Sunday, March 31, 2013

This Glorious Easter Morn

Last week a relative wrote asking how our experiences of the last year have influenced our feelings about Easter.  As I pondered her question I experienced some of the deepest and most powerful feelings about gospel of Jesus Christ I have ever had.  I'd like to share the letter I wrote in response to her inquiry:  

Dear Cousin Allison,

Thank you for this opportunity to put in writing how our experiences of the last year have taught us more about our Savior Jesus Christ and his Atonement.  I have always had a strong, personal testimony that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior and that through his glorious Atonement – his suffering for our sins and dying on the cross – we are enabled to face the challenges of mortal life and one day overcome sin and death.  Over the past year we have had many powerful experiences and impressions that have strengthened these convictions.  Some things Katy and I have processed separately while others we have processed together.  I’ll try to articulate some of our impressions.  I apologize if I ramble a bit while sharing.

The Sunday before we left Albuquerque for Boston at the beginning of Emmett’s treatment I had the opportunity to share my testimony in church.  I expressed my deep gratitude for a Father in Heaven who was willing to watch his only begotten son suffer in agony, bleed, and die so that we all might live.  And I expressed that having our only son Emmett go through cancer treatment would provide Katy and me the opportunity to come to know our Father better by feeling some of the pain He felt. 

Understanding the Atonement through the roles of the Father and the Son

A year later I can testify that our experiences of the past year have indeed helped me come to a new and deeper understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.  Specifically, this last year has helped me gain a deeper appreciation for the sacred roles played by both God the Father and His son Jesus Christ in this marvelous event and the immeasurable love they both have for us. 

God's love is shown by giving his Son to be our Savior

A chapter of scripture helped bring this new understanding to light during family scripture study one night.  In 1 Nephi 11 the Spirit begins showing Nephi the interpretation of Lehi’s vision of the tree of life.  I’ve read this chapter many times, but after our experiences of this past year I made new connections that brought it to life

In Nephi’s vision the Spirit appears and asks what he desires.  After Nephi expresses his desire to understand his father’s dream the Spirit begins expounding the vision to his mind.  The first thing Nephi is shown is the tree of life – a beautiful tree with delicious fruit – which was the focal point of Lehi’s dream.  And then the rest of the chapter is spent providing the context necessary for Nephi to fully understand the spiritual significance of what the tree of life represents. 

The next thing the Spirit shows Nephi is the Lord Jesus Christ as a young child when he sees the virgin Mary bearing a child in her arms.  I’m impressed that Nephi’s first introduction to the Savior wasn’t of a grown adult during His mortal ministry, but instead it was a vision of the Savior as an infant in the pure, innocent state that all children begin their mortal experience in – a state of innocence and purity that every parent can relate to.

The vision then takes an abrupt turn which up until recently has always confused me a little.  The Spirit returns to the topic of the tree of life and asks Nephi what it represents.  Given the previous introduction to the Savior one would expect the answer to be that the tree of life represents Christ.  This assertion is not correct, however.  The tree actually represents the love of God.  I’ll return to this thought shortly.

As the vision continues, the Spirit shows Nephi the life of the Jesus Christ.  He sees the Savior’s baptism and mortal ministry; he sees Christ teaching and testifying; he sees the twelve apostles and the multitudes following Him and believing; he sees the miracles and healings performed by the Savior.

And then he sees the Savior taken, falsely accused, lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world.

And this is where the whole vision of the tree of life, or the love of God, came together for me the other week when I was reading it to Emmett – and is why Nephi needed to see the perfect Savior’s life before he could understand God’s love for His children.  The love of God is his son Jesus Christ, His precious, innocent boy…his little Emmett…that he was willing to sacrifice that we all might live.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).  In a metaphor that every parent can relate to, the perfect measure of God’s love is in his perfect son he was willing sacrifice so the rest of us might live.

The Father’s part in the Atonement – watching his child suffer

The word gave in John 3:16 implies so much – the pain of the Father in giving his only son – though it’s not what we normally focus on when we reading this verse.  And empathizing with the pain of a parent called to watch their child suffer and die is one way we’ve come to understand the Atonement better through our experiences of the last year.

I understand what it’s like to watch your pure, innocent, undeserving child suffer pain and agony.  I know how it feels to stand by helplessly, wanting so badly to take the pain away, to take the burden upon yourself, but being completely powerless.  In every surgical waiting room,  pondering what part of Emmett’s body might not work anymore after the operation.  Wondering what the harmful effects the radiation and chemotherapy might have, whether he’ll be paralyzed or impaired in other ways, wondering whether I’ll ever be able to play ball with him or what his academic opportunities might be.  As a parent you dream about all the opportunities you will give your child, every opportunity that you ever had and more.  And as your child goes through cancer therapy you contemplate crossing things off the list instead of adding to it.  Will he even survive at all?  The questions are endless. 

It absolutely kills you to watch the most precious thing in the world to you go through so much.  I can’t think of a more painful experience than for a parent to have to stand by and watch their child suffer all things, even death.

Often when we think of the Atonement of Christ we think only of the suffering of the Savior.  Indeed Christ’s suffering was great beyond measure, and I will not pretend I can begin to imagine the pain he went through.  But now I can testify that the Father suffered too during that atoning event.   And while I can never perfectly understand how painful it was for Father in Heaven to watch His son suffer, I have a much better understanding now than I ever have before. 

Oh how much our Father in Heaven loves us!

The Son’s part in the Atonement – submitting to his Father’s will

The other aspect of the Atonement we are coming to know through our experiences with Emmett is what it means for a child to submit his will to his father.  Back in October I was strongly impressed that we are not where we need to be (and where God wants us to be) until we can honestly say, “thy will be done”; until we’re honestly okay with any outcome for Emmett.  And that until we’re to that point we haven’t fully qualified for whatever blessings Father would have us receive.  This impression was reaffirmed to us when a visiting Area Authority reiterated it.  Father Abraham received the blessings he did because he did indeed put Isaac on the altar, not because he brought him up the mountain.  If in his heart he never intended to sacrifice Isaac, he would not have received the blessings for being willing to make that ultimate sacrifice.

In accomplishing the Atonement the Savior had to submit his will to his Father’s.  I take comfort in the fact that it isn’t necessarily what Christ wanted to do – he did ask if the cup could pass by him if possible, but “thy will be done” were his final words on the matter.  

We certainly don’t want to lose Emmett – nothing would be more painful for Katy and me – but ultimately we have to be willing to submit our wills to the Father, whatever His will ends up being, just like the Savior.  And in some small way, we have gained a greater appreciation of what the Savior had to go through in accomplishing his atoning sacrifice. 

Oh how much He loves us too!

We know people who have been called to give up their child to this horrible disease, who have been called to make the most painful sacrifice I can imagine in this mortal life.  Our hearts and love go out to them.  I admire their strength, courage, and faith, to say the very least.  I pray that God strengthens them.  I pray He does not require the same of us, that somehow we be allowed to keep our precious child.  We will continue praying that Emmett be allowed to stay.  But at the end of the day we do subject ourselves to God’s will, whatever it may be.  I know His knowledge and purposes are perfect.  And whatever pain our mortal journey holds here, I am so thankful for the Atonement of Jesus Christ which brings about the resurrection of life and the promise of a bright and glorious future!

The beautiful Atonement and glorious Resurrection

I testify that it was a perfect atonement made in humility and love.  A father who loved his children so much that he was willing to sacrifice his only perfect son, no matter how painful it was for him to witness.  And a son who loved his brothers and sisters so much that he was willing to submit to his Father’s will and allow himself to be sacrificed that we might live.  Oh how our experiences with Emmett over the past year have helped us to come to better understand and more deeply appreciate both sides of this divine equation!

How joyously we celebrate that beautiful Easter morn!  How beautiful the resurrected Lord’s salutation to the sobbing Mary: “Woman, why weepest thou?  whom seekest thou?” as if to say: Look up Mary, I am here! The night is gone, the pain is past! The morn is come and it is accomplished!  It is no longer a time for tears of sorrow, but tears of joy!  Death is gone, Satan conquered, and the painful, yet beautiful Atonement is accomplished!  My Father and I are celebrating this glorious morning, and so should you!

And so let us likewise celebrate on this beautiful Easter morn!  How grateful I am for the Atonement of Jesus Christ, for the resurrection of life and freedom from pain!  What great reasons we have to rejoice!  We may not know what the balance of each of our mortal experiences hold and what challenges lie ahead, and for my family we will forever live with knowledge that Emmett’s disease may return, but even now we have reason to rejoice in the joy of the resurrection and the eternities ahead all made possible through the glorious, incomprehensible love of a father and a son – of which I have a better understanding now than ever before in my life.  Of our Father in Heaven and His son our Savior, and their great love for us I testify, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Working Overtime

Emmett doesn't sit still much, especially when he's in the hospital. The last time he was admitted, about 2 weeks ago now, what we thought was just supposed to be some flurries ended up being about 8 inches of snow! Emmett liked being in the garden more that day than he ever did in the warm weather.

He helped the Grounds' Crew by 'snow blowing' with them. Truthfully, for the half hour he was out there, Emmett was working more than the 3 full time guys!  They were stopping and chatting, but Emmett kept making rounds in the garden.  He was a little disappointed that most the snow had already been cleared off the walkways and so he would make sure to drive his mower into the snowbanks once in a while for some real action.

A little union-approved break before heading back out to work

The next day, this was the chosen activity. 
He's a very meticulous worker, as you can see
Emmett was ready to be discharged and was feeling really well. He'd been walking differently, though, so we had the oncology fellow come check him out before we left. Another sign of too much Vincristine, which they will reduce this round. She could barely get him to stop vacuuming to examine him, though. I told her that Children's should definitely be paying him to be there instead of the other way around!

Just Chillin'

This was back in the first weekend of March-I just found Emmett hanging out on the stairs like this. 
Funny kid

This video isn't all that exciting, but he kept making such serious faces that I thought were entertaining 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Daddy's Boy

Last week I made a trip back to Albuquerque for work.  I've taken a handful of trips to New Mexico over the last year, but for the most part have been in Boston working remotely.  Now that things are a little more settled here I'm shifting focus back to New Mexico.  And that means increased travel...and time away from Emmett.

For the most part Emmett hasn't had to deal with separation from his parents for a year.  It was a rude awakening when Katy dropped me off at the airport last Tuesday.  Strapped in his car seat in the back of the car, he absolutely fell apart when he realized I was leaving.  Crying and crying and crying, big crocodile tears rolling down each cheek, completely beside himself.  And having to leave, I was helpless to make him happy.  As Katy drove away, Emmett kept his tear-filled eyes trained on mine until we were out of sight.

I was so sad for the little guy.  It really tugged at the heart strings of the tough, rugged man that I am.

I entered the airport, spent about 40 minutes going through security, then grabbed some breakfast.  And that's when the phone rang.  It was Katy, and Emmett was in the background wailing.  I guess he had cried all the way home and was still crying back in Katy's parent's house.  Katy was looking for relief she hoped Skype could provide.  So we connected via video chat and before long Emmett stopped crying and calmed down.  Five minutes later he was back to his happy old self, and the next thing I knew he jumped up and ran out of the room happy as a clam.

Well, mourning my loss was short lived.

I was feeling just a little sad that Emmett had gotten over me so quickly...when he came back in the room, coat and hat in hand: "ma ma, go get daddy?"

My heart melted again.

Throughout the day Emmett must have Skyped me 15 times.  And we kept in close contact throughout the rest of the week.  It was fun to show him the house, his room and toys, read him stories, introduce him to the stucco repair man, and let him visit with friends and neighbors.  It was almost like we were all back home in Albuquerque again.

How grateful we are for the iPads which keep us close when the distance is great.  Many thanks to all of you who participated in these wonderful gifts which are still putting a smile on Emmett's face a year later.

nik's week

In September, my sister, Nicole, came to visit, too.  There are 2 sets of twins in my oldest sisters are twins, then my oldest brothers are twins, then there's Nik, then me.  So we were kind of like the 3rd set of twins growing up. She's the sister I always shared a room with, often on sports teams together, were in seminary together, shared a closet with, etc...   She's a little ahead of me in life, though.  Nicole has four children, so it was actually a pretty huge deal to come out-for an entire week, with no children.  She arranged for babysitters and her husband arranged his work schedule just right.  This trip took a lot of coordinating and was planned a few months in advance.  It really meant the world to us that her family was so supportive of the trip and that she made the effort to come. Thanks so much!  We love you, Andersons!

Unfortunately, planning a trip that far ahead is a gamble in our life, because we have no idea what will be going on 2 days ahead, let alone a few months ahead.  When September hit, Emmett's scan was on the 5th and our doctors recommended surgery followed by high dose chemo with stem cell rescue.  We were unsure what to do and the surgeon was hesitant (I know, this is all old news by now, but just trying to play back what was going on around that time).  The week before Nicole was to come, we considered having her cancel her trip, which would have been a huge bummer.  We thought maybe any moment we may get news that the surgeon had scheduled the surgery, or the docs may want to do more chemo while waiting...or who knows what, but every day that month we really thought something big might be happening the next day.  We were really up in the air.  It would not have been easy to reschedule this trip and luckily, we decided the show must go on.  This was our life and she was coming to just be part of it whatever happened that week!   

Well, it ended up being the absolute perfect week to come.  As each day went by and we kind of realized that probably nothing big was going to happen that week so we might as well live it up and enjoy her being there and enjoy the warm weather and enjoy Emmett being so healthy and happy, having no idea what the rest of the fall would bring us, as far as his medical treatments and condition. Each day, we made sure to go out and do something fun while we could.

So we went apple picking! (No, not for the 3rd time; this trip overlapped with Nana's fun week) 
We took a big ol' group though...cousin Tyson and his fam came

Our 'adopted sister', Michelle, leading the pack
Emmett's favorite that day was his Aunt Michelle-poor girl, as if she doesn't do enough
carrying with her own 2 boys, Emmett kept insisting she carry him around the orchard
After Tyson picked a really high apple, Emmett wanted to get one too.  It took a while
to get a good enough grip to actually pull it off, but he did get one!

Tuesday we spent the entire day in the clinic.  We met part of the PACT team for the first time and talked with Dr. Chi for a little bit.  Emmett had Intrathecal Chemo (the chemo that does directly into his CSF/brain fluid), and amazingly slept through it all!  He woke up at the end only when the NP tried to scrub the iodine off his head when the procedure was over.  Here we are waiting.  For whatever reason, it took quite a while for the chemo to be ready.
 Wednesday night we went and visited an old favorite, Harvard Square and stopped at this new favorite Curious George store!  Emmett was really into George around this time, so it was fun to take him in there.  Unfortunately, it was literally closing in minutes, so we didn't get to look around too long.
 We ordered dinner and ate outside on this wall/median/curb?  Emmett loved racing back and forth
Thursday, we went and visited Uncle Cris at work.
It was a special occasion-they had big construction trucks right across from his office! 
We had a picnic lunch where Emmett could enjoy the 'show'
Then we headed off to the Franklin Park Zoo!  Thanks to Aunt Cassandra and Uncle Mike 
who introduced us to the place last summer.  We've gone there a few times and really like it!

Friday was the reason Nicole came that birthday!
Micah took us out to breakfast.
Then we headed downtown to the Children's Museum where we had a lot of fun! 
That night, we all got together and my sister in law made a yummy dinner and we had cake and ice cream! 
It would have been great if we'd stopped right there, but Micah debated keeping up the tradition for my birthday that he started years ago...
Usually we light a birthday cake and float it away;  this year it was pouring rain, but we decided to keep the tradition alive!  We made birthday boats (newspaper boats covered with birthday candles) instead and took them in the pouring rain...and they were amazing!  
I'm glad we decided to float boats despite the rain because it was a memorable ending

You can see one far off in the distance.  We were shocked the candles burned so long!
...and I LOVE Emmett's face in this one ;) 
(but then again, when do I not love his face?!?!)
Thanks for coming, Nik!  
...maybe someday we'll live closer together, but until then, visits are fun!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Back to the fall....

Last September was very busy for us...truthfully, it seems like life is finally starting to slow down a little bit after a busy year. I mean, we went the whole month of February without being admitted to the hospital! Impressive, eh? I mean, we were in hospitals, clinic and even in the ER plenty, but no overnights. See, life has slowed down!
About this time last year, we were in the hospital probably 20-25 nights a month. So I'm still trying to catch the blog up. Back in September, Uncle Jason showed up, which I posted about, and then Micah's mom came soon after for Emmett's 2nd birthday. It was fun to have extra Emmett fans on hand for the little party!

Here's Emmett's little Birthday dinner with Nana
We went for walks around the neighborhood
Played Emmett's newest favorite game-baseball!

We went apple picking, too!  We had taken Jason the week before, but it was lots of fun and the perfect time of year to go, of course, so we went again.  The place to go is Russell Farms (I think that's the name) because they have quite the set up.  Apple picking, wagon rides, duck pond, petting zoo, apple cider doughnuts and a whole little bakery/farm shop.  Here's Emmett hanging with Nana watching them press apples and make apple cider.

It's always fun to have visitors! Re-living this is making me itch for warm weather again!  Hopefully spring will come here sometime soon. Maybe my next post should be about all the blizzards we've had this winter ;)

What do your kids do when you're not watching?

I must admit, I feel very guilty as I write this post.  Thursday evening, I'd just talked to my friend, a mom of twins that are Emmett's age.  She said they can't even turn their backs for a minute.  Just the other day they forgot to lock up the closet and left the kids in the room alone for a minute....and they got to the costco-sized wipes and pulled them all by one! 

Just after that conversation, I took Emmett upstairs to start getting ready for bed and left him alone for just a minute.  I heard him in the bathroom and when I checked, I found him doing this! 

I know...rough life.  Of course, I made him reenact this so I could 'catch it on film' so now it's double clean.  One less chore for me on Saturday morning!  He's always loved helping clean the house.  What kid doesn't love spray bottles and chemicals they shouldn't be touching and all that good stuff.  In fact, I think there's a picture on the sidebar of him helping clean the bathroom right before we left Albuquerque! 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Walden Pond

The day Mother and Cassandra left Boston after their mid-October visit we explored a new place with Emmett: Walden Pond.  He loved it.  With "wah-ter", "dish", "weaves", "beig rocks", and most of all "beig choo choos", what could be more heavenly than Walden?  No matter the day, no matter the weather, Emmett would prefer to be at the "bee-tch".  We were regulars until winter hit, usually 2-3 times a week.

Come along with us on a few of our visits to Walden...

This was our first trip to the was an overcast, wet day...but the sun came out by the end.

Emmett, so carefully pointing to exactly which rock he wanted Katy to help him pick up.

Lion, of course, was a regular on these outings.  As the honorary fourth member of our family, I'm lucky I haven't had to add him as a dependent on our health insurance yet.

The sun finally peeking its way through the trees to brighten up our day.

This trip to Walden was on a beautiful, sunny day.

Here's Emmett commanding the rock collecting brigade.  We eventually wised up and started bringing buckets to carry them all in.  When we'd plop down near the water and let him exhaust our stockpile.

This trip was on a cloudy, misty, drippy day.
 Emmett's goal this day was finding a train.  Over our many visits his interests evolved from water and rocks to sticks and leaves...and then eventually to "bieg choo choos".  How we hate to disappoint.

 Here we go! 
 (I have to confess we cheated and looked up the train schedules so Emmett was never disappointed.)

The weather didn't keep Emmett from having a blast.

The foundation of the house Henry David Thoreau lived in during his time at Walden.

People leave rocks in a pile near the Thoreau house.  Somebody else loves a Micah!
Back to the tracks for one last train...

Fall was a scary time for our family full of uncertainty and fear.  How wonderful these trips to Walden Pond, an opportunity to forget our troubles and enjoy some of life's simple pleasures as a family: playing in the woods, skipping rocks, feeding the ducks and fish, collecting "bieg stix", and enjoying the beauty of a forest transitioning from summer to winter.  It was breathtaking, relaxing, and therapeutic all at the same time.

As always, Emmett lifted our spirits most of all.