Grace and I miss going to church (we hope we can go back to trying to go to church again, once Grace has rested up and recovered after our recent hospitalization). We miss the fact that she hasn’t been able to attend events at VCS or meet my students and coworkers. We miss the fact that (unlike many of our peers) we are not able to travel freely abroad, or even to Southern California, or even around town. Or eat out. Even watching TV sitcoms (Grace introduced me to Seinfeld a while back and my life hasn’t been the same since) is risky, because light triggers could come onscreen at any time (Grace has been triggered during Seinfeld episodes, fyi…). Movies are also risky. Walking outside our front door feels like leaving Rivendell to walk to Mordor. But even inside our apartment she’s not safe from triggers, so it’s not quite an elven sanctuary.

I’m rambling, but you get my point. Peace of mind is hard to come by. I would have crumbled long ago were it not for my Foundation. “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

“In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid Ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand.”

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full, in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.”

Only God is strong enough, kind enough, patient enough, faithful enough, constant enough, to face life’s biggest challenges. I know I’m not. I pray that all of us would come to the only Source of true Life as difficulties keep coming our way. Our Shepherd walks with us through the darkest valleys…and leads us through into the light.

Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.” Psalm 23:6

Soli Deo Gloria.