As the Brewers are entering the NLCS playoff series in a couple of days my mind has turned to Judah. I have plenty of memories with him and baseball and thought I would write a few of them down.
Judah’s favorite sport was baseball. I have often thought that if Judah had lived, he would have wanted to play on a baseball team. When we moved to our Ashland house, for a while the kids would play baseball in the front yard. They had pine trees that were the bases and would play full-blown games. When they weren’t playing games, Judah could often be found playing imaginary games with himself or throwing the ball against the garage and catching it. He and Cody would sometimes throw the ball over the roof of the garage to each other and try to catch it. Some of my best memories are of listening to his high-pitched voice as he would call a game in his mind just like an announcer.
Once diagnosed with cancer, our family was able to join an organization in the Twin Cities called HopeKids that provides special events and tickets of various types to kids with life-threatening diseases to give them something to find joy in while in the midst of tough times. We were able to get tickets for some baseball and basketball games through this and Judah enjoyed being able to go to some Twins games. I remember he and the boys went with one of Leland’s friends to Opening Day of the 2014 season. Then we were all going to go to a game on a cold spring evening but it was during a time when he was getting some nausea and ended up throwing up that evening and not going. That was disappointing.
Judah was a big fan of baseball but his method of picking a favorite team was a bit unusual. He somehow set up a tournament with the different baseball teams as “competitors” in a dice game and the winner of that tournament was the team he decided to follow and root for! The winner of his competition? The Kansas City Royals. So he became a Kansas City Royals fan starting the 2014 season – the year he was diagnosed with his brain tumor. The Royals were a pretty good random pick for him because they made it to the World Series but lost in a game 7.
The 2015 Kansas City Royals season was even more memorable. Again they made into the playoffs. I remember a trip to Pittsburgh for Judah’s first clinical trial there and watching a couple games with him. They were games one and two of the World Series and the Royals won the first one 5-4 in 14 innings. We were watching in the hotel room after traveling and probably shouldn’t have stayed up for it because we had to get up super early in the morning to go for his MRI. I think we dozed off during a few of those late innings. Then the next night we were staying with a friend of my dad’s and watched the game at his house. The Royals won again but this time it was an easy win – 7-1. He was so excited watching that game! Then at home we watched them finish of the World Series in just five games.
On a later flight to Pittsburgh for another treatment of the clinical trial, we met a stewardess who was friends with someone in the Royals organization and knew one of the Royals players. She heard about Judah and his tumor and took down our address so she could pass on his information to them. The Royals ended up sending him some things two different times – a posteason baseball cap, a homer hanky, and a Royals scarf along with a nice note.
So now I miss watching baseball with him as I watch the Brewers make their run. I don’t know what he would have thought of the fact that the Brewers have a couple of his favorite Royals players from that championship team. Would he have enjoyed watching Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas as Brewers? Would he have become a Brewers fan with us and enjoyed the excitement? Or would he have ranted about the Brewers stealing his Royals players? I can just hear him and his dramatic voice talking about it. But then his voice might not sound the same now as it did back then since he would be coming up to being 14 years old. Hard to imagine and think about.
So I think it would just be the right thing for the Brewers, with Judah’s ex-Royals players, to keep this run going and win the World Series. It would be kind of special as I remember those days with Judah and his excitement and love for the game. How ironic that a random dice game led Judah to the Royals and the joy of watching them win the World Series as he was starting his decline physically.
Judah at a Twins / Brewers game in 2015.
Judah watching the first Royals World Series game at the hotel in Pittsburgh.
I ended my last post with talking about being group B strep positive with Judah’s pregnancy and being disappointed by needing to go in early once I went into labor. That definitely played a part in Judah’s birth. Judah’s due date was December first. My first birth was one day after the due date. My second was on her due date. Then I had twins who were only about a week and a half early which was really good for twins. So I was expecting to have Judah somewhere around his due date.
Thanksgiving Eve we went to Leland’s mom’s Thanksgiving Eve service. The next day we were hosting Thanksgiving at our house and Leland’s sister and family were coming from out of town to join us for the holiday. While I was at the Thanksgiving Eve service I started getting some crampy feelings and didn’t feel right. I had this feeling that I might actually go into labor. I decided I’d better not eat the pie after the service as I was having regular, mild contractions. We told Leland’s mom so she would be ready in case she needed to come over in the night. Sure enough, by late evening I decided things were regular enough that she should come over to stay with the kids and we would head over to the hospital since we were supposed to come in early.
So we got to the hospital and they started the IV for the antibiotics and I hung out during some strong but manageable contractions. After a while I decided to take a bath which was a mistake. My contractions died down quite a bit and after a while with some discussion, they suggested I try to sleep. I was able to sleep for a few hours at least and woke up in the early morning hours still not in much regular labor. But because of having had the antibiotics we decided to go the pitocin route to get labor going. Because of needing to use pitocin and because I was tired I decided to go ahead and get an epidural. I had had an epidural with my 3 previous pregnancies. So eventually things got going again and a while later we talked with the doctor and he decided to break the water to keep things progressing. I believe there was some meconium in the water which was a slight concern.
Things progressed quickly after that and by around noon Judah was ready to be born. The doctor was a bit concerned about the meconium and didn’t want him to cry right away to make sure he didn’t aspirate any meconium. As he was being born, he let out a healthy cry right away and the doctor had to cut the cord from around his neck because it was tight around him. So it was a bit trickier of a birth than some but he was born healthy and screaming. If it weren’t for the Group B strep I would guess I wouldn’t have stayed in labor and he would have been born at a later date.
He was born a little after noon on Thanksgiving day. The relatives ended up cooking their own Thanksgiving dinner and Leland went home to enjoy it with them. Then they brought me some Thanksgiving dinner for me to eat later and brought the kids over to visit. Despite his not being ready to come, the timing of his birth was all very fitting as we had already planned on naming him Judah and his name means “praise.” What a wonderful praise for Thanksgiving day.
I am sharing stories with a friend who also lost her son. We are trying to answer a question related to our sons’ life each week. This week I’m answering about memories from Judah’s pregnancy. I don’t know that I’ll be able to remember very much but here goes.
I can only think of two main memories. First I remember that after having my twins we decided we were done having kids. When they were born Cody wasn’t quite four and Cora was 18 months. When we originally talked about how many kids we wanted we said 3 or 4. Since we had twins we didn’t need to decide between 3 and 4 and we decided we were done. I gave away my maternity clothes and baby stuff and that was that. For a while. Until we were coming home from a trip to Wheaton where I grew up and my parents lived. It was night and I was looking out the window at the stars above. It was quiet. Everyone must have been asleep except Leland who was driving. As I was looking up I had this question in my mind. My questions was, “What if there is someone else that the Lord wants us to have that we’re not having because that’s the easy, normal, convenient thing to do.” That question got me thinking. And I talked with Leland. After a period of time we decided that we were open to more children. Judah’s pregnancy came along a couple months later. I am glad that the Lord brought him into our family if only for 11 years.
The second memory has to do with the end of Judah’s pregnancy. I don’t remember much in the middle because of having had 8 full-term pregnancies and for the most part, they were pretty routine. Judah’s was routine until we had the Group B strep test. It came back positive. I had originally wanted to stay at home as long as possible and then go to the hospital for a natural birth when it was close to the end. We lived in walking distance to the hospital. Unfortunately, being Group B strep positive meant going in early and having antibiotics for a long period of time before Judah was born. I didn’t agree with the necessity of this but there was nothing I could do. It was definitely a source of frustration for me and I remember talking to people at church about it and complaining about it.
I am pretty sure we picked Judah’s name before his birth but I can’t remember when or how we decided on Judah. Maybe it was because it means “Praise” and he was due 6 days after Thanksgiving. But that will get into his birth which I will save for another time.
Today I was down in Minneapolis for a quick appointment for my daughter with rheumatoid arthritis. It was a quick trip down and back. We did leave early enough and made good enough time that we had some time to spare before the appointment so I decided to detour on my way down and drive by where we lived while we had Judah’s chemotherapy and radiation done. It was an emotional time being down there and reliving some of our days there. I thought I would write about some of the memories that being there triggered.
As I drove into the area I drove by some of the stores that we went through. There was the Trader Joe’s and Target that stood out in my mind. During this time we started eating differently for Judah and I remember hitting up Trader Joe’s and trying to find my away around there to find what I would want for Judah. I also remember going to Target (we don’t have Target in our area) and the kids seeing different things than they were used to seeing in our local stores. We had two birthdays while down there so we did some birthday shopping there. Life kept going while we were in the midst of chemotherapy and radiation and these were some of the reminders that came to mind.
As we continued driving, we crossed the railroad tracks and continued down towards the area where we lived. When we lived there, Judah was excited to see lots of trains. The railroad tracks were within walking distance from our house. We approached the intersection near where we lived. At this intersection we saw the park that had a basketball court near the train tracks and the paved trails. We would rollerblade/walk/push the stroller down there to watch for trains or ride these trails there. Judah always loved counting the trains and counting the number of trains we would see. Across the road was Island Lake Park where there was a nice playground and a small lake where the boys fished a couple times.
Then I followed the route towards the house location where we lived. We were blessed to have a house to live in for free other than utilities. Someone we knew was a builder who owned the house and was going to tear it down and build a new, large house on the lot. It was perfect for us and met our needs. So as we came to the place today, of course the house wasn’t there. It’s hard to even recognize the lot with the large, beautiful house there. But the neighbor houses were familiar.
There were so many memories at that house: Checking the place out with Judah before we moved in. Moving in with all of the kids and seeing them run around exploring it. Having friends furnish and bring so many things that we needed. Judah not feeling well when we were first moving in and him lying in a corner of the living room to rest. Watching the end of March Madness there. Trying to cook healthy and do everything with different pots and pans and with a kitchen sink that leaked so badly that we had to let the water out into a bucket under the sink and throw it out the patio door every time we did dishes. Experiencing spring coming earlier on a very long and snowy winter when up where we lived it was still pretty nasty. Crazy times getting most of the kids to sleep all in one large room. Visits from friends bringing meals or food from the store to help us out. Leaving the other kids with a schedule for them to follow to take care of the younger kids, while I left every day with Judah for his treatments. Exhaustion trying to wrap my brain around my son having an inoperable brain tumor and navigating the endless thoughts of how we could help him best. Those are the memories that come to mind from that house.
Though things were crazy, there was this overall sense of God’s provision. His hand was on that place. On that area. On Leland’s work. As I drove through the area I remembered other parks, other places where we hung out. Where we found beauty, found joy, found spring, found entertainment in the middle of a crazy time. Judah thrived through this time other than a few bumps in the road. I remember him starting to lose his hair and being itchy up in his bedroom and finally shaving it off. I remember his head being sensitive and certain hats working better than others. I remember his going to the Twins home opener but missing a later game because of nausea. I remember him and Leland getting to go to the Timberwolves game with front row seats. Such a packed time. A life doesn’t stop time but you keep on rolling with it and keep doing and keep trusting.
Being there today was good to remember. It makes me feel a little closer to Judah. To see those places that we were at in such a monumental time in our lives. I wish I could have turned back the time. To be there again as a family. To cherish it even more. But no. It’s just a glimpse back in time to where we came from. I thank God for that time. For his many ways he was with us. For how he used that time to make us the people we are today.
I was recently asked by a friend to write for her some thoughts about how I have been doing and what things I have been dealing with since Judah’s death, so that she can pray for me. This is my attempt to put into words what has gone on in me.
Lately I have been experiencing a wide range of emotions. I have struggled with grasping the reality of Judah’s dying and really comprehending it. Much of the time since Judah died has been spent living life as normal – taking care of 8 children with all its ups and downs and busyness. But lately and more often I have sunk into times of deeper grief, despair, and struggle. I have often wanted to quit being strong and just be mothered or taken care of or just hibernate for a day or longer. I miss Judah and think of the things it would be fun to be experiencing with him. But he’s not there.
Some days I struggle with exhaustion which is often accompanied by a headache that screams grief or tension within me that wants to get out. Then I can quickly, depending on the circumstances and joys of the day, be back to my normal energetic, peaceful self. Sometimes the fatigue will last for a few days or the days of energy may last a number of days or even weeks.
I mentally have struggled with faith in dealing with difficult things. I have tended to struggle to pray and believe that God is listening and cares. Even though mentally I know that Judah dying doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care, there has been a shift of struggle to understand and act on my faith. This can cause me to spiral into despair when there are difficult circumstances that I’m facing with my family. God isn’t fitting into my nice and tidy box that he used to fit into. But that’s ok. He’s not supposed to.
I recently purchased Keith and Kristyn Getty’s album “Getty Kids Hymnal” which has the song “Jesus Loves Me / Jesus, Tender Shepherd, Hear Me” on it. https://youtu.be/vjU0XuGp6bI I will post the lyrics at the bottom of this post. The song melted me into tears. I can remember this song from a Bible story book that we have where a little orphan boy sings this in a convent during WWII while the convent is being bombed. The song gave them courage and they all got through the bombing fine. To me it represented God’s care in protecting his children.
As I listened to the song I struggled with thoughts of Judah and what songs like that would mean to a dying boy of 11. Was the song meant as a song of protection? Do we teach children that God will keep them safe? But he doesn’t always keep us safe from harm. Deep inside I know that though Judah wasn’t kept from death, Jesus was his tender Shepherd who was with him through the darkness and sickness he faced. But it still hurts and still pulls at my heart to listen to the song. It’s still a struggle wondering what it was like for him – a boy of 11 to die of cancer. It’s incomprehensible to me, though I know that he was at peace. God brought the “Peace of God that surpasses all understanding to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
Recently I started reading a book called, “None Like Him: 10 Ways God is different from us (and why that’s a good thing)”, by Jen Wilkin. It has shown me how my perspective has so often been all wrong. I live life based on what I know which compared to what God knows is almost nothing. In the chapter on Eternity it talks about how God is not bound by time. He has no beginning or end. He sees everything on earth from before our time and knows the future to eternity. For us, we are stuck in a very short period of time operating based on our current experiences. Jen says in her book, “God is simultaneously the God of the past, present, and future, bending time to his perfect will, unfettered by its constraints. The past holds for him no missed opportunity. The present holds for him no anxiety. The future holds for him no uncertainty.”
In Ecclesiastes 3 it talks about there being a time for everything – birth, death, mourning, dancing etc… Jen continues saying, “Moreover, all of God’s actions within time happen at just the right time. He is never early nor late, never subject to the tyranny of deadline, never in a hurry, never playing catch-up… Ecclesiastes 3 tells us that he assigns ‘For everything…a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.’ But it doesn’t feel that way from a human perspective. We look at the timing of events in our lives and think that perhaps, in at least a few instances, our timeless God has temporarily checked out. We can readily acknowledge that there is an appropriate time for everything, but we have fairly formed opinions on when those times should be. The time to heal is any time someone is sick… The time to die is at the end of a full life, not a moment before. But we see all around us that tragedy and comedy, birth and death, mourning and dancing present themselves seemingly at whatever time they choose. Human comprehension labors to make sense of it all.”
If you’re still with me here, hear out Jen’s next words, “We look at the times and seasons and ask, ‘Where is the beauty God is bringing from this?’ We expect him to make everything beautiful in our time. But the one who determines the beginning and the end does not operate according to our timelines. He will work all things according to his purposes. Every sorrow or harm we suffer will be redeemed for good. But sometimes it takes more than one lifetime for the ugly to be made beautiful. We may go to our graves without seeing the wicked receive their due. We may be laid to rest without finding forgiveness from a loved one. We may die without seeing the resolution of our own plot line, whispering with our final breath that we don’t understand. No, we ‘cannot find out what God has done’ even within the boundaries of our own birth and death, our own alpha and omega. But this does not mean that what God is doing is not perfectly timed. The problem lies not with his timing but with our perception of it.”
Wow. So my problem lies with my own self-centered view of my life. I want to be able to make sense of it. Put it in a nice box with a bow. I want to make everything turn out right and control the outcome so it makes sense to me. I want to know what God was doing. To challenge him. But I’m just trying to be God and be in charge. He is God and knows and understands and I can trust that he is wiser than I am.
So I’m trying to gain perspective. I’m not there completely. I still want to just stop being strong and tough. But that’s ok too. I can stop trying to be strong, to control everything, to make everything right, because I can’t. I don’t need to be strong. God needs me to be willing to be weak and to lay everything aside and trust him to give me just what I need for each moment and let him handle things. He needs me to be willing to ask for help from God, my family, and others around me when I need it. He needs me to stop trying to be God and to just be me.
I recently found out about a friend’s niece who is five and has cancer. They removed one of her kidneys and the cancer has spread to her lungs. She comes from a family of 8 kids. My heart is broken for them understanding the shock of what is going on. I don’t understand it – why this precious, beautiful 5 year-old is experiencing this. I can only pray for her and her family. I pray that they would experience that peace that only God can bring in the midst of the nightmare and incomprehensible nature of what they are experiencing. I know that God was so near us as we went through the two plus years of Judah’s cancer journey. I am grateful that they know the Lord as well and am praying for God to show them his love and mercy.
I pray that whatever you are experiencing, you may know God’s love and trust in him. I pray that you would be real with him and not try to make yourself strong or tough but instead know the love of God who was willing to give up his own son to die on the cross for out sins. He understands the pain yet has a purpose for it, just as he had a purpose for Jesus’ pain and suffering.
As I listen to the song, “Jesus Loves Me / Jesus, Tender Shepherd, Hear Me” my mind prays this song for little Abby and her family facing this cancer diagnosis and hospitalization and for the many others who need the touch and care of Jesus, their tender shepherd.
Jesus, Tender Shepherd, hear me
“Jesus, tender Shepherd, hear me;
Bless Thy little lamb tonight;
Through the darkness be Thou near me;
Watch my sleep till morning light.
When I’m troubled and afraid
I will trust in Thee and pray
Jesus, tender Shepherd hear me
Bless thy little lamb tonight
Bless thy little lamb tonight
All this day Thy hand has led me,
And I thank Thee for Thy care;
Thou hast clothed me, warmed and fed me,
Listen to my evening prayer.
Let my sins be all forgiven;
Bless the friends I love so well;
At life’s end, take me to Heaven
Happy there with Thee to dwell.
New Years Eve 2016. I found this wonderful video on the Prayercast website about God reigning over the world and all the events of the last year. It is quick to watch and gives such an encouraging perspective on the craziness of our world.
As I was watching the events of last year scroll past, I was thinking about what a short video of photos and video clips from last year would look like. There would be many new friendships- people who stepped up to help with Judah and people at our new church. There would be times of great hope- when Judah miraculously recovered when hospitalized in January, or when we saw some improvements with certain treatments.
It would contain scenes of Judah’s decline and being with him when he breathed his last and hopes for earthly healing were gone or times when his joy and enthusiasm were sorely missed.
There were also many good moments. Cody’s first basketball season and the team and community’s support of our family. Cody’s second season with him now being a starter. Other kids playing basketball. Summer trips to the lake, camping, the fair. Other trips including my trip to Seattle for a conference, the mother / daughter retreat at a Bible camp, the family bereavement retreat at the Metropolis resort, and the Twin Cities and Waterpark of America.
We also raised our puppy we got at 8 weeks of age in December last year and got two kittens.
All of those outward events are pieces that mold my inside heart. Inside I still faced fears, heartache, doubts, confusion, and feelings of being overwhelmed during those last months with Judah. I faced grief, shock, numbness, comfort and help after Judah died. I faced even more commonly the daily living consisting of busy parenting and homeschooling This came with the struggle for patience and wisdom and the feelings of failure countered by the hope of each new day with faith in God. Even the most fun vacations and events can come with difficult struggles with people who disappoint or hurt. And despite truly good times the grief is always lurking beneath the surface until I have a chance to let it out.
Because I believe God reigns over all of these events of my year- because I know that his love and presence have been with me, I see these events through the lens of faith. I see that that this world is short and its trials temporary compared to eternity after I die. This knowledge is the foundation for my life. Still the events are there and affect me. As I close the book on 2016 I can thank God for his presence through it all. He does reign over it all. He alone brings meaning, hope and peace through all of the events of the past year. And I can trust him with my 2017. My prayer is that all of you will know the peace of God over your 2016 and trust him for your 2017.