Thursday, August 01, 2013

In Hope

A recent exchange on Facebook:
Friend 1: "But what is Saturn for?" -[her daughter]
Friend 2: To scream His glory... perhaps among other things?
Sometimes I miss being involved in the kind of church/culture/family I grew up in.  This kind of conversation, and a community mindset that every conversation is also a theological conversation is something I don't have right now, and something that I dearly miss.

Today, I buried our goat Rosemary, who was the matriarch of the herd, and a very sweet, productive, and steady animal.  I'm not sure how old she was, since we got her from a family that Liz grew up with (who had taught her how to keep dairy goats).  Our herd became infected with coccidiosis, a particularly nasty gut parasite for goats and other cud-chewing animals.  It started with two of the kids, and spread.  Once we figured out what it was, we treated them for it, and did our best to keep them eating, hydrated, electrolyted*, and free of other parasites, but thus far it has reduced our herd from eight to four.

Digging a hole deep enough to bury a medium sized animal is a good time to think.  As I dug Rosemary's grave, I was pondering the question:
Lord, what is Rosemary's death for?
My mind thought of many things, but all of them ended up being a form of that same answer.  Of course in the end, everything is for God's glory, but perhaps this situation makes it a bit easier to see, since from an earthly "under the sun" perspective, it seems so senseless.  Rosemary's death did about as much direct good as Saturn had an effect on your daily commute.  Since the earthly purpose is unsatisfactory, we are more willing to look for divine purpose.

So, why do animals die?  In particular, why do the animals that serve us, that we love, have to die?

While I was digging, I was thinking about a passage of scripture in Romans 8:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. - Romans 8:18-25
When we lose something that we love, we suffer, but the suffering that we endure in this life (and also all of the suffering of all of the creatures) is worth going through in order to achieve the final result that God has in mind.  Hence the analogy to childbirth.  This applies to our little situation, but it also applies on the grand scale.

When God created the world, including the animals, according to this passage, He made it subject to entropy.  Animals die.  Plants die.  Stars explode or burn out.  Left to its laws as we understand them, the universe will either collapse back in on itself, or (more likely) expand itself into a frozen waste.

And at every stage in its creation, God called it good.

Why would He do that?  According to this passage, the current order of the universe was chosen, not because it was a perfect idyllic place for Adam and his sinless intended progeny to live, but specifically because it was a broken order and needed to be fixed.  Mankind, too, was created as corruptible (though our corruption was our own doing).  God's audacious plan has a purpose for that, though.  He intends, through corrupted humanity, to flip the whole of creation from a corrupted state into one that cannot possibly be corrupted ever again:
Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. - 1 Corinthians 15:51-58 (Emphasis mine.)
From the passage in Romans, the whole creation is waiting, in its entropic spiral, for the true consummation of our adoption as sons and daughters of God.  When that happens, the whole creation will become subject to a new order.  Where the old order steadily breaks down, the new order is ever-expanding and bursting at the seams with life.  Where the old order would lead one to despair, the new order inspires hopeful expectation.

The little pain of Rosemary's death makes me long for the day when God has designed to redeem the entire creation through those whom He has adopted as His children (including me!)

Both of these passages focus our attention on Christ, by whose sinless death we are cleansed from our sin and declared worthy to be God's children, and by whose resurrected life we will, with Him, bring glory and incorruptibility to this universe, just as it has been brought to us!  Both passages encourage us, in view of Christ's certain victory, to not be discouraged by the death, destruction, and futility we see now, but to take actions that are consistent with the expectation that the old order and its trappings will be swept away when Christ is revealed for who He is.

It brings to mind this hymn, which is one of my favorite hymns from growing up:
In hope we lift our wishful, longing eyes,
Waiting to see the Morning Star arise;
How bright, how gladsome will His advent be,
Before the Sun shines forth in majesty.

How will our eyes to see His face delight,
Whose love has cheered us through the darksome night!
How will our ears drink in His well-known voice,
Whose faintest whispers make our souls rejoice!

No stain within; no foes or snares around;
No jarring notes shall there discordant sound;
All pure without, all pure within the breast;
No thorns to wound, no toil to mar our rest.

If here on earth the thoughts of Jesus' love
Lift our poor hearts this weary world above;
If even here the taste of heavenly springs
So cheers the spirit, that the pilgrim sings;
What will the sunshine of His glory prove?
What the unmingled fullness of His love?
What hallelujahs will His presence raise?
What but one loud, eternal burst of praise?

Saturday, January 26, 2013


There's never a perfect time for anything.  A couple of weeks ago, I was presented with an opportunity to brush up on my software engineering skills.  My company was offering a series of courses online through a university that would result in a C++ certification.  I have been thinking about doing something like this for some time.  The position I am currently in provides me with a little bit of programming practice (mostly in the form of scripting), but almost nothing in terms of actual software design and engineering.  I would like very much to change this, but I feel the effects of skill rot.  Without recent practice, I would not feel very confident representing myself to a hiring manager.

I took a look at the course descriptions.  The first of four courses would be a cake walk, the second one looked interesting, and the third and fourth looked very intriguing.  I have been wanting to get more experience working with the design patterns since college. The earlier courses feature using the STL and Boost libraries, which I would like to be more proficient at. 

So, I requested the challenge exam in order to skip the first course.  There would be no sense in lulling myself into a false sense of an easy course, only to be shocked by the work load later on as I encountered truly new material.  That, and I don't want to spend my precious time learning something I already know.  I have a wife and kids who deserve better.

The challenge test was a three-part assignment that appeared to have been the final exam for the previous year.  I was given a week to complete the assignment, which was about how long it took me (I finished testing it early the evening before it was due), working on it during the evenings after work, and most of Saturday. 

I don't want to commit myself to something that will take more time than I have, especially with Elizabeth working, and she, Shoshana, and Abigail needing me to spend time with them, but as I said before, there is not going to be a perfect time to make this move.  The intensity of Shoshana's treatment will decrease in the coming months, and I am working on the paperwork to officially hire Kristen as a nanny.

Even after just taking the test, I am much more confident in my skills and ability to perform, both in general as a programmer, and specifically using C++.  There were several things I had to look up online, but I knew what to look for.  I haven't gotten the results back, but I would be surprised if I did not pass.

Of course, if things get too crazy, I may need to drop the course or stop early, but even in that case, it will not be a vain effort.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Shoshana: New Blog

And no, I don't mean "new blog post", as some do when they say "new blog".  There's a whole new blog, with its own posts (or at least, future posts), in store for you.

I decided to break out my regular posts about Shoshana's Leukemia into its own blog, so that it would not be interrupted by the other things that normally occupy this blog, assuming a degree of normalcy returns, or some new definition of normal, in which her care does not consume such a majority of my time, energy, and thought.

I may occasionally still post on this blog about Shoshana and her care, and I may occasionally link from here to there, or there to here.  My intent is not to draw a barrier between aspects of my life, but to make them more comprehensible and digestible to those who care to read about them. 

I would also like Elizabeth (and perhaps some others) to contribute posts to the Shoshana: Leukemia blog.

Without further ado, here is the link: Shoshana: Leukemia

As you read, please be praying for us, and especially for her healing.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Shoshana: Intensive Care

The last few weeks have been a roller-coaster.  Shoshana was in the ICU when I last posted.  She has stayed there most of the intervening time, and is there currently.

Shoshana and Daddy
This is due to her respiratory condition.  One of the chemo drugs she was on--vincristine--caused vocal cord nerve damage, resulting in lots of throat pain and also vocal cord paralysis, to the point of preventing her from adequately breathing on her own--especially while asleep.  This morning I learned that Shoshana is the 6th girl on record who has had this kind of reaction to vincristine, and vincristine is an old drug.  Usually this kind of symptom clears up in a matter of weeks.  With Shoshana, it might take months.  I hope it's just months.

Mommy and Abigail with Shoshana
Abigail in the playroom on the cancer floor
Shoshana started her second phase of chemotherapy, 'consolidation', two weeks ago.  Thus far, only observable side effect of the new drugs has been nausea in the past couple of days.  Vincristine was scheduled for her as part of consolidation, but they will not administer it unless and until her current symptoms from it are resolved. 

The doctors kept expecting Shoshana to recover quickly.  She was doing pretty well, only on the BiPAP while sleeping at night or napping during the day--and not on the nasal cannula at all during her breaks.  They transferred her from the ICU to the cancer floor at the beginning of this week, hopeful that she could be discharged on Thursday (today).

Shoshana and Grandma playing with Play-Doh
To determine if she was ready to be at home, they stressed her system by having her sleep without the BiPAP for as long as possible one night (she made it until 5:00 AM, and then proceeded to sleep on the BiPAP for 11 more hours), and then the next night, they did a sleep study where they monitored her in half a dozen different ways while she slept.  She slept for three hours like that, at which point she was doing so poorly that they put her back on the BiPAP.  At 7:00 AM she spiked a fever, and was transferred to the ICU, where again she slept until 4:00 PM.  She was on the BiPAP pretty much constantly for the next day.

Wednesday morning, Elizabeth's mom Kristen called me and said she couldn't fill in for Elizabeth while she went to work for a few hours because she was sick (staying in the hospital with a kid on chemo with no immune system while you are sick is a no-no).  I called in to work, and came up to be with Shoshana.  When I arrived, Elizabeth told me that she, too, was feeling sick.  A few hours later, she called and told me that she had a fever.  She went to bed and basically slept all day, so I've been here at the hospital, and anticipate staying here until at least Sunday night.

Shoshana seems to be doing pretty well, considering recent events.  She is on the BiPAP only to sleep.  However, the doctors seem to be coming to terms with the fact that Shoshana's vocal cord damage is not going to clear up any time soon.  They would like to give her a tracheotomy, which would provide immediate and sustainable relief from her difficulty in breathing, and would not cause long-term damage.  (They had before suggested the possibility of removing part of her vocal cords, which would have permanent effects on her voice.)  They are confident that she will heal quickly, and that the risk of infection will be manageable, even while on chemotherapy.  They would wait to perform the operation until her blood counts go back up (they are currently at a low due to where she is in this phase of her chemo).

She was slated to return to the cancer floor today, but there isn't room ready for her at the moment, so we will spend one more night in the ICU. 

These past few weeks have also been rough on my family.  Abigail has been sick with an ear infection this past week, and thus not able to visit her sister, or be visited by her mommy, daddy or grandma.  Our dear friends Ian and Amanda have been taking care of her.

Elizabeth and I have had some pretty heated arguments, misunderstandings, distrust, and hurt feelings (as well as some burnout).  We are on the mend, and it has resulted in some changes for the better, but needless to say it has been very difficult on both of us, and trust and hurt feelings will take time and consistency to rebuild.

Last Thursday was Elizabeth's birthday.  We had been planning to go out to eat, but Elizabeth suggested that we also go swing dancing.  We did, and we both had a good time.  I definitely need to be getting more exercise (Elizabeth, on the other hand, had better stamina than she was expecting, thanks in part no doubt to joining a rec volleyball league).  I also threw together a surprise party with some of our friends on Sunday, although in order to get her to actually leave the hospital, I had to spoil the surprise.  I tried and tried other angles, but she didn't see any compelling reason to leave Shoshana's side.

Please pray:
  • That Shoshana would recover quickly from the damage to her vocal cords.  That she would respond well to treatment, and live a full life to the glory of God.
  • That each member of our family will be healthy and strong: Shoshana, Elizabeth, me, Kristen.
  • For me, that I would be given strength and endurance to do all that I need to do.  It has been difficult to be away from work so much lately.  I have become less dependable, and understandably have not been given many critical assignments as a result.  It can be difficult to stay motivated when you feel like what you've been given to do is not very important.
  • That Elizabeth and I, that we would be able to love each other and communicate and work together in love without misunderstanding or falling into unhealthy patterns of thinking.  That this difficult time would drive us closer together, and not be an occasion for destructive friction.
  • For Shoshana and Abigail, who miss each other and their parents very much.

Sharing berries

Add-a-cat app

Blowing bubbles: fun and theraputic

Also fun and theraptutic

Proud artist

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Shoshana: Respiratory Failure

A lot has happened since I last posted.  Shoshana has been in the hospital for the last two weeks.  Elizabeth has once again stayed with her almost 24/7.  I have been coming up in the evenings, often bringing Abigail so she can see her mommy for a couple of hours before going home with her grandma.  Elizabeth's mom has been taking care of Abigail most of the time, or leaving her with friends and coming to the hospital to help and relieve Elizabeth.

Shoshana has been in and out of the ICU a few times.  The cause of the pain in her throat, which we initially thought was her NG tube, and then thrush, has apparently been a very uncommon side-effect of vincristine, one of the chemo drugs.  Vincristine toxicity has caused her vocal cords to stop functioning properly, as well as be a constant source of pain.  We have had to increase her pain medication dose several times, and added new drugs to help the pain medication to be more effective.

Her vocal cords aren't doing a very good job when she swallows, which means that any liquids she has need to be thickened.

The worst part is that her vocal cords aren't getting out of the way for her to breathe.  They just sit there, closed; in the way.  The night after she was admitted to the hospital, she had to be intubated, which means putting a tube down her throat for her to breathe through.  Her diaphragm was not able to get enough air into her lungs to breathe, so her chest muscles had been helping out (in medical terms, this is known as stridor).  After this had developed over two weeks at home, her body was tired, and she would stop breathing in her sleep.

Shoshana intubated
She was intubated for about 48 hours, after which she was put on CPAP, which is a mask worn over her nose that applies a constant pressure.  The pressure pushes out on her throat, widening the passage between the vocal cords.

This has worked, more or less, ever since, though now she is on a BiPAP, which allows increased pressure while she is inhaling.  She can be off of the BiPAP for an hour or so at mealtimes.  She isn't able to eat much at once, because her swallow muscles wear out.  She has been getting formula (and breastmilk from mommy, and vegetable juices from grandma) through her NG tube.  She has still lost a lot of weight.  The most activity she has been up for is sitting up in bed for a few minutes at a time.  I miss our bike rides.

Meanwhile, she had been getting steroids.  The original idea behind the steroids was that the laryngal dysfunction might be caused or exacerbated by swelling, and therefore anything that would reduce the swelling would help.

No swelling had ever been observed.  In fact, when we first brought her in to the emergency room, they stuck a scope down her throat, and didn't see any swelling.  Elizabeth had been skeptical of the large doses of the steroid ever since she had been intubated:  prednisone wasn't helping (and that reduces swelling), so why would dexamethasone?  Additionally, the dexamethasone was preventing Shoshana from getting a good night's sleep, which was the very thing her exhausted body needed desperately to recover.  Additionally, with such high doses, coming off the drug would cause swelling, since her body would have compensated for its presence.

After discussing this with the doctors, Elizabeth was surprised to see that Shoshana was still getting the high doses of dexamethasone!  She went mamma bear on them.  I'll let her tell that story.  After about a two day standoff, everyone was pretty much back on the same page, and she is being weaned off of the steroids.

I find I've been taking and posting a lot fewer pictures of Shoshana.  I like to capture the happy and hopeful moments; the smiles and giggles.  We didn't get any for a while.  As she has become a bit more stable over the last few days--relatively so, she's still in the ICU--she has been able to play with Abigail when she visits (although Abigail is prone to pulling on lines and anything else she can get a hand on, so we need to keep her out of reach).  She definitely misses Abigail when she hasn't seen her in a while, and asks for her.  She has been able to talk to people about things other than her pain and needs, and play with toys and sticker books in the last few days, which is an improvement over the previous couple of weeks or so.  There haven't been any bike rides, but I'll take what I can get.

My brother Josh's 3rd and 4th grade class wrote letters to Shoshana, and I was able to show them to her.  I also received a video from a friend's three-year-old daughter describing a letter and drawing she was making for Shoshana.  Shoshana really appreciated these things, and she seemed to especially enjoy them because they were from kids.   They brought me to tears, especially the statements of trust in God expressed in the letters from the kids in Josh's class:  the same kind of faith God expects from wise-to-the-world grownups.

Please keep asking the Lord to heal her vocal cords, restoring their function from nerve damage and relieving her of constant pain.  (Luke 18:7)

We definitely enjoy visitors.  Both to see Shoshana, and visitors for Mommy and Daddy to have a taste of normal social interaction and distraction.

We have depended on the meal plan set up by our church, to supply us with two or three dinners a week.  I have been going from work to the hospital, and then home to sleep, and Elizabeth is living in Shoshana's hospital room.  The burden taken off of us by these provided meals has allowed us to focus on Shoshana's needs and care.

Please ask the Lord to supply us and the doctors with wisdom, especially Elizabeth, who is in the front-line position of coordinating all of Shoshana's care over the long haul.  She and I need wisdom especially to know when to defer to the doctors' expertise, and when to put our foot down.  Shoshana is very blessed to have such a capable and knowledgeable nurse at her side and on her side so faithfully.