We remembered Abby's first heavenly birthday this past Wednesday. We'd rather not think of it as the day she died but as the day she began her life in heaven with Jesus. It is a comfort to us. We thought it was going to be a really hard day but God was so good to us. I know many people were praying and we had been asking God for His peace. We really had a wonderful day. C. R. and I were able to each take a morning earlier in the week to get away alone to pray, cry and mourn. I think it helped us get through the day on Wednesday. We all went out to one of Abby's favorite restaurants--Good Egg. Then, we went to the zoo. It was a beautiful day weather-wise and the animals were very active. The kids also rode the carousel (Josiah rode the Panda in memory of Abby).
C. R. and I have both been surprised at how busy we have found ourselves in the past few months. First, Josiah had the opportunity to be involved in the Honeywell Aerospace Challenge. It is an annual competition when teams of students create a space station to house 100 people for a 2 year mission. They didn't get selected for the finals. However, his team did some pretty amazing work and we were very proud of them.
Next, Elizabeth's dance class had the privilege of performing at an assisted living residence. The dancers from several classes performed their holiday dances and then the children passed out holiday cards to the residents. Josiah, Daniel and Elizabeth all made cards. They loved giving them out and seeing the smiles they received in return. As always Daniel's smile was a big hit with the residents. We were also glad my parents were able to join us. My mom befriended a resident and asked her questions about her family. She has a wonderful talent for conversation and I knew she would be a blessing to someone there.
Finally, our biggest event is that C. R. started a new job this past week. After working at the North Central Association for 15 years he decided it was time to use his skills in a different way. Although he is thankful for the many friendships he made through NCA, he is excited about the opportunities he will have at Marvell Technologies (not to be confused with the comic book company).
Putting up the Christmas tree was different this year. Abby joined us in putting up the tree last year even though she wasn't feeling well at all, so, this was our first time putting up the tree without her. It was fun to see the kids taking turns hanging up all her special ornaments. They handled them with such care! It’s also fun to hear the kids say things like, "I remember when we all read that Christmas book together with Abby" or "Do you remember when we played Santa with that hat and toy bag with Abby?"
C. R. and I have commented that we often hear how difficult the holidays can be when you have lost a loved one. We understand this is probably true for some. We have so many traditions that will not be the same without Abby, yet we still find a great deal of hope and joy during this holiday season. God has so faithfully reminded us of what we can thank Him for and what we have to look forward to. He continues to be our strength and gives us a reason to rejoice even after we've had a good cry.
We hope and pray you all will enjoy a wonderful holiday season with friends and family. Thank you for lifting us up in prayer. Would you please keep Carlin’s family in your prayers as well? His mom posted a new entry to Carlin’s caringbridge site. You can read it at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/carlinshi . God Bless you all!
Make a Wish
We want to let you all know that Cold Stone Creamery will be holding their annual fundraiser for Make a Wish on Thursday, September 28 from 5-8 pm. Contact your local Cold Stone Creamery location to find out if they are participating.
As you saw from our last entry, our summer began with mourning the loss of our friend, Carlin. He was an amazing young man and we were deeply saddened when we said goodbye. Many people asked us how we were able to provide support to his family when we had said goodbye to our Abby less than 6 months earlier. The answer to that is a resounding, "By the grace of God!" I remember driving to the same hospital where Abby had most of her treatment to visit Carlin. I would just say, "Lord, I don't know why you are asking me to support this family right now or how I am going to be able to do this without falling apart. You are going to have to give me the strength and the words". I want to tell you that it was an amazing experience. I felt such a sense of peace. My tears, which often flow quite easily, amazingly waited until I was at home in the quiet of my room. During this time I was so encouraged by the words from 2 Corinthians 1:3-5. It says, "All praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the source of every mercy and the God who comforts us. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. You can be sure that the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ." We were so blessed that we had the privilege of being the arms of Jesus to Carlin and his family. Praise God for His goodness!
I still keep in touch with Ling, Sammy and Ling's cousin, Linda. In fact, Josiah invited them to his choir camp performance of Donkey Tales at our church and Ling and Linda came. We were thrilled to share more about Jesus with them through the wonderful performance that the children produced. Josiah was especially honored to play the part of Jesus in the musical. He had a small speaking part and thoroughly enjoyed his acting debut.
The day after the performance, we all boarded a plane to Atlanta. C. R. had business there and we all had the privilege of joining him for almost 2 weeks. C. R.'s dad Charles also joined us. We visited museums, other area attractions as well as family and friends. We especially enjoyed Zoo Atlanta where we made a point to see the giant pandas. As you may remember, pandas are very popular in our house because of Abby's stuffed Panda. Josiah, Daniel and Elizabeth still alternate sleeping with Abby's Panda so seeing the real pandas was very special.
After our Atlanta trip we stayed busy with swim classes, camp and other summer activities. The rest of July flew by and since we follow a year-round school schedule for homeschooling we were gearing up for school before we knew it. A few days before we were to start homeschooling, we decided to have a fun water day in the backyard. We set up some sprinklers as well as a water play table and got out a few water balloons. As we were getting ready to start, Josiah pointed out an unusual, bright, yellow butterfly that started fluttering around us and then left. I said to the kids that maybe Abby asked Jesus to send a butterfly along to let us know that she would have loved playing in the water with us. Suddenly, the butterfly returned and literally circled Josiah, then Daniel, then Elizabeth several times. They were, of course, delighted by this and started calling hello to Abby. It was fun to see this butterfly as well as another one like it hanging around while the kids played in the water.
Daniel adjusted to Kindergarten wonderfully and Josiah got back into the school routine after a few days. Both boys started their weekly homeschooling enrichment program last Monday. Daniel had no concerns about spending the day away from home and declared that he was going to like lunch time the best of his whole day. We're obviously hoping he finds other activities of interest as well! I am really looking forward to the time I'll be able to spend alone with Elizabeth on Mondays.
We celebrated birthdays with all three children this summer. Josiah turned 10 in June, Daniel turned 5 last week and Elizabeth turned 3 in June. It is encouraging for us to see how God continues reveal Himself and to provide comfort for each of them as they need it. They still mention missing Abby often and sometimes they are pretty sad. We hug each other a lot and ask Jesus often to give Abby hugs for us.
Finally, C.R. and I had the special blessing of a long weekend away in Coronado, California. Our wonderful family took care of the kids and we spent our days talking, resting, enjoying fabulous, live theater and appreciating the beautiful weather. It was a wonderful gift from God.
We would like to ask you to pray for a few things for us. First, we are asking God to show us how He wants us to use our experiences with Abby for His glory. We don't know exactly what that would involve, but we have a few thoughts. Please pray that He will open doors and show us how He wants to use our whole family for His purposes.
Second, please remember us in the fall when we would have celebrated Abby's 8th birthday. We anticipate that this October 23rd might be particularly difficult for all of us.
Finally, continue to pray for Carlin's family as they mourn their loss. Pray for God's comfort for them. Also, please pray for a young lady named Kellie that we met through A Hand of Hope. She will be going to Tucson sometime this fall for a Bone Marrow transplant at UMC. You can get more details from her website at http://teamkellie.org/diary.htm.
Thank you faithful prayer warriors and may God bless you.
Carlin Update and News Story
They have discontinued all treatment and are providing only comfort medical support. I was able to pray for Carlin last night at the hospital with his parents, Ling and Sammy, as well as Carlin's aunt and grandmother. I praise the Lord that we had the wonderful priviledge to share the story of Jesus with Carlin when he was still awake and alert a few weeks ago.
This evening C.R. brought Josiah to the hospital (at his insistence) to say good bye to Carlin. Josiah wanted to tell Carlin one more Jesus story. C.R. also had the opportunity to talk with Sammy.
Please pray for Carlin's family as they say their good-byes to their only child. Ask the Lord to wrap His loving arms around them and comfort them with His peace. If you'd like to see pictures of Carlin, you can see his website at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/carlinshi
We've had more than a few people ask "how are you handling this?" I can only say that it certainly has brought back memories and prompted many tears, but we continue to feel certain that our friendship with Carlin and his family was divinely orchestrated. With that in mind, we press on and trust our loving Savior to provide us with the emotional support we need to do His work. He continues to give us strength we didn't know we had and it reminds us again of His faithfulness. Josiah wrote a "Dear Abby" letter in his Abby journal today asking her to meet Carlin at the gates of heaven and introduce him to Jesus as well as a few other important bible characters like King Josiah, Abigail, Daniel, and Elizabeth.
Finally, we heard from our news reporter friend, Jeff Bills today. Channel 5 will air Abby's follow up story this Monday at 10 pm. He has been done with the piece for a few months, but his producer wanted to air it during sweeps month. You can pray that the Lord will use it for His glory and good purposes.
Amy has been privileged to have him come for our weekly science lesson. Some days he has been here all afternoon.
About two weeks ago his condition worsened considerably and he began to become extremely tired all the time. All he wanted to do was sleep. Their oncologist sent them for an MRI which revealed terrible news--his tumor has spread significantly throughout his central nervous system. Like we did with Abby, they have increased his Decadron sizably in hopes of lessening his body's natural inflammatory response and helping him to feel better.
He has been admitted to the hospital today to receive a round of chemo and also because he has been having respiratory issues related to the tumor progression. Ling called Amy today to let her know that they were now inpatient, and said that Carlin, in spite of his exhaustion, very much wanted Josiah to come visit. God willing, they will go this evening.
We are very encouraged because Ling has expressed more and more interest recently in what it is that makes us able to cope on a day-to-day basis. She has said she is open to us talking about who Jesus is and what He means to us, both with her and with Carlin. This is the opportunity for which we have been waiting and praying.
Prayer and Butterflies
I am also encouraged by the reminder that, just like those caterpillars, we all are transformed into something beautiful because of our relationship with Jesus. Jesus' willingness to endure the cross is the reason that Abby is at His throne right now and we rejoice at the thought of our reunion some day.
We all got to name a butterfly (except C.R. who is still thinking of a name). So, meet DV (Darth Vader), GC (Golden City: one of our favorite praise songs about heaven), Hope or Abby. I can't tell which butterfly is which, but Josiah and Daniel seem to be quite certain about that.
Our days are still sad. Sometimes we miss Abby terribly, but we continue to have times of joy as well. We visited our friend, Carlin at Banner Children's Hospital last week. He is the boy we have mentioned in the past who has the PNET tumor like Abby's. As we were driving up to the building, Elizabeth said, "Is this heaven? Will Abby be here?" We were sorry to disappoint her but so glad to tell her that this wasn't heaven and Abby wouldn't be here. Heaven is a much better place than anything we could ever witness on this earth.
Our friend, Carlin is back in the hospital now and his mom said I could ask you all to pray for him. He has an infection in his stomach and he is neutropenic. Please pray for his counts to go back up and for the antibiotics to treat the infection.
Recently, Josiah had a neat experience that I wanted to share with you. He had come out of his bed and told me that he was missing Abby so I gave him a hug and offered to pray with him. He decided that he wanted me to tuck him in and then said that he would pray himself. I told him to ask Jesus to give him a hug too and even to give Abby one for him. The next morning he came downstairs all smiles. He said, "Mommy, God answered my prayers! I got into bed and had a lump in my throat. I asked him to give me a hug and the lump went away! I guess he gave Abby a hug too."
Some day we look forward to hugging Abby in person in heaven, but for now we are asking Jesus to give Abby a hug for us. Maybe she's asking Jesus to hug us right back :) We certainly do feel His love and peace when we're leaning on Him. It doesn't take away the sadness and pain, but we are able to have joyful thoughts about Abby in her heavenly home.
Here's a cute poem we received in a card recently.
It's wondrous what a hug can do,
It can cheer you up when you're feeling blue.
A hug can say I love you so,
And how I hate to see you go.
A hug means welcome back with cheer;
It seems that you've been gone a year.
A hug can soothe a small child's pain
And bring a rainbow after a rain.
About a hug there is no doubt,
It's something we can't do without.
A hug will warm, delight and charm
It must be why God made an arm.
Hugs are great for favorite aunts
'Twill help them more than potted plants.
Kittens crave them, puppies love them.
Heads of state are not above them.
A hug can break the language barrier
And make the dullest day far merrier.
So stretch those arms without delay,
And give someone a hug today.
Who are you going to hug?
By Josiah Oldham
February 24, 2006
There was a great relationship between Abby and her stuffed animal, Panda. I think Panda was given to Abby when she was 2. She would always sleep with him. Abby liked Panda a lot.
Whenever Abby went to the hospital, Panda was always the very first thing they packed. Abby gave Panda an I.D. band that he wears around his neck. The I.D. band reads "Panda." When Abby had to have Fiducials for surgery, Panda always had one too.
After Abby died, and even today, Panda takes turns sleeping in Mine, Daniel’s and Elizabeth’s beds. I think he looks forward to my turn with him because I always keep him warm. I think Abby is seeing live Pandas in heaven. I bet they will hug her. Maybe there is a Panda with an I.D. band that looks exactly like Abby’s stuffed Panda!
Wish Trip: One Year
We continue to experience the ups and downs of our loss. There are some days that seem to be harder than others...when the tears come more readily and frequently. However, God continues to remind us of His love for us and gives us the strength to go on.
Josiah is pouring himself into an upcoming school project. He will "be" Thomas Edison at the Eagleridge Living History Museum this month. He is to dress in character and answer questions about his life and contribution to society. He is really looking forward to the event. He has frequent days when he talks about missing Abby multiple times. He continues to process that grief by writing and drawing. His most recent artwork was a picture of Abby dancing for Jesus complete with "tech crew" angels running the heavenly sound system. Abby, of course, had long, blonde hair and a huge smile on her face.
Daniel continues to mention Abby frequently as well. He is also trying to make sense out of the reality that he has been living in for the past few years. He asked me a few weeks ago when his hair was going to fall out. I reassured him that God willing, it shouldn't fall out until he is very old. He is also trying out his hand at drawing. He just recently started maturing in his "stick-people" art. He often draws himself and Abby standing next to each other...Abby always has a BIG smile. He says she is happy now. I'm so glad he grasps that wonderful truth.
Elizabeth also follows suit when she hears her brothers mention missing Abby. She always says, "I miss Abby...Abby is in heaven". I am also missing Abby's influence. One day last week Elizabeth was outside with Josiah playing. They were heading off on an "adventure." She said to him, "Just a minute, I have to go get my gun." I turned to C.R. and pleaded, "Abby, we miss you!" I do praise God we have no lack of female influence for Elizabeth, though. Abby's friends Lindsay, Alex, Audrey and many others are so good to play girl things with her when she needs it!
Last weekend we had the pleasure of joining my parents, Aunt Gail, Uncle Bob (from Michigan) and C.R.'s dad on a quick train ride and tour of the Grand Canyon. It was the first train ride for us all and our kids' first view of this awesome display of God's handiwork. We had a wonderful time.
Thank you for keeping us in your prayers. We also appreciate hearing from you. Your continued encouragement is a blessing to us.
Praise God, and some Video
Last night (Thursday) we celebrated the life of a dear friend and sister in Christ, Josette Kruge. Josette passed away from cancer just a few days ago. Hers was a battle of over six years. Our church was full for the service--standing room only. It was a great time of worship and praise as we celebrated, singing some of the same songs we sang for Abby's service.
The thing I will remember about Josette most was that she was always concerned about everyone else. She would call to ask about how Abby was doing, or we would run into her at church. From the moment your conversation began, she would be totally focused on you. It was like there was nobody else in the room, nothing else on her mind, nothing distracting her, absolutely no problems in her own life, you had her full attention.
Yet her cancer devastated her body--and if anyone had reason to complain about the horrible things cancer can do, not to mention the fact that sometimes the treatment is worse than the disease, she did. But she never did.
Instead she offered encouragement. She prayed. She brought gifts. She visited, as long as she could. She called when she could no longer.
Early in Abby's treatment, as soon as we found out that she was really going to lose her hair from the radiation and the chemotherapy, Josette brought hats for Abby. What a wonderful gift--only a cancer victim can truly appreciate the gift of a hat (or joy of giving a hat). I remember her saying "Look what I found--I got these on sale!" It wasn't until I was in the service last night, telling this story to those assembled, that I realized what that really meant to her. She was known for being thrifty--miserly, some might say, in a joyful way.
So Abby has another friend in Heaven now.
On a happier note, Amy got a call from Carlin's mom (see this entry) today. Carlin had a post-radiation therapy PET scan recently, and currently it shows no tumor activity. Praise God! Please keep praying, he will be continuing his chemotherapy treatments in an attempt to make sure the tumors never return.
Last, I put the Cancer Kids Segment from KPHO Channel 5 on Ourmedia. It is in Windows Media format.
[Amy writing] First, I want to let you know that the news segment didn't air at 5 on Christmas Eve after all, it was moved to 6 pm. Sorry for those of you who were watching and waiting. The writer of that story is planning on writing/producing a follow up story just about Abby. We'll let you know how that comes together and when it will air.
Thanks to you all for your prayers over the last month. We are doing as well as you can expect. We have times of crying and also times of joy and peace. C. R. has stayed busy with a media project (building a MythTV client and server, basically a TiVo on steroids) and in the process he is converting all our VHS home movies to DVD format. We have appreciated the blessing of his time off from work. I am trying to catch up on housekeeping and organizing knowing that we will soon return to our regular school routine. It is hard sometimes to "bump" into something that reminds me of Abby...the memories are everywhere. But, I know it's all part of the process and am thankful and certain that God even directs the timing of those encounters and He continues to be faithful in our grieving. We plan to spend some time counseling with one of our pastors from church later this week.
The kids are also hanging in there. Josiah is pouring himself into his "Abby journal". He is writing memories of Abby that I'm sure will bring him great comfort. Daniel and Elizabeth also received journals which they are "writing" and drawing in. We will help them write their memories until they are ready to do it on their own. One of the best healing activities for them has been that they are taking turns sleeping with the famous "Panda bear" (Abby's bear who went on almost every hospital visit with her). They are so gracious to take turns with him and rejoice with each other when it is someone else's turn. The boys are also taking turns "sleeping over" with Elizabeth in Abby's bed. We are glad to see that Daniel has been able to express himself often. His expression will become quite serious and he'll say, "I miss Abby" or pray that she's having a good day in heaven. Then, he'll smile his bright smile as if he knows that there's no doubt whatsoever that she is happy. Even little Elizabeth knows our family isn't complete and she just keeps reminding us several times a day with a smile, "Abby is in heaven."
[C. R. writing] I've noticed that Abby's absence is not the screaming, gaping, empty void that I expected. Instead, it's more like a cold draft, like the kind you feel on an evening in late fall when someone has left a window open, but you're not sure where. You're sitting on the couch, immersed in a book or a TV show, and every so often you feel a cold wind brush across your cheek. It's cold enough to shock you, make you shiver. And you want to get up to shut the window, but you can't find which one is open.
It's my prayer that over time, it will become a warm breeze that we feel, as the memories of Abby become entrenched in our minds.
[Amy writing] As for our holidays, they were...different, but different is probably good. We enjoyed spending time with my family on Christmas Eve and C. R.'s dad on Christmas Day. Elizabeth was sick the entire time with the nasty respiratory flu bug that has been going around so she was a little out of sorts and just wanted to be held. We enjoyed the opportunity to cuddle with her more than normal. God was incredibly gracious in that none of the rest of us caught it nearly as bad as she did. We were shocked and thankful when we realized that Daniel didn't even get a single sniffle (which is by God's grace because he always catches everything). C. R. and I were blessed with an anniversary gift of a couple of days alone at home. We left the kids in Tucson with my wonderful family and headed back to Chandler to celebrate, pray and process. It was a great time of refreshing for us.
[C. R. writing] New Year's Eve day my dad came up to stay with us and we took a day trip to Sedona to hike the Devil's Bridge trail. Devil's Bridge (name notwithstanding) is an easy hike with a 30-foot high natural stone bridge at the end of it and a fantastic view of the landscape surrounding Sedona. It's a perfect hike for kids 4 and over. (See HikeArizona for more details, search for "Devil's Bridge", you have to register to see the content, but this site is a great resource if you are a hiker).
I had been there with the men of our homegroup many years ago, and did not remember that there were two trails, one that led to the underside of the bridge, and one that leads direct to the top of the bridge. The lower trail is fairly easy until you get to the other side of the bridge. Then there is a short portion of the path across a smooth natural cliff formation (with accompanying 25 foot drop--no railing!). That leads to a steep climb to the top of the bridge.
The trail was somewhat crowded that day. When we reached the underside of the bridge and Amy noticed that our 2 year old toddler and 4 year old very active Daniel had to cross this treacherous, highly unsafe, fraught with danger section of trail she (understandably) started to get a little...anxious. I, on the other hand, playing the part of the intrepid explorer leading his hardy band in the wilderness, prepared to conquer whatever is placed in our way, offered to carry the entire party on my back and subdue this portion of the path. We definitely learned some valuable lessons about a mother's protective instinct and how grief can play a very active part in minute-by-minute choices.
Fortunately I did not truly have to carry everyone, just Elizabeth, and Daniel did not leap headlong off the cliff (nor off the bridge, which was Amy's second greatest fear of the day), and we were treated to a spectacular view full of the fingerprints of God once we reached the top of the bridge.
It was a great way to start the new year together as a family.
During Abby's treatment, Disney/Pixar released the movie "The Incredibles." We all went together to see it along with some of our best friends. It was a bonding time for us--Abby was out of chemotherapy, was not neutropenic, and was feeling well that day. The characters resonated with us, I'm sure by design (either director/producer Brad Bird's, or God's--probably both). I see pieces of myself in Bob Parr and Josiah identifies with him as well. There are facets of Helen in Amy. Parts of Violet are in Abby. Give Dash red hair, and you have Daniel. For any of you who have not seen it, it is a wonderful movie which is, at its core, not about superheroes. It's about family. Truly, every family has within it the makings of being "super." God created the family unit, and He directs the creation of each family member, bestowing on each the gifts, talents, skills, and abilities to complete the family. Together, we are far stronger than we are apart, and that is by design.
We've made it this far, and a new year is before us. Our faith and trust in the Almighty has been tested, and I hope found true. With that knowledge, the year ahead seems full of amazing opportunity. We pray that it appears the same to you.