Still Here and Still His

Of Life, Love and Loss. Of Knowing and Being Known. On Being His.

Category: Cancer

Where I’ve Been & Where I’m Going (II of III)

Where I’ve Been…

In his early days of music ministry Jeremy used to send out a WIB & WIG newsletter: “Where I’ve Been & Where I’m Going”. It’s mostly for lack of time that I’ve been silent on the blog these past months, but since many have been asking for an update on the details of our lives, I’ll attempt to fill in some gaps.

In terms of daily life, from 7am-9am and 3:30pm-9pm every day (and really, 24/7), I’m a full-time mom of three elementary-age boys. For some of you, I don’t need to explain. For others, let me try. There’s a lot of directing, reminding, instilling, guiding, teaching, providing, bringing, making, cleaning, shopping, talking…and things of that sort going on. The hours after school consist of trying to balance homework, playtime, shifting moods, dinner, baseball, piano, cello, church, and now that it’s springtime, mowing the lawn. Sometimes all of this feels very good and goes really well. Other times, I find myself kneeling on my bedroom floor with the door closed telling God that I can’t do this and that I’m not cut out for being a single parent.IMG_6043

The “single-parenting card” is a really easy one to play–it’s not fair; this isn’t right; it’s too hard. Some tell me that I have every right to complain or to struggle. Others would say, as do I, parenting isn’t easy for anyone. As I think through the list of what makes it hard for me now, the same things were difficult even when Jeremy was around. What is different now is how much I hold on my own — the joys and the struggles. The moments of celebration over their lives and accomplishments are lonely at times because Jeremy should be sharing those proud moments with me. He made the boys too, and he should still be here enjoying them and continuing to make them who they are. The moments of sorrow, of difficulty and of decision-making are hard, because the weight of those decisions, are mine alone. If I make a wrong choice for them it’s not our fault, it’s my fault.  At the end of the day or its beginning, it’s just me. It’s just me deciding if they’re in the best school, if I’m helping them to manage their time well, if I’m modeling faith in God in a wholesome way, if they’re eating well enough, or playing hard enough, or sleeping long enough. It’s me that breaks up the battles and cleans up the messes. Sometimes I catch myself thinking that if the boys are doing amazing things, it’s because Jeremy was their dad, and if they’re struggling in any way, it’s because I’m not mothering them well. Neither of which are true alone. Nevertheless, thoughts like that try my heart.

IMG_5956Other days, I look at those boys and wonder how in the world I got so lucky? The boys are beautiful, easy kids. I am proud of who they are becoming. They each still struggle with their own grief –it shows up at school, in tears, at bedtime–and even more generally, they struggle with growing up, as every kid does. But they are also thriving in many ways, by the grace of God.

So after my moments of often desperate prayer to our always capable God, I seem to find myself standing back up, walking back out, and being mom again, because I know that my strength and my capability has very little to do with what God has called me to. Scripture says that when I’m at the end of my rope, I’m actually quite closer to Him (2 Corinthians 12:9). God assures me that He’s got my back and that I am enough, even on my own, only because I’m His. Neither do I take for granted –ever– the family and friends that I call my own. There are many others enjoying the boys alongside me. We are loved and supported beyond what we deserve and more than I could have ever hoped for.

Most weekdays while the boys are at school, I am, too–lost in a book on theology, world religions, ministry, literature, counseling, intercultural studies– or in front of a computer writing papers and answering discussion posts, as I’m wrapping up my B.S. in General Studies through Crown College. Most evenings, post-bedtime, I’m back at it. I’m currently in the final weeks of my Senior Portfolio course, working on a writing project with a nonprofit organization called Safe Families For Children, loving the coming together of life stories, God’s redemptive work and my growing passion for writing.  Commencement (which I’ll be walking in) is tomorrow, but my status as a full-time student will be ending the beginning of June. The boys’ question of “when will you be done with school???” will finally be answered. It’s been a sacrifice for them, for my family and for my friends over the past few years. I have poured myself into it fully and there has been a cost to that. I’m confident it will pay off eventually (it already has for me and I hope it does for them, too). Many people, understandably so, have assumed that I had gone back to complete my nursing degree, which is what I was pursuing when Jeremy got sick. I’d probably be a good nurse someday but, after all the years in and out of hospitals with Jeremy, I know that for this season of life it’s not where or what I want to be.

Speaking of hospitals … on the family front, shortly after Christmas Jeremy’s dad, Buddy, was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma. He and Debbie spent several weeks at our home in January and February as he was being diagnosed. We cherished our time with them here despite disliking the reason for it. Buddy is currently receiving chemo back in their hometown and will be spending a portion of his summer weeks at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, having a bone marrow transplant sometime in June or July. For those of you who know Jeremy’s health history, this diagnosis felt a bit surreal for our family. It’s one thing to have a fresh cancer diagnosis. It’s another thing to have it be so similar to Jeremy’s. It’s disheartening and frustrating, and difficult for my heart to re-engage with it all, at times. Still, we are hopeful that this will end well, though none of us are looking forward to walking this road. We know –as we have always known–that we are in the hands of God, that He loves us and that He is for us and with us. We are in good hands. The other thing that I am sure of is that the Erickson family is my family. I love them like my own. And while I’ve never called Buddy and Debbie, “mom” and “dad”, they are that to me in the very fullest sense.

IMG_5333In February, Aedan and I (and my mom!) traveled to Mexico with a short-term mission group to offer support to full-time orphanage and mission staff. It was a wonderful and blessed trip, a trip that was easy to transition into and back out of. But it came at a rather dark season for me. I remember the night before leaving feeling like I had nothing to offer at a time when I wanted to offer so much. I was worn out and tired. The trip wasn’t a “mountaintop” experience for me. It wasn’t even a reprieve. It was just something different. It was warm rather than cold. It was one kid rather than three. It was other people making decisions rather than me. It was a chance to offer all I had (which was very little) and know that it was enough. It was an opportunity to enter into some magnificent work that God is doing.IMG_5468 I was reminded how deeply God loves and how He is always at work building His kingdom, even in some of the darkest tragedies. At one point on the trip, I found myself laughing so hard with others in the midst of a most random conversation. I don’t know how long it had been since I had laughed like that, but realized how much those brief moments of laughing uncontrollably were such a gift from God. To watch my eldest son encounter the ocean for the first time was a quiet delight. Surprisingly, the trip wasn’t a profound bonding experience for Aedan and me. It was more of a “letting go” of him, which is exactly what it ought to have been in this season of life and, in its own right, a blessing.

Something I’ve seemed to inherit from Jeremy was the invitation to speak places. There are moments when I feel like I’m living his life (where did these friends come from? And who is this person who is now writing? And speaking? WHAT?). I’m not sure what to do with those invitations yet, except I generally say yes and then spend hours upon hours preparing (a few of those hours wondering why I said “yes”). But I say yes because we are called to testify about the goodness of God, about His truth, about Christ and His salvation. So sprinkled in with a lot of schoolwork and parenting, I’ve spent time preparing for a few speaking opportunities.

IMG_6137Post July, besides planning to spend a lot of time with family and the boys, the calendar is open. Where I’m Going is very much unknown at this point. There is much room for God’s direction and provision, which I’ll share more about in the next post. What I do know is that in this fight for life, which I talked about in the previous post, the where I’ve been and where I’m going is less important than where I am right now. I continue to strive to trust God in the present moment, to be patient with Him and His timing and to trust that His Spirit in me intercedes on my behalf when I don’t know what to pray. God’s got my heart and because of that, I’m in a good place.

For Who We Will Be

God Himself looks at us, not as we are, but as we are to Christ; and loves us, not for our sake, but for Christ’s sake, and for His own sake, because of something in Himself which cannot help loving even the unlovely. And then, God always looks beyond our present to the future ideal, which His love has for us, and to which, it is bringing us. God sees us, not as we are today, but as we shall be by and by, when He has accomplished the purpose of His grace in us, and we shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of our Father” (A.B. Simpson).

I am grateful that God looks at me through the lens of Christ and that He doesn’t settle with leaving me as I am. How I wish I could love like God does! Reading these words a few months back reminded me of similar words that Jeremy had written on a placard that was placed on our wedding reception tables…

Things we would want people to know at our wedding:

– There will be no divorce.
– We intend to learn to love the unlovable, practicing that often with each other.
– We anticipate times when we must love each other for who we will be and not necessarily for who we are. Though this may sound escapist and rather cruel on present terms, we believe God loves us in this way – for the potential He sees – for the essence of who we are and are becoming, rather than how we’re acting at the time, thus inspiring us to become all He made us to be. 
– The Beretta is big enough for the both of us. 
– Kids are good. 
– We marry knowing our lives may seem less effective from certain angles. Our ambitions may change, our spirits for adventure may be tamed, our desire to wander may be less inclined to lift these legs, but we believe that effective ministry happens when we first allow God to do His work in our hearts in His way. Learning to love like He loves His church and His children is perhaps the ultimate calling for man – for in this, practiced and observed, man sees God for who He is and in light of that, who can resist Him? We believe this to be the season for that, and believe it will be a far more effective ministry than anything God has wrought up thus far. 
– Contrary to popular opinion, Jen is old enough (and Jeremy….mature enough) to be married.
– We know it may be tough. 
– We know it will be good. 
– And because we don’t know it all, we’re glad that you are here. 
(postscript: there will be no buffet lines in heaven)

I was three weeks shy of turning 20 years old. I knew so little about myself or life, let alone marriage. Jeremy, being 5 1/2 years older, seemed to have a bit more insight (or at least pretended he did). I’m glad Jeremy took the time to expand what our vows implied, for we learned over the years the importance of holding fast to these promises made to God, for one another. Vows are intended to bind us together (to God and to one another); we ought to let them do the work, then, of binding us.

The final line (postscript: there will be no buffet lines in heaven) was meant for fun at the time (isn’t the worst part about wedding receptions the long line for food?). Yet, ten years later, I saw a much longer line coming towards me to offer condolences for a husband gone too early. When I pulled our wedding program out and read that last line I thought, well, isn’t heaven where all God-ward marriages end? The day I married Jeremy I was not thinking about death ever parting us. Now, I’m learning that the death of a spouse is just as much a part of the marriage experience as anything else. In that way (and many other ways) I’ve tasted fully all that marriage was to be for Jeremy and me. It was not the fullness of all I hoped or longed for, or all that it was intended to be prior to the Fall of mankind. But I know we drank in as deeply as we could of all that we were given to share together. And I continue to trust that Jeremy’s death will in some way lead to more life. It may be in small, even unnoticed ways, but it must be there. It was only in death that we were brought to the fullness of life through Christ. The concept that life is born out of death is all over the place in Scripture. It would do us well to look for such things in our lives as well.

When it comes to wedding vows, there is always the decision of whether to write your own or state the traditional ones. Both are good options. We chose the latter. I probably didn’t have an opinion at the time (though I was likely relieved to not have to go through the work of crafting my own), but I remember Jeremy stating something about the gravity, the weightiness, the blessing there is in repeating vows that have been repeated at altars for centuries. There is a “rootedness”; we are joining in on something that is not new, but that has been promised over and over again. It grieves me how often those vows are broken–even great marriages have their own battles within. But to say we loved one another the best we knew how for better and for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, loving and cherishing until death did us part, were vows fulfilled only by the grace of God. Neither of us loved each other perfectly or fully (God alone knows how many mistakes we made). But to know of the perfect love God has for us and to live in the knowledge of that love, made our love more often a joy than a sorrow.

“And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight, to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)

“He Himself is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17)

These scripture passages were the framework for our wedding ceremony and they remained foundational for our marriage and our prayers throughout all of the seasons we shared. They are no less foundational for me in these days. It goes without saying that here, in this life, we will never be able to love people like God does but it ought not keep us from trying. If God’s love for us becomes irresistible, we won’t be able to resist loving those around us in a similar way.

That little placard at our reception tables ended up being such a foreshadowing of all that was to come…

– There was no divorce.
– We learned to love the unlovable, practicing it often with each other (imperfectly so).
– We often had to love each other for who we were becoming, rather than who we were at the time. Jeremy’s love compelled me into becoming; I think my love for him did the same. As I’ve grieved the loss of Jeremy over the past 2 1/2 years with friends, I’ve shared with them that it was with Jeremy that I grew up. He grew me up. He helped be become. And I grieve some that I am more now who he saw me to be all those years than I ever saw myself to be when I was his. He saw the potential in me and helped carve it out until the day he died. (Maybe I did the same for him.)
– The Beretta was big enough for the both of us. He was so attached to that car that when Aedan came along two years later (it wasn’t big enough for three of us), he parked it up on the Erickson farm. That car drove him on all sorts of roads across the U.S., alone at first and then with  me. (Who gets to do that?)
– Kids are indeed good. Jeremy loved his boys; they know it. And I continue to love them so much.
– Our lives were less effective in some ways once joining together, but not in the most important ways. The sanctification that comes out of marriage is like none other. It was our ultimate calling. The knowledge and insight and coming to know God in the framework of marriage was irresistible to us (and to others as well, I think). The season was too brief but I pray whatever ministry came out of our marriage was effective.
– I guess I was old enough to be married. Jeremy was mature. I trusted him; rarely was I ever afraid to walk where he was walking. And it was only 3 years after our wedding that reality of life and death hit us with Jeremy’s diagnosis of cancer. Then, we grew up even faster.
– It was tough, tougher than we ever imagined it could be. But the difficult roads we walked together made the sweet roads, sweeter still. So we learned to drink it in when it was offered to us.
-It was good. It was so very, very good.
-And had we walked it alone without all of our friends and family, we would have crumbled a million times over.

Thank you, to those of you who celebrated with us 13 years ago and stood in that buffet line, and to those of you who stood in the receiving line at Jeremy’s funeral (do you know how many hugs I got that day? Like…a thousand) and at his burial.

Remember, there’ll be no buffet lines awaiting us on the other side of the grave; it’ll be a feast like none other. Until then, may God’s love compel us to love each other into becoming all who we were made to be and to fully live out all our days. To God be the glory for who we are and for who we will be.

A Hope to Bank On

969181_10151994368318136_1715203011_nIt was two years ago tonight that Jeremy’s body failed to thrive and we had to say a very difficult goodbye. This remembrance will always be bittersweet as we grieve our loss and his gain, acknowledging what we have missed out on by not having him with us yet realizing how our faithful God has continued to bless us with good things despite his absence. When I let myself soak in the memories of him–the memories of those weeks in the hospital and the many years of life that I shared with him–I still can’t believe this is my story. This isn’t how I would have written it. Jeremy’s death, to me, is a permanent heartache.

Last week I took to listening to the final message that Jeremy ever preached. It was February 2012 at CityLife Church. As I was listening, I was busy doing things around the house. Thirty minutes in to the message I found myself stopped and teary at the weight of his words and the implications for both his life and my own.

These were Jeremy’s words:

“…God is with us. He is with us. He is sad that we’re sad. He knows what it is to hurt and He knows how to redeem it. One could say He specializes in making the pain matter. That He alone truly knows how to best bring good from bad….

So ‘is the heart of God good?’ …Yes, the heart of God is very good.
But ‘is the heart of God good for me?’ That all depends.

431515_10150540468136962_72948461_nBut it only depends on how you answer the next question. And not how you answer it with your words but how you answer it in your bones. It’s how this question is answered deep inside you that counts. You ask, ‘is the heart of God good for me?’ And I ask, ‘Are you His?  Are you His?’ That’s the question. Do you belong to Him? Because if you’re His, you’ve got nothing to worry about. The Good Shepherd can be trusted to shepherd His sheep and His Father can be trusted to care for His own. And His Spirit can be trusted to let you know that you belong to Him. Our passage from Romans 8 speaks of this…..’for you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry “Abba, Father!”‘ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. And if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ’. The spirit of adoption as sons by whom we cry “Abba” –the aramaic word for “daddy”. The Dad who did not spare His own son; who with Him promises to give us all things; who assures us that nothing can separate us from His love.”

And here following are the words that struck me most….

IMG_2982“This is the God we are surprised to find in our pain. Our pain says that we should find a God who thunders and smokes, where men and animals die as they set foot on the mountain. For a God who allows such suffering as we encounter in this life must be scary, indeed. And at first He does scare us. And right He should. For as the prophet asks in Lamentations, ‘What living man should complain when punished for his sins?’ And in suffering we feel the weight of our sinfulness perhaps more strongly than we do when we are well. But when the smoke clears, and instead of finding ourselves alone in the middle of the valley of the shadow of death where we expected to be, we find ourselves mysteriously on top the mountain of God with God Himself. We can’t help but laugh a little when we realize we’re not dead. Much more the fact that the Father Himself holds us in His arms. He has invited us to a banquet. For His Son has made us co-heirs with Him in His kingdom and we are going home. Ours is a fairytale ending. In our flesh we shall see God and we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is. The silver is pure. The coals in the furnace are cold. The crucible is broken and there is no more pain. There are no more tears. There is no more death. And it is just the beginning. ‘We are to consider the sufferings of this present time’–which may be substantial–‘not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us’. That is what Paul says. I John 3 says that ‘he who hopes in God in this way purifies himself.’ This hope in Him has a purifying effect. Like the crucible in the flame. This is the kind of hope that I’m banking on….”

The thought of Jeremy speaking these words in anticipation of what would one day be his reality undid me in knowing that it came much sooner than any of us wanted. Yet the timing of his death in no way took away from the fulfillment of that hope in him.

IMG_3694I can hear his laughter at waking up on the other side of the grave and finding himself not dead. I can see and feel his unspeakable joy.
And I rejoice that the hope he had entirely paid off. Ours will, too, friends. It will indeed (though the tears still fall).

“The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a good inheritance.” Psalm 16: 6

[To hear Jeremy’s full message “In Uz With Abba: Is It Worth It?, click here.]

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