From Michelle.  1 June, 2011.

Dear friends and family,

Steve and I forget that we cannot do things as we did before.  This month, we got recklessly hungry for life, and we crammed our mouths full with it.  The crowded schedule was a red flag we ignored and off we ran, high on the speed and the goodness of it all, until we looked at each other and realized that we are slower now.  I imagine aging this way, our eternal spirits forced to make peace with the physical limitations conferred upon them by time. Steve is reminded in his body.  My spirit is still tired and nudges me more quietly.  Perhaps some space would be good.  A dash of silence.   A bit more prayer.  I notice the breathlessness and realize that in all of the fine acrobatic maneuvering it took to get through our calendar, I forgot to breathe.

Tricked by all of the progress, we forget.  I watch Steve glowing on the stage, preaching, a tireless ball of passion and energy.  At night he is still illuminated by it, energized and inspired.  It is a convincing mirage of what once was.  The next day, however, his body reminds us both, nerves crackling and muscles aching.  Slowing down is a discipline we are still learning.

While the injury is Steve’s the whole family must adjust to this unhurried pace.  It takes awhile for stiffened fingers to fish keys out of a pocket, no matter how quickly the rest of us are tumbling toward the car, children jumping up and down, prematurely tugging on the locked door handles, and me a whirlwind of motherly hunting and gathering.  No matter how late we are, we now amble up to our destination with a dignified gait.

Slowing down might be profitable.  Remembering to breathe is beneficial.  Steve once did a silent retreat for a month.  He could not read, and aside from a brief morning interaction with his spiritual mentor, he spent his time in silence in a cabin in the woods.  One day his assignment was that every time he breathed he should remember the Holy Spirit.  For an entire day, Steve breathed and remembered the Holy Spirit.  It changed him.

I try to remember this as I reign in the desire to rush through this transition.  The details are not yet ready to be harvested: plane tickets, moving companies, housing plans.  Restless, unfinished checklist in hand, I might forget to breathe.  Looking up the word breath in my concordance, I discover that the very last verse in the psalms is: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!  Praise the Lord!”  (Psalm 150:6)  Indeed, there is much to praise with this breath of mine, if I can but remember.  Steve walking without a cane, Steve preaching, Steve holding my hand with evermore pliant fingers, the tears of friends and strangers as he tells the story.  And I know in my heart that there is more to come.

During the early stages of Steve’s paralysis, he could not breathe easily.  The nerves did not fire up his belly and chest muscles, and his breath was shallow.  Respiratory therapists gave him exercises and trained me to help him cough, something he was unable to do on his own.  It was an almost violent gesture, not unlike a Heimlich maneuver, that forced enough air from his lungs for a good strong breath.  Unlike Steve, I take breathing for granted.  I run too fast and get breathless, as I did this month.  Alternately, I treat the details of my life more like heavy stones of great significance than like a breath, here today and gone tomorrow.  The details will come.  The healing will come.  In the meantime, I have to breathe and remember the Holy Spirit.

Remembering, I look up a verse from Steve’s favorite psalm, psalm 46.  In verse 10, there is the famous verse: “be still and know that I am God.”  The Message translates it this way: “Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.”  I look and I breathe and I know.

Thank you, God.



PS  Thanks so much to all those who continually ask for prayer requests.  First, we give thanks that Steve again managed (with delight!) a full day of preaching at First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue.  You can see his sermon at:  Our greatest hope and prayer continues to be for full healing for Steve, which includes healing in his hands, strength in his legs, an absence of nerve pain, and returned sensation to his body.  We pray with hope but also with the deepest gratitude for all that we have already received.  We would also be so grateful for prayers for our return to Manila.  Every detail has yet to unfold in a short amount of time, and amidst our own travel to see family and friends one last time.  Please pray for our congregation in Manila as they too prepare their hearts and minds for this transition.  As always, your prayers are deeply treasured by us.  Thank you!

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Surrender to the gift.

From Michelle. 28 April, 2011.

Dearest friends and family,

Happy Easter! Although we have been silent, our lives have not been quiet. On the contrary, we have been orchestrating the profusion of activities to be accomplished in the slim numbering of days between now and August first, when we are tentatively hoping to touch down once again in our beloved Manila.

For the most part, we have been meeting with folks. Since June we have lived an insulated existence, dictated by the fullness of daily life, but also by the emotional demands of recovery. Tragedy engenders a protective response. The instinct is to curl up, fetus-like, and hide the tender parts. To willfully unfurl and offer up the raw, the harmed, the fleshy scars, is an act of profound trust. To reengage is an act of faith. As those scars heal, however, we are reemerging, eyes blinking in the light of friendships long neglected, absorbing the warm rays of good conversation and blessed relationship, tiptoeing back into responsibilities laid aside for such a time as this. Is it coincidental that this reemergence mirrors the season, our heads peeking up along with the flowers in our garden?

As I look around with fresh eyes, a new appreciation evolves. Every week there is more reason to give thanks: a kind word, a card, an act of service, a donation, a meal, a child we have never met still offering daily prayers for Steve’s healing, a family passing on their basketball hoop to the boys, the countless professionals who weekly offer their skills to Steve for free, the ongoing concern for our story amidst a thousand other heartaches. The wave of kindness is so large, so continuous, that I am at times quite literally overwhelmed by it. As a new transition approaches, I lay awake at night asking myself, how can we ever adequately thank for what went before?

Somewhere in that question, alongside the almost giddy gratitude that bubbles up is a bewildered sense of inadequacy. How in the world did we come to deserve all of this extravagant goodwill? Jesus said that it is more blessed to give than to receive. And yet so much of our faith revolves around the initial act of receiving, receiving the outrageous gift of a son by a father, so that we too might be called children of God (John 1:12). Isn’t it outrageous? Isn’t it utterly scandalous? Doesn’t it fly in the face of every karmic philosophy this world has ever designed? Who among us would ever pay that price? When I come to the Good Friday moment and kneel in front of that absurd and lavish love, I am quite simply carried away by the wave. I’d drown just to be thrown up on that distant shore, the Easter promise that lies beyond the death of me. In stretching out my hand to receive the gift, I acknowledge my need. And the love that ensues from the gift received is sometimes reckless and wild, and it carries me to a strange and unknown destination. As I am carried into the mystery, I surrender to Love itself. At its core, my faith requires me to receive. In my outstretched palm lies my surrender. So when the wave of generosity and kindness comes and threatens to overwhelm, and I want to grab a life vest and do something to earn it all, I imagine the grace that works in me only when my hands are open, and I surrender to the wave, whispering in my heart, “thank you, thank you, thank you.” Thank you.

Steve continues to work hard, making steady progress. Among his current challenges, he is watching the children in order to allow me to go to a retreat in the Colorado mountains with one of my closest friends, while he simultaneously prepares and delivers a sermon at five services this Sunday at UPC. It is just like Steve to leap this way, powered by a generous desire for my fulfillment. I am once again riding the wave, this time away from him and into the mountains, into reflection and nature and God, wanting so much to help and yet called to acknowledge my need and receive. I worry about how frustrating it will be to change a diaper with his stiff fingers, or how tired he’ll be staying up after the boys go to bed in order to load the dishwasher, but he will do it and that is a miracle in and of itself. Mostly, selfishly, I wish I were sitting in the pews to hear him preach. Other progress trickles in like a leaky faucet, slow but steady drips into the chasm of what remains. Perhaps his fingers move with a little bit more fluidity. Perhaps he can walk a little bit further. We hold out our cup, thirsty, and wait impatiently for it to fill. Sensation remains elusive. The other day Steve managed to maneuver himself into the bath tub, a first. His reward upon landing in the steaming hot water, however, was a sensation of mild coolness. It was only when his hands entered the water that he realized the heat.

On Easter, I stood in front of three services and said this: “I choose to believe that God’s work in us through this affliction carries a deeper weight than the affliction itself. And that God is doing a work in our hearts that will last far beyond our bodies, if we can continue to look up. To me, that is the resurrection life.” A bold statement of faith. We wait, sometimes frustrated, sometimes patient, with our physical reality a pitiable half empty cup. But then there is the ocean of gratitude, love on a cross, the Easter promise of resurrection life. What will last for always? What matters for an eternity? We lift our eyes and for a moment we sense the promise, and for a second we receive the gift. Today, I will try to surrender to the wave.

With love and thanks,


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A discipline of thanks.

From Michelle.  30 March, 2011.

Dear Friends and Family,

We find ourselves embraced in the familiar fluid warmth of a humid Florida afternoon.  Steve’s parents have been coming down to Florida for many years, and several times we had gratefully escaped the dreary March weather in Seattle to visit them here when our big boys were young.  And so we counted down the days for this break and for family.

Returns such as this, however, take us by surprise.  Instead of simple joy, we find ourselves gazing through another window into loss.  As a family, we have left the safe confines of the new life we have built, the countless things that make it all manageable. Our “new normal” painfully shifts and expands to encompass a new set of circumstances.  Our hearts are equally stretched to find new goodness amidst the bitter taste of things we cannot regain.  We scramble to establish new rhythms and roles, our emotions clambering along behind us.

I had forgotten the severe partnership that a vacation with little ones used to entail.  There was a sweetness in the end-of-the-day exhaustion, as we looked at each other, acknowledging that we could not have done it without the other.  The endless lugging of bags and favorite binkies, the constant checklists of favorite and irreplaceable blankies and stuffed animals not to be lost or forgotten, the coaxing of naps in strange places, the unpredictable permutations of mood in sleep deprived children, my handbag hurriedly stuffed with wrinkled diapers and crumbly snacks for the road.  It was always worth the adventure, and we were willing to brave anywhere on the planet at any age.  We did it together.

Now Steve’s fingers stiffly refuse to apply sunscreen, and he watches the children while I lug the luggage.  With a look he lets me know when he is too tired.  We calculate distances, we nervously eye the sand or the ocean and wonder how he will manage.  Steve quietly does all he can not to be a burden, and more.  We do our best.  At night we look at each other and try to find thanksgiving in the new landscape.  We offer each other grace.  We pray for strength.

I keep circling back to thanks.  “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving make your requests known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  In my head I have been trying to coax myself back to the place I had been in the beginning.  In those early, terrifying  days, my utter helplessness engendered an equally total surrender to God.  Each moment was permeated with an element of holiness.  I had a visceral sense of God’s closeness.  I was infused with thanks.  There was peace.  As Steve regained independence, I too became more self-sufficient.  My spiritual eyes dimmed.

Now a discipline of thanks is required.  Trauma no longer takes my life by storm, ravaging all of the trivial details and forcing me to look up.  And thank God for that.  Steve keeps a list.  Every day he writes down five things he is thankful for.  He says this is what is getting him through this latest Wall.  Coincidentally, friends gave me a book recently also espousing a gratitude list, not for the list making itself but for the shift in perspective it engenders.  While I strain against the confines of such practical habits, my spirit longs for the same result.

I have been juggling perspectives.  From the perspective of June 17, everything is a miracle, a sweet taste in the mouth of rich mercy given, of more moments with Steve, of magical healing.  From the perspective of a lifetime prior to June 17, all is heart-wrenching loss.  My spirit jumps between one and the other, wondering which is the “right” or most accurate path, struggling to faithfully give thanks in the balance.  What I am beginning to realize is that what I really need is the perspective of this moment, this twenty four hours.  Do not worry.  Each day has enough troubles of its own.  The biblical wisdom reminds me to let go of what went before, both the sooner and the latter.

Tonight, as I explored with Steve my struggle to absorb our new normal in this no-longer-familiar setting, the perspective I’d been praying for came slamming into my dull spirit.  I was processing my smaller losses with his greater ones in plain sight.  A host of images flooded my heart, drowning my complaints.  Steve’s equable laughter as he tried unsuccessfully to throw a ball to the children in the pool, fingers too slow and stiff, holding it too long.  Him standing at the water’s edge watching the boys jump waves, watching me go in to keep them safe.  Him walking slowly and determinedly up the path, far behind the children’s rushing feet and mine.  Him telling me some sweet thing about me that would go on his gratitude list.  I had forgotten this day to give thanks for walking legs and arms able to embrace and protect my children at will.  I had forgotten to give thanks for the simplest of gifts, the simplest of joys: healthy children, loving husband, food, water, sand.

I am still learning the discipline of gratitude.  I am still learning to live in the moment.  As I look back on the early days when it flowed freely, the word echoing in my spirit is “surrender”.  Do not worry, the Lord is at hand.  Pray.  Be thankful.  Talk to God. But above all else, surrender to His presence, and to the moment at hand.  And perhaps begin a gratitude list.  Those are the things I know to do.  Now for the discipline to practice them faithfully.

Among the countless things to be thankful for: Steve preaching for the first time, standing the entire time; Steve swimming for the first time in the pool, first doggy paddle, then freestyle; Steve walking in the sand.

With love,


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Grace sufficient.

From Michelle.  10 March, 2011.

Dearest friends and family,

Sometimes we forget to see how far we have come on this journey.  We take our cues from those who see us only sporadically.  Steve’s progress is mirrored in their astonishment and delight.  It is indeed a vibrant miracle, but in the seemingly uneventful wasteland between acute care and normal life, Steve and I sometimes lose our vantage point.  And yet, the progress is measurable and real.  Target and even Costco are now ably negotiated, and thanks to the shopping cart, one might never notice the extent of Steve’s limitations as he strolls around like any other casual shopper (really, he is there for the exercise!).  As I write, Steve climbed upstairs into the boys’ loft, only for the third time, but done now with little fanfare and a great deal of confidence.  Most happily, Steve has regained a significant amount of bowel control recently which ushers in a whole new level of independence and dignity, as well as eliminating much of the arduous morning routine.  These are no small victories in the world of spinal cord injury.  Even among our few “walking quad” acquaintances, these are rare gems of progress.  Sobering is that even among these star recoveries, all of them have some permanent level of compromised function.  At nine months post-injury, however, it is early days yet, and so we hope for the best even as we prepare to accept whatever we are given.  Amazingly, our prayers and yours continue to be answered with astonishing speed thus far, and so we continue along this vein until we are directed otherwise.  Keep praying, friends!

We now flirt with an edge of normalcy.  As a child who grew up abroad, or a third culture kid (TCK), I learned of a term called the “hidden immigrant”.  This is a TCK who returns to their home culture after living abroad.  At “home” in this strange environment, they may look and behave like everyone around them, and yet all the while an entire world of experience and cultural background remains hidden.  There is an enormous disconnect between what the outside world perceives and what is in fact true.  For a TCK this masked inner world of experience along with the expectation to fit in is one of the most difficult aspects of life in the “home” country.  Steve is now entering a similar phase in his recovery.  On the outside, Steve appears increasingly normal.  A casual observer might not realize the effort it takes Steve to walk.  They may not notice the stiffness in his fingers.  Certainly they cannot know about the strange sensations or lack thereof that create an otherworldly and often distracting context for every waking moment.  Nor can they discern the tragic events that have led to this place.  When Steve uses the wheelchair, there is immediate deference and concern.  Without the chair, however, the outer marker of inner suffering is gone.  On the one hand, this heralds an amazing amount of progress.  Joy!  On the other, we are frequently reminded that we are not quite there yet.  A disconnect is developing between what the world sees and Steve’s actual experience.

I find myself writing less because these types of adjustments are more slippery and less dramatic.  We are joyfully, miraculously well and yet we are also still among the walking wounded.  We forget that we are, in a sense, ill, and then suddenly we are reminded.  We carry on.  We welcome the return of old patterns of life only to discover that they simply cannot be the same. There is the danger of malaise.  One is so close, and yet simply not there.

In the past few weeks, wrestling has returned to our house.  This was, of course, a favorite pastime for our three young boys, especially with their papa.  Steve deeply grieved the loss of his ability to connect with our boys this way, and so the slow return of strength and agility that allows him to brokenly resume rough housing has been a treat.  This time, it is a more cautious choreography.  Nevertheless, I frequently hear giggles erupting from the bedroom where Steve winsomely pretends to be ferocious despite his relative weakness.  The boys are delighted and gladly play along within the soft and forgiving confines of our bed.  The other day, however, joining in the joyful, reckless fray, I noticed that I had lost my best defense.  Steve is no longer ticklish.  He no longer feels very acutely in his arm pits.  This is how I discovered that in fact the altered sensation begins much higher on Steve’s body than I had realized, just below the top of his shoulders.  Such are the mixed moments, the delights and the intrusions of reality that make up daily life.

There are twenty-six miles in a marathon.  Doctors say we have about the same number of months of recovery, give or take a few.  We are only nine miles in.  Apparently progress will begin to slow.  The weight of the reality of loss will begin to grow even as Steve begins to weary of the long march.  I feel that we are beginning to touch on this phase of recovery.  Someone who has been here asked, “So, have you hit a wall yet?”  We are getting there.  The same person said that the second year is the hardest.  We are anticipating this.  We will be nearing the end of the obscure sketches of recovery and coming up against the harsher contours of what is left.

And yet, and yet, God has been so good.  After a period of running hard, I am only just coming to a place of resting in Him.  I don’t quite remember how to do it.  This new context throws me off.  The answer lies somewhere in allowing my weakness to usher in Christ’s strength.  Paul had a thorn that taught him this way:

2 Cor 12:8-10  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

This is fertile ground for Steve and I, a gift to be unwrapped and examined with great diligence and awe.  I know that if we keep our hearts open to this humbling, if we can cease to strive, we will come upon God’s sweet companionship in new ways, and find a different kind of strength in that embrace.  For Steve this spiritual discipline resounds throughout his body.  There is a strange grace and acceptance that permeates the moments when we are not measuring our progress in human terms, when we are not trying so hard.  The gift of those early days after the accident was an utter helplessness that allowed God’s amazing love and provision to shine through the many cracks in our countenances.  As we become more able, and as we taste the beginnings of a more normal life, it will become tempting to stand in our own strength again.  But the marathon is far from over.  Please pray for hearts that remain open, fertile ground for God’s wisdom.  Please pray for strength for this middle stretch of the race.

We continue to move forward in faith.  In just two weeks Steve will preach his first sermon since the accident.  Later this month, we will travel as a family to visit Steve’s parents in Florida.  We have begun to set in motion our return to Manila in August.  All of these seemingly normal plans are great leaps into the unknown for Steve and I.  Nothing is the same and we cannot predict how this will proceed.  We step out onto a precipice in darkness and hope that the coming dawn reveals instead a gentle slope.  So far, it always has.

We are grateful, as ever, for your prayers.

With love,


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the eternal weight of glory

From Michelle.  18 February, 2011.

Dear friends and family,

We have arrived at yet another threshold, peeking through a new doorway at the next uncertain stretch of space.  Steve now has permission to walk without “assistive devices” around the home.  We are beginning to pare down the visits with therapists and specialists and will soon be joining a normal gym and doing much of Steve’s therapy routine from home.  Thanks to a recent epiphany, Steve’s gait is more natural and quicker than it was, though still slow and laborious by any normal standard.  Target remains a target as far as walking distance is concerned.  Steve’s sensation continues to be significantly altered below the chest.  Hot and cold remain elusive impressions rather than actual feelings.  We experiment with suppositories and routines.  We make plans, setting concrete poles into the shifting sands.  Then, we hold our breaths and wonder if they’ll stand.

Steve applies the same energy and attention he once gave to his weekly sermon to the less enthralling but equally essential study of walking.  Who knew so much went into those thoughtless motions, the complex mechanism of muscle, nerve and bone we command so recklessly?  Steve considers each step: how much he needs to use his hip, flex his thigh, how to bend his ankle just so, and lately, how much to push off with the balls of his feet.  There is a complex symphony of biological instruments to conduct.  While I cheer, he concentrates and tries to get the tune right.  The effort comes off in a sweetly clumsy adaptation of the original.  We still pray for the day that he will move once more with the ease and abandon we took for granted only months ago.

Amidst these daily struggles, the miracles keep coming.  There is one room in our house that Steve has never seen.  It is the tiny loft with a ladder for a staircase where our two big boys sleep, tucked away like two birds in a nest.  They love their little perch above the rest of the house, but it might as well be located at the top of a cliff as far as Steve has been concerned.  Steve has never been able to reach it even for a quick peek, let alone to read a bedtime story or kiss them goodnight.  The other day while I was out I received a video message from Steve.  He and the boys were in their room, blowing me goodnight kisses.  Somehow, he had climbed up the ladder!  I chuckled with tears in my eyes and said a quick prayer for his descent.

These are among the many moments which are almost unbearably precious and fill our hearts with thanksgiving.  Thanks to the charitable arm of the hospital, our bill is finally set at zero.  What a beautiful number!  Steve’s breathing was recently tested and rated at the bottom end of normal for the first time.  Steve passed his cognitive tests with flying colors. We continue to prayerfully explore the hopeful possibility of returning to the Philippines.  We continue to be amazed and delighted by the consistency of love, prayer and support from all of you at a time when you could easily tire of our story.  We give special thanks for a whole team of talented professionals who donate their time and expertise to assist in Steve’s recovery in the most tangible of ways.

Please do continue to pray for Steve’s hands, bowels, bladder, nerve pain, bodily pain, leg spasms and sensation.  While the rest of his body seems to recover at a more rapid rate, these areas remain challenging.

Strangely, what I am most aware of beyond the day to day challenges, is the joy of God.  Every time I look beyond myself, since the accident, I sense a radiant presence: God, full of light and joy, is beaming waves of pure delight down on me.  Somehow this does not occur as incongruous to the current difficulties, nor insensitive to the pain and loss.  Rather, there is a context for joy that is becoming increasingly concrete, no matter what other realities are at play.  I audaciously put myself in God’s shoes and imagine how he sees this momentary pain, amidst the sweeping topography of eternity.  I imagine all that is not right, an entire human history of pain and suffering, and then I place it in the universe, among the glorious stars and galaxies that seemingly have no end.  Or I imagine the droplet of this earthly life, a tiny composite both beautiful and forsaken, falling into an ocean of heaven, of all as it was meant to be, and disappearing amidst the magnificent depths.  The context is so vast that I cannot grasp it.  I feel as if I am somehow brushing up against eternal glory.  A tiny corner of my imagination lightly touches on a mere sketch of that reality and trembles.  In those moments, a place in my heart opens up to the joy, and I begin to apprehend it.  It does not take away the pain.  Nor does it take away the sense of God’s great compassion for all of us, the shared suffering that even God chose to assume in human form.  But a context of joy becomes more and more palpable.  Dallas Willard called it taking on “the substance of the eternal”.  The bible calls it an “eternal weight of glory”.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we do not look to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

With love,


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Hearts expanding.

From Michelle.  28 January, 2011.

Dearest friends and family,

Believe it or not, I was a single mom for five days this past week.  What this means is that Steve was off traveling.  I love to mention this casually to folks and watch their eyes widen.  Yes, Steve was off traveling.  Thanks to the invitation of one friend and the companionship of another, Steve was able to attend a conference in Grand Rapids, MI.  This meant figuring out a few self care necessities, taking a flight, much walking, and generally taking Steve’s independence to the next level.  After much debate we decided against bringing the wheelchair.  The airlines offer excellent wheelchair assistance to and from the plane and after that, there was a car, and forearm crutches.  All I could do was hold my breath, say a prayer and watch Steve walk out the door.

From his first call, I already knew that the risk had paid off.  Steve was not only alive and well, but alight with new ideas, great conversations, and a renewed confidence in his body.  Having traded in all that he loves (learning, exploring, reading, studying scripture, meeting people, listening, preaching, traveling) for a dogged routine of physical exercise and the limited universe of home and hospital, it was time to break free for a bit and rekindle the soul.

There is a growing space in our lives, afforded us by Steve’s healing process, to reengage with people, thoughts and ideas beyond the bare minimum.  Steve traveled.  We have upon occasion actually left the home in the evening for a dinner or event.  I began a bible study, and am picking up books again, just a few, and only occasionally, but it is a beginning.  We are beginning to peek our heads up above the necessary and gaze into the possible.  The horizon stretches out with our trembling imaginations.

Curiously, as the clamor of insistent needs dies down, I feel a deep undercurrent of grief quietly reasserting itself.  Until now the present was all-consuming.  I had neither time nor mental space to imagine our former life.  I was in a new country, learning a new language, and the old way of being was on such a distant shore as to be almost unreal.  I had difficulty imagining my vibrant husband who tackled and tossed my children, who easily dove into a pool, or walked around our village for hours praying and doing sermon preparation, who easily held me.  I was entirely absorbed in who Steve was in the present and what he needed to get well.

But as the spaces in our lives and hearts grow beyond mere survival, I find the specter of who Steve was visiting me at surprising moments, moving me to tears.  I am trying to accept and even welcome this new wave of sadness, not because I want to dwell in self pity or wallow in what is lost, but because everything suggests that the best way forward must be through the grief and not around it.

Occasionally, I am given a precious insight into Steve’s suffering.  For all of the progress, and given how little he complains, one might forget that any suffering is going on at all.  Yesterday I was at the dentist to repair an old filling that was loose.  It was far back and deep, so I received a good dose of anesthesia.  Afterward, I met Steve and the boys at the park.  As I leaned in for a hug, I pressed my numb and swollen cheek against Steve’s face.  How strange the sensation.  It was a muted sense of pressure, a memory of the feel of skin, a mere distant sense of life upon contact.  Suddenly, I realized that this was a window into what it must be like, to not feel hot or cold, sharp or dull, but then not just in a cheek or lip but throughout one’s body.  Even with these smallest of insights, it remains difficult to imagine.

One of the books by my bedside is a book by Jerry Sittser called A Grace Disguised.  I read parts of it long ago, with great compassion but little recognition.  Professor Sittser lost his mother, wife and youngest child in a car accident.  The book is an honest, thoughtful account of grief and loss alongside a loving and gracious God.  A recent quote struck me in relation to our own experience:  “… (T)ragedy can increase the soul’s capacity for darkness and light, for pleasure as well as for pain, for hope as well as for dejection…  (The soul) can grow larger through suffering.  Loss can enlarge its capacity for anger, depression, despair, and anguish, all natural and legitimate emotions when we experience loss.  Once enlarged, the soul is also capable of experiencing greater joy, strength, peace and love….  the soul is capable of experiencing these opposites, even at the same time.”

This is what I try to communicate every time I write, the hope inside the pain, the glory amidst loss, the sweetness in the suffering.  It is rarely all one or the other, but most often a complex amalgam of it all.  We are constantly astounded by amazing grace.  In countless ways I see God’s love breaking through.  We continue to marvel at the amazing support, and the beautiful ways our needs get met time and time again.  And then there is the insight from a numb lip, and the memory of a life lost.  It is the richest of lives, marked as Professor Sittser says, by hearts expanded by grief to also hold greater amounts of joy.

With love,


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Bear one another’s burdens.

From Michelle.  21 January, 2011.

Dear Friends and Family,

As Steve makes more and more gains, I find my confidence to speak about our experience waning.  Doubt clouds my mind, and I wonder what in the world gives me any authority to speak on the topic of suffering, let alone request your prayers?  I measure the droplets of our suffering against that global tidal wave of pain and trauma, and I feel small and silly for saying anything at all.   And yet, while suffering is deeply personal, it is also universal.    We all feel it in myriad forms as diverse as we are, but we all feel it.  If we have only tasted a little of it, we know others who have tasted more.  We weep with both sympathy and recognition.  We wonder when we will encounter it again, and in what configuration.  We share the inevitability of that final suffering that marks the end of our earthly journey.  In short, we all suffer.  Measuring it is pointless.  Comparisons cannot be made.  Such attempts only manage to oversimplify and cheapen each life in the balance.  God found us all so valuable that we were worthy of the life of his son.  Period.

In the same way, we cannot measure our shares of happiness, the number of answered prayers, the sheer quotient of faith and good luck distributed in such seemingly random patterns among us.  In Galatians 6:2-4 it says: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.  For each will have to bear his own load.”

Many people have begun to share their difficulties with me during the past six months, and then stopped themselves apologetically, saying things like, “well, that’s nothing compared to what you have been through,” or, “but I don’t want to burden you with all of that.”  While I appreciate the sentiment, they deprive me of the opportunity to share in their burden.  It is good when the suffering of others causes us to relinquish our pettier complaints.  But when the suffering is genuine, however small, it helps to connect in the face of what we do not understand.  And we do connect, powerfully, through suffering.  We have seen evidence of that unifying force just these last two weeks in the United States.  It fortifies those enduring it, but it also prepares those walking alongside for their own inevitable pain.  It is mysterious terrain, dark, irregular in shape, unpredictable.  But there is something about it that is also recognizable to all.  And there is great value in the sharing.  Those who have allowed me to walk that holy terrain with them have given me the most precious of gifts.  And that is why I share our story despite my own inadequacy.

Today, that story is punctuated by some lovely happy notes.  Steve is driving.  Today, he drove himself to his therapy appointments.  These lonesome excursions are carefully measured by Steve’s limited abilities.  There must be close parking.  He cannot walk far.  Until now, he has only driven alone to places with health care professionals who can assist him should he need it, upon arrival.  But nevertheless, this is an amazing level of freedom and independence for Steve, which also enormously impacts the practical arrangement of our days.

This has been one pattern of our grief: constant adjustment.  The happy note of Steve’s progress means that we are forever adjusting our lives.  We live amid a pile of medical paraphernalia surrounded by a complex web of intertwining schedules.  These are forever being tweaked, discarded and acquired according to Steve’s abilities.  The hoyer lift thankfully sits in the garage making space for a stationary bicycle.  Steve’s automatic wheelchair sits alongside a more spiffy scooter and the still most often useful manual chair.  There are walkers and crutches and canes strewn throughout the house like so many fallen branches after a storm.  Our lovely bathroom is still marred by the ever present shower chair.  Therapies are similarly in flux, not to mention our emotions.  People ask me about my grief process.  A common response: I don’t know what I’ve lost yet.  Certainly, there are profound losses in this year, but any permanence is completely unascertainable.

For this reason, the gratitude I so often speak of has been an invaluable practice.  It is a plumb line along which to faithfully measure the chaos.  Grief remains mostly a cipher for which we do not possess the code, but in gratitude we can find some sure footing in the darkness.  And so for the following we are grateful: driving, walking, continued hand agility, a Medicaid card (!), the constant love, support and prayers of family and friends.

Steve asks for prayer for his left leg.  It drags more than his right and is more prone to spasms, all of which slows down the walking process greatly.  We continue to pray for increased sensation and strength.  Also, while we have finally been approved for Medicaid, there remain questions about how far back the coverage will extend which will meaningfully affect our finances.

“Now to Him who is able to do far more than we can ask for or imagine, to him be the glory!”  Eph. 3:20

Dear friends and family, we are so grateful to you all for sharing our burdens!


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Count it all joy.

From Michelle.  8 January, 2011.

Dear friends and family,

The holidays flew by and landed us, disheveled but optimistic, in a brand new year.  Looking around, we still feel as if we are out on an open sea, having broken off from the land we knew and loved, and destined for some unknown shore.  While the storm that cast us out remains challenging, however, sometimes now the wind feels good.  Our eyes are peeled for that new and distant land.  Wherever we are headed, we trust that we’ll be ready.

On December 30th, we greatly enjoyed an overnight getaway to not only celebrate ten wonderful years together, but take stock of all that has transpired, and begin to look ahead (thanks, John and Darlene Ruetschle, for watching the boys!).  Steve surprised me by taking me to St. Ignatius Chapel, the beautiful, worshipful space where he proposed to me ten and a half years ago.  All those years ago, he followed an ancient Israelite tradition by offering me a cup of wine as a proposal.  If I drank, I accepted.  As we sat in the very same place, he offered me the cup again.  I am a different man now, he said.  Would I marry him again?

Oh yes, Steve Ruetschle, I will marry you again!  I drank both soberly and gratefully from that cup that day.  The soberness came because the costs are real, the losses profound.  Gratitude flowed liberally, however, because all that I love most about Steve has not only remained but deepened.  The geography of our marriage may be different, but the navigation systems remain the same.  We hope to enjoy these explorations together for many, many more years!

You are probably wondering whether we danced on our anniversary.  We did, indeed.  We danced quietly in our hotel room, to the song from our wedding night.  Steve managed not only a sweet embrace but a few good turns for flair.  No, we are not quite yet up for any dips or more theatrical maneuvers.  But we enjoyed our sweet shuffle on the dance floor nonetheless!

practice dance

With a brief lull for holiday celebrations, Steve is glad to be back in the swing of things.  Therapies and exercise help create a more measurable sense of progress, which is crucial to keeping our motivation up.  We often marvel at how easy it would be to just stop and settle for where things are.  It is a testament to Steve’s sheer willpower, determination, and – most of all – love for god, friends and family that he keeps at it.

We measure his progress with the measurement systems of daily life.  Today he can walk around Trader Joe’s.  QFC is a stretch but possible.  Target is a lofty goal.  (In Manila terms, that might translate as Santi’s, Rustan’s and Shoemart!)  For our anniversary, Steve had to rely heavily on the chair to get around Seattle’s downtown, a sobering reminder of how much progress still needs to be made.

Steve kicked off the year with a bang, however, by taking a specialized driving exam to assess what, if any, instruments he might need to begin driving again.  To our delight, all he needs is a special knob on the steering wheel, and he can drive!  He outfitted our van this weekend.  Look out for him on the streets soon!  Not to worry, he remains the amazing driver he always was!

Our Medicaid process also showed some promising signs of progress in the new year.  We have finally qualified for the state home care provisions that we have been waiting on.  This means we must be almost, if not all of the way qualified for Medicaid.  Until we have some tangible card or number, however, we are hanging on pins and needles.  What a relief it will be when that process has ended!  A significant stack of medical bills hang in the balance.

And so, dear friends and family, we begin the new year loving each other deeply, resolved to continue to heal, and looking forward to what lies ahead.  Foremost among our prayer requests is always our heart’s cry for Steve’s complete healing.  While we are in a state of constant amazement and delight at what has returned, there is much more that remains lost: fine motor skills in hands and fingers, strength, sensation – hot and cold, dull and sharp – and full functioning of bowels and bladder.  As we contemplate a return to Manila, our next request is that all of the details would flow through God’s gracious providence and clearest affirmation.  Foremost among these details is an affordable means to insure Steve.  We also pray for final resolution to all of our Medicaid and other applications.  We are grateful beyond measure for the support that has allowed us to continue as we wait, and often marvel at how those with less survive the interminable process.

I end, as always, with a verse, not out of a desire to appear righteous but because I feel compelled to acknowledge the calm center, the gentle wisdom, the solid rock beyond ourselves that has held us firm through this trial.  Today, two simple lines from James 1:2-4: “Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Joy lives here.  Laughter lives here too.  We know it’s source, we feel Love’s rays warming us from above and through those we love.  Truly, we have nothing, but god has filled our cup to overflowing.  And indeed a steadfastness has grown from receiving a cup not of our own making.  And as we remain steadfast, it fills up even more.  It is a mystery that I have fallen in love with, one I cannot understand and one which I do not deserve, but which has won my utter devotion.  In our humble, broken patch god planted joy.  And somehow, it is blooming.

As always, we are grateful beyond measure for each of you, and for your prayers which have made every difference.

With love,


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Merry Christmas!

Christmas 2010

Dearest friends and family,

We approach Christmas this year amazed to find ourselves not only in an entirely unexpected set of circumstances, but with more grateful hearts than ever before. With all of our “stuff” far away in a Manila basement, our house sold, and our future shrouded in uncertainty, we find ourselves deeply present to the extraordinary gifts we enjoy today: our amazing family and friends, our health and very lives, and God’s remarkable provision. Most days we find ourselves celebrating the simplest of victories, a finger slightly bent where before it was only straight, a leg moving with a fraction of greater stride and balance, the strength to make one more lap in the living room, a successful transition into and out of a car. Strangely, these small strides are now our most sought after treasures, brightening our lives and painting an otherwise mundane life in the most vivid of colors.

This is the gift of the babe in the manger to us: that in our weakness we have found strength, that in our humble circumstances we have been lifted up, and that in our inadequacies, God has shown himself to be more than adequate. With all of our own riches swept away, and with all that we took for granted now supplanted by the simplest of desires, we can genuinely say that we are quite literally overwhelmed with love and generosity and service. We are rich with it, and can only respond with a posture of thanksgiving. And so, despite all, we find ourselves quite surprisingly in a season where every challenge is equally paired with a deep sense of thanksgiving. The verses that shyly presented themselves in my heart last summer, before Steve’s accident, have blossomed into a vivid reality for us now: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil 4:4-7

There is indeed much to be thankful for. Aidan and Jude have not only weathered the changes with grace and ease, but are thriving in this interim period of their lives. While there are few certainties, our little troopers seem remarkably able to lay questions aside and enjoy the moment. Such moments include wonderful visits with relatives, and many American firsts: first football game, first proper American Thanksgiving, first snow. Other than a short Chinese class each week, their lives consist merely of school and home. Such simplicity, we hope, has allowed plenty of room for them to adjust. As for Zephyr, he is making the most of his “terrible” twos, throwing as many tantrums as possible with full dramatic flair, then melting you with his smile.

We are also thankful for YOU. We are quite literally lifted up on the amazing prayers, love, generosity and service of so many, and it has made this season bright indeed.

Let every heart prepare Him room!

With love,

Steve, Michelle, Aidan (9), Jude (7), and Zephyr (2)

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Advent tiptoes in

Needless to say, it has been an unsual Advent this year. Finding us outside of our normal busy mode of Christmas parties and congregational care, as well as active participation in church life, Advent came tiptoeing in with December. But for the Christmas tree and the gift shopping, I hardly knew it was there.

I kept praying for a deeper sense of the season, but did not quite know how to manufacture it. The flood provided further distraction, and suddenly it was the final week of Christmas with little but a general sense of God’s goodness. There was little relatedness to the babe in the manger or what that meant for me.

And then, just as quickly, Christmas came. Indeed, it could not be manufactured by me. The lesson we have learned perhaps more deeply than we would like, but equally with surprise and joy, has been how much Christ is made manifest through his bride, the church, and through his beloved children, all of us inside the church and out. Christ has come to us repeatedly in human form these last six months, and this season would be no different. So that is how Advent came to us also, brought by the people who have come to our doorstep, those we know and love and those we have only recently come to know. They have come in bunches, not knowing each other, dropping in unexpectedly or expectedly, but forming unexpected material implements of love and worship.

It reminded me that what the babe brought into the world, fundamentally, was love in its humblest form. Love found it’s way to us this year through people, strangers to one another, friends to us. We did not know how to look for it, nor could we find it on our own. Rather, it came to us, unbidden and unexpected. It took our humble, incidental encounters and created something beautiful, transcending us all.

A few days ago we had just such a rag tag, spontaneous group of people, strangers to one another, form the most beautiful of choirs in our kitchen, literally filling the space with music, worship, and Christmas spirit. It just so happened that they were all uniquely musically gifted, and as the carols filled the space, our joy rose up along with them. I have never experienced that kind of spontaneous carol singing, and had never encountered those themes and lyrics in such a personal way. The evening ended with all of these strangers offering prayers up together, in harmonies made sweeter by the fact that we knew each other only through this moment that we shared.

Such moments cannot be manufactured. They are the most brightly wrapped of Christmas gifts. At that moment, I knew that Advent had finally arrived, like the babe, in a most unexpected and humble form. And it continues to arrive, as others join the chorus of love born in the most incidental of encounters around our kitchen table. It is the best gift, and for me, Christmas has already come, no matter what packages await me under the tree.

From the Christmas carol, O Holy Night:

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.

With deepest gratitude and love for you all,


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