Monday, December 31, 2012

Many, Many, Many Thanks

Now that this year has drawn to a close, I realize that I don't really want to write the typical end-of-year letter summarizing all the various activities and interests of each member of our family. I would almost have to write two letters—one describing the cheery pre-cancer first half of our year and one describing the crazier post-cancer second half of 2012. But if you've been reading this blog, you already know most of what I would tell you, and you certainly know that Jonah's battle with leukemia has been the headline story that has nearly eclipsed everything else. In the midst of that struggle, however, we have seen more clearly that the goodness of God extends to even the smallest details of our lives.

A couple of months ago, for example, I asked our friends and family to pray for a mild winter this year because of all the driving we would be doing between here and Spokane. It seemed like a big request, and it's the kind of prayer that, I think, many of us fully expect God to ignore. But three days later I laid open the front page of the local newspaper to discover this headline: "Crews anticipate mild winter." "Mild winter"—that's the very phrase I had used. Well, I thought, that was a quick answer. Then, a few days before Christmas, as Jayson and Jonah made their way home from the hospital along dry roads and between muddy fields, and imagining a wet, green Christmas, they prayed for snow. The next evening, Jayson opened the curtains, noticing that it was unusually light outside, and started to laugh. Lo and behold, snow was falling in fat, graceful, grace-full clusters of flakes, perfect for fort building and snowmen.

Was all this sent for us, just because we asked? Is it arrogant to think so? It's not unusual for snow to fall this time of year, after all. Mild winters come and go, certainly. And yet "Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years." (James 5:17) Stranger things, you see, have happened. Bigger prayers than ours have been answered. And Jonah is now at a class sledding party, making full use of that chilly answer to prayer—and of an accidental scheduling error that kept him from going to the hospital today. Grace upon grace.

Numerous people have told us they prayed that Jonah could be home for Christmas, and we are extremely grateful to report that he was able to spend all of the past week and a half at home and has enjoyed a relatively easy phase of treatment during the month of December, with only a few bad days of nausea. Jonah has even begun to look forward to his hospital visits lately, since he has started to develop friendships with some of the patients and has felt well enough to take advantage of the crafts and other activities available to the kids there.

This less intense phase of treatment will continue until late January, when he is scheduled to begin "delayed intensification." For that stage of his treatment, Jonah will again be required to spend most of his time close to the hospital. We are extremely thankful for the generosity of some friends of my aunt and uncle who, without ever having met us, offered their condo as a place for him to stay during those two months while they spend the winter in the Arizona sunshine. We are, once again, overwhelmed by the kindness not only of friends and family, but of complete strangers. You all have been the answer to many, many of our prayers.

This brings me again to the main point of this post: gratitude. One thing that I have failed to adequately express to all of you is how tremendously grateful we are for the help and prayers and support that we have received during the last four months. You may be familiar with the phrase, "To whom much is given, much is required." It's true. But we have found that the inverse has been true as well: To whom much is required, much is given. We have been given far more than I can possibly list here.

We tried feebly at first to keep up with the thank-you notes, but within weeks it became clear that the task was beyond us. In spite of our good intentions, the acts of kindness poured in at a rate that exceeded our card-writing capabilities. So please forgive our lack of written response to your outpouring of love and generosity. Dozens of you chose to remain anonymous, and dozens more sent sweet, hand-written notes and generous checks and encouraging cards letting us know that you've been thinking of us and praying for us. But whether we know you by name or have no idea who you are, I want you to be aware of how grateful we are to you for carrying us through this tremendous trial. We could not possibly have done this on our own. So I apologize if the rest of this post reads more like an acceptance speech at the Oscars than a Christmas letter, but a long list of acknowlegements is in order.

First, the care packages for Jonah have been a great encouragement to him during difficult days. The gifts themselves were delightful and often provided a welcome distraction from his loneliness and discomfort. But he also was cheered by the knowledge that so many people continue to remember and care about him during this long illness. The piles of get-well cards have been and continue to be a boost to Jonah's morale. Thank you.

The little gifts for the rest of the boys have also helped them to feel loved while everyone's attention is focused on Jonah. The surprise toys and treats for the siblings have been especially wonderful during those long weeks when our family has had to be apart. Our four younger boys have had to suffer an upheaval in their lives as well, so thank you for remembering them.

Likewise, the gift cards and monetary gifts for our family have blessed us enormously as we have had to cover the expenses of traveling, eating on the road, setting up house in a new location, buying expensive medications, and much more. It is such a blessing to know that when each new expense arises we have the means to pay for it. Thank you.

To our church we owe a huge debt of gratitude for covering the biggest expenses we have incurred. It was through our church that we were able to get a second car—something we simply could not manage without during this stage of our lives. It was because of our church friends that we had a beautiful home away from home to live in on lake Coeur d'Alene during the first few months of Jonah's treatment. And it has been through our church that our most daunting medical bills have been paid for. Whenever I think of the ways that our church has helped us, it brings tears to my eyes. You, our church family, have loved us as true brothers and sisters. Thank you.

In addition, our local church community has taken on the massive task of providing meals and treats for our family during our months of topsy-turvy schedule. In the past, we have had a taste of your culinary skills here and there, but I think we have now sampled something from more of your kitchens than perhaps anybody else has. And we have not been disappointed. You are an astoundingly talented bunch of cooks. Thank you for sharing your culinary skills with us.

I cannot possibly list the names of all the people who have gone out of their way to serve our family in our hour of need, but I would be horribly remiss if I didn't mention at least these two by name: my dear friend Annie, and my mother-in-law, Marilynn. As soon as they heard the news of Jonah's diagnosis both these women immediately went into action to provide us with help.

Annie suddenly became my personal secretary and activities coordinator, organizing all those meals and rides and school lunches and house cleanings, and much more. I hate to think what we would have done without her. She has been the truest and most loyal of friends. She has blessed us all more than words can express, and I love her like a sister.

And Marilynn. I cannot sing her praises highly enough. She is currently enjoying a well-deserved break back in Arizona during these easier weeks of Jonah's treatment. But she got on a plane almost as soon as she learned of Jonah's cancer, and she plans to come back again to help us through the harder months ahead. Throughout these difficult times, she has been like a ministering angel to us, changing diapers, taking library trips, washing mountains of laundry, playing games, mopping floors, and providing love and constancy for us all when we needed it most. She seems to have infinite reserves of patience, and she has kept this household running smoothly while Jayson and I have been living out of suitcases and taking turns sleeping in hospital rooms. And, because we have no guest room, she has done all this while sharing Jude's bunk bed in Jonah's absence and sleeping on the couch when Jonah's been home. My mother-in-law is truly a saint and I love her dearly. The debt of gratitude we owe her can never be repaid.

Lastly, we are, of course, thankful to God, who has provided us so richly with all that we have needed and far, far more. He has been our rock, our fortress, and our deliverer. He is our strength and our song. And His grace continues to fill our lives, flowing into every corner, and falling on us daily, as pure and as lovely as Christmas snow.

There. That is what most needed to be said as this year winds down to a close. We are overwhelmingly grateful. Thank you all.

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