Amazing Day

Sorry it took me so long to post! It’s been a crazy day!

Our appointment wasn’t until 11:30am, but Elijah did a vision test, which showed his vision to be about 20/40 (which would qualify him for a driver’s license if he were old enough!)πŸ™ŒπŸ»πŸ™ŒπŸ»πŸ™ŒπŸ»πŸ™ŒπŸ»πŸ™ŒπŸ»

We also used a special machine to do a refraction–which gives a pretty accurate idea of his glasses prescription. We decided he needs a little adjustment to his prescription, so he will be getting new glasses soon.

And, since he did so well with all that, we decided to try and do his exam without anesthesia….but by that time, we had run out of cooperation.πŸ˜‰. Elijah is very young to even try, so we were not too disappointed. It did mean, however, that by the time he got his poke and went back for his exam, it was getting well into the afternoon.

We finally left the hospital with AMAZING news! Elijah had no growth and we will come back in FOUR MONTHS!!!!!!!!

By the time we left the hospital, it was after 3pm. We needed to get some food since we hadn’t eaten. And after eating, we decided on a beautiful walk in Central Park to help Elijah recover from anesthesia.

We spent some time with our amazing friend Joey, and all three of us got our hair cut.β˜ΊοΈβ€οΈπŸ™ŒπŸ»

And finally, somewhere in here my phone died😏

Then RMH gave us Knicks tickets!!! I mean, 3rd row from the court, gave us free food, Elijah got “thrown” a t-shirt, it felt like we could touch the players kind of tickets!!!! It was so awesome!!!

And now! We have finally returned home and I could plug my phone in and update you all. So thank you for praying and caring and being along on this journey with us. This was an amazing day.❀️

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Magic

We woke up to the city, draped in a magical blanket of white:

It was still snowing when I woke up, and everything in me wanted to dash out into the freezing cold magic of it all, but I didn’t want to wake up Elijah.

He has a very late appointment today, and he can’t eat. So, we are trying to let him sleep as much as possible before we head out.

Stretching hearts….

You know how people love to say to a couple with multiple children, “You sure do have your hands full!”

And then years ago, I started thinking–you know, it’s not my hands that are full so much as my heart.❀️

And then, I started seeing cute little signs that said “If you think my hands are full, you should see my heart.” And then I thought, “Wow, I could have made a lot of money if I had written that down!”πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

It’s true what they say though. You think you’ll never be able to love another child as much as your first….and then you have the next one and boom! Your heart expands and in a flash you love BOTH of them more than you ever thought possible.

Well. That’s one of the difficulties of having a large family, and something like childhood cancer. Your heart has to be in so many places at once….it has to stretch. So, today, my heart was running around the kitchen (and boy! Did my Insta Pot get in a good workout!). I made bacon-egg cups, hard boiled eggs, the filling for chicken burritos, steamed veggies and chia seed pudding! Oh! And dinner.πŸ€ͺ

But I thought as I hustled about….the kids may not know this, but there really is love in every bite. I miss them, and my heart hurts to leave them. Emma and Caleb are taking a class at Ventura College–and I’m so proud of them! But my heart stretches–wishing I was there to get them to class (but super thankful for the amazing helpers who are getting them there in my place–thank you Alcala’s!)πŸ™ŒπŸ»β€οΈ

My heart stretches, being away from the younger ones….praying that they can find their way to peace and unity in the absence of mom and dad. Evelyn has already declared how much she will miss me, even though she is so excited for her time with Grandma Connie, Mrs. Alcala and Hopee, and the Norris’! I’m glad she has so much to look forward to while we are away.☺️

It’s been about a year since Ben has gone with me to New York! So I’m very glad to have his help and his presence.

But having my heart in so many places is sometimes very hard. I feel the stretching….

But then I think….maybe all this heart-stretching is actually making my heart and my love stronger??? And if that’s the case, then stretch away. I want to love bigger and better, always, for my King.

Wheels up very early in the morning. Here we come NYC! It will be my first time taking a 3 year old to New York!❀️

Buddy Boy, on your birthday

Dear Elijah Seth,

I cannot believe you are three years old! For three years, you have stolen all of our hearts and taught us so much.

I could never have imagined what this journey would be like after hearing those dreadful words: “your baby has cancer.” But in many ways, it feels like some of our craziest adventures, some of our deepest pain, and some of our greatest victories as a family have come since you were born three years ago.

This was you, just before you were diagnosed.

And this is you shortly after the surgery to remove your eye. Sometimes, in the very quiet moments (which aren’t very oftenπŸ˜‚), I can recall you being so small. I can remember them wheeling you back into surgery. And it hurts.

But while I couldn’t imagine the difficulty of the battle which lay ahead for you, I also could not even dream or imagine all the ways you would grow and change so quickly in these three years. Your personality is beginning to shine through and it is amazing. Your voice, which we didn’t hear for so long, brings so much delight to our home.

This is you giving “thumbs up if you’re buckled!”

This is you helping to dig the roots of a tree out.

Big brother Noah reading with you!

You and your lunchbox full of cars.☺️

Just being sweet.

Ah! There’s my little warrior buddy!

So, for every difficulty that childhood cancer has brought into our life, you, Elijah, just by being the gift God made you to be, have brought an opposing and even greater joy.

You are God’s gift to us in the midst of it all.

So today, we celebrate God’s kindness and provision in sustaining us on this journey.

We celebrate the things God has taught us–even the hard things, because we believe they have made us better.

We celebrate three years of your amazing personality unfolding before us.

And we rejoice in the gift of today, that we get to spend celebrating you, our Buddy Boy.

With so much love,

Mommy

The gift of light

So, it’s been a rough month! I just did not have the energy to try and put up Christmas lights on the house, or to finish putting out the rest of the Christmas decorations. This was painful for me, because I LOVE decorating for Christmas. It feels so magical. But, at least this year, I needed to conserve my energy and save it for things like long nights and sick kids and stuff like that.

BUT. I live in THAT neighborhood. You know? The one where everyone drives around looking at the lights! So I felt horrible for all my neighbors and the cars that would drive by and see NOTHING at our dark and dreary house.

Well! First, my dear friend who moved to Maine sent me this beautiful wreath for the door:

Then! My sweet daughter decided to finish putting out the rest of the inside decorations.

And finally! My sons Caleb and Noah, along with their friend Kevin, had decided to just go out back one day (before December even came!), and they built a manger scene from old wood. My son remembered this and decided to move it to the front yard. Then Caleb and Emma decided to light it up with Christmas lights, as well as hang our few strands of outside lights on the house!!!

It may not seem like much, but to me it was perfect. Even magical! Beautiful in its simplicity…..and boy! Was I excited to have this beautiful manger scene for those people driving by our neighborhood. This was such a special gift to me and hopefully to those driving by as well.πŸ’•πŸŽ„πŸŽ

A different kind of Christmas…..

Honestly, this month has been so crazy that I haven’t had time to check much on social media. Obviously, with the fire, I tried to check on things here and there, and tried to get updates on people I knew were in difficult seasons.

I see beautiful family photos, offering wishes of a merry Christmas. And they are so beautiful! A great reminder of how we must treasure those we love so dearly.

My Christmas cards sat at Costco all month, because we were out of the valley due to the fire. (So if you didn’t receive a Christmas card from our family….it’s because they are now sitting on my desk.). Since returning home, we have been sick. So the days consist of rest and stories and more rest and restocking medicine….

This month brought two trips to the ER–one last week for Ezra, who was having difficulty breathing. And one this morning for Elijah, who has an ear infection and needed antibiotics on the day before Christmas!

While people return to the valley and assess the damage caused by the fire, we watch my brother (and others we love) process through losing their home, and try to make sense of the way forward.

And yesterday, another brave young boy that we met in New York and have prayed for ever since….took his last breath in this life.

And my heart broke. So much devastation. So much death. So much sickness. So much loss. So much pain.

It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, right???

Instead of a Christmas Eve service at church, I sat in the ER calming Elijah and waiting for a doctor.

But this….this brokenness, this messy, imperfect, sin and death filled space is where Christ makes his entrance.

God, draped in human flesh, came crying as a baby and cries with us even now as our hearts ache.

Deity wrapped in frailty, reminding us that while death still has a gripping sting, one day, it will not– as Christ’s forever triumph over the grave will be fully realized.

This magical time of year–even more than giving and receiving–is about remembering!!! When Christ stepped in to this dying and broken world, it was the beginning of setting wrong things right. It does not mean that our hearts do not ache with the pain and suffering we see before us. In fact, it DOES mean that we groan, we long for that time when the restoration of all things will be complete.

But Christmas is our promise, our reminder that the restoration has begun. Sometimes it is shrouded by a veil of heaviness, weariness, and suffering.

But! Jesus is our thrill of hope, come to a weary world. He is our reminder to rejoice yet again, for every promise will be fulfilled. He is our reminder that this world with all its frailty is passing away. Every time I remember Christ, every time I whisper words of hope into the pain that I may feel, every time I light a candle in the dark, or read the stories yet again of our God’s faithfulness, every time I pop a tube of cinnamon rolls (because I just can’t make the homemade ones this year….), each of these acts is a way of remembering and recalling the faithfulness of God, and looking ahead toward restoration.

And so, even though this year is a different kind of Christmas…..may all that you have endured and experienced serve as the perfect place for Christ, the light of the world, to enter in. May He, the fullness of God, slip into your heart, your home, and even your pain, and may He whisper words of life and courage. Every place where discouragement and fears and doubt have slipped in, may you find Christ there, our Emmanuel. God with us.

And wherever I am, if God is with me, I can face the future with hope.

Wherever this *different* kind of Christmas finds you, may you have the gift of remembering that God is with you, and He is for you.

Merry Christmas, from our family to yours. (Pictures by the lovely and talented Mandalyn Alacala).❀️

Making my steps count…

This is what we saw as we drove out of our little town last week.

And tonight, for the first time in a week, we pulled into our driveway.

The house didn’t smell nearly as bad as we expected–especially after the thick smoke all the way through Ventura. Our chests felt heavy with the thickness and our eyes burned, but the house itself did well except for a thin layer of ash covering the yard like pretend snow.

There’s so much. So much to process.

I thought about our time in Pismo. Every morning, I forced everyone to go down to the beach and walk. One of the days, I looked down and realized that when I had taken off my *fitness watch*, I had forgotten to put it back on before we evacuated the house.

“Darn, these steps aren’t even counting!” I thought. And then I realized….no, these steps count for even more than just my fitness goals.

I knew that at least half of the crew was not interested in making those (almost) one hundred steps down to the beach. But they mattered. Because each one of those steps, each deep breath of fresh air, each thoughtful look at the ebb and flow of the ocean waves was about remembering God’s provision for us. Yes, we had to leave our home. No, we didn’t know what would become of it or our possessions. But this beautiful place was God taking care of us in the middle of it all. We were alive. We were together. It was our chance to prioritize life over stuff.

It was sort of like when the Israelites finally crossed into the promised land, and God told them to collect 12 stones to remember all that He had done on their behalf.

Those steps on the beach were our stones of remembrance. We could go back and eat some more at the free breakfast. We could go and lay down or make plans for the day. We could worry about every post and update which would tell us what this monster they named Thomas was doing next.

Or we could take these steps of remembrance….each step recalling ways that God had been faithful to our family, calling forth the faith to believe that He would continue to be faithful.

There were other steps too.

Like when Pismo Beach ran out of hotel rooms and we knew our time there was finished. But we didn’t have our next step. We drove, down the coast, really not knowing where we were headed, and having no answer to the almost constant question, “Where are we going??”

But I have walked that road before. Twice, we had driven across the country, not entirely sure of where we were going specifically or where we would stay.

So, these steps were easier to take because we had trusted God on a similar road before. And while Ben and I remember those steps well, it didn’t stop the road from being very difficult and emotional for all of our kids.

But our landing was soft. After driving the longest route possible, I believe, to Bakersfield, we were welcomed so warmly and cared for so completely, that you could almost forget all this fire and evacuation stuff.

My brother-in-law and sister-in-law ran circles around us in cooking and cleaning and clean towels and showers and meaningful conversation and bacon from the oven and coffee.

We felt so loved and cared for–it was truly a gift to spend the time with them and their children.

So tonight, on the drive home, we read this in our beloved advent story:

“Cry Bartholomew,” he said. “No man could face what you’ve been through and not cry.”

And so Bartholomew did, with all the tears and anger that had built up for so many days. He cried for his town, and for the life he’d known there, and for himself, alone and hunted. But most of all he cried for his parents and his family.

It’s been a long couple of years for our family. Tonight, my heart is heavy and weeps for my town.

My heart cries for what has been lost here, and what has been ravaged by the flame.

My heart cries for my brother, and others who have lost so much.

My heart hurts even for my own children, who don’t go to bed with quite the same sense of security they had before.

But my heart also cries for the grace that has been mine. For my husband who cared so much for me as I felt cramped and overwhelmed at a hotel. Who understood when I needed conversations with my family when we got the news about my brother’s house. For my family being safe–especially the seven “little” ones that I can hold safely in my arms–which is more than many of our dear friends who have faced childhood cancer can say. For my brother’s life….I know that he will be forever pained by the loss of his house, but I am so grateful he was spared. For our family in Bakersfield, who make the very short list of people who can easily host NINE people on a moment’s notice with joyful, servant’s hearts. For seeing the kids and their cousins get more time together than normal.

And on and on I could go…..

There is so much emotion and so much to continue processing. But tonight, what weighs the most on my heart is that I have hope. Hope for the future of my family, for my brother, and for our community. I want to be the light of Jesus Christ everywhere I go–whether it is a hotel room in Pismo Beach or a hospital room in Los Angeles or a flight to New York. I want to love fully, and serve joyfully, and remember God’s faithfulness. I want to weep with those who are hurting and rejoice with those who are glad.

And even though the steps ahead may be heavy, some exhausting, some tedious or frustrating…..I want my steps to be full of faith and full of hope, and I want to make them count.

Whether I’m wearing my watch or not.