Study Abroad

DMG Ireland

David in Ireland.DMG RayBans

David in London.

This post is about our son, David. I have his permission to write it.

(Many of the photos are borrowed from facebook, some without permission.)

Gregg and I always dreamed that our children would go to college. My parents and grandmother collaborated to make this easy for us. It is a family value; education is highly regarded, and there is family folklore to back it up, going back to my great-grandparents’ generation. For example:

My mother’s paternal grandmother graduated from U.C. Berkeley in the class of 1898.

My mother’s paternal grandfather generously paid the tuition for a friend of her father’s at Yale University. All he asked in return was that the young man do the same for someone else…and he did.

My mother’s maternal grandfather was offered the gift of a college education, and turned it down. He regretted this decision for the rest of his life, and this story entered family lore. He always carried a pocket-sized volume of a portion of Shakespeare’s writings with him; his library survives him. His daughter (my grandmother Emilie) went on to receive a master’s degree and a scholarship to study for a year in France…in the 1920s.

So a college education is a big deal in my family, and David and Katie’s college education was assured by their loving relatives, a fact for which Gregg and I are deeply thankful. We dreamed (early on) of a period of study abroad for each of them.  I spent a quarter in England, and Gregg took a “grand tour” after his graduation. It is a family value of ours for broadening horizons, growing in culture, understanding and flexibility.

When David chose Gonzaga University, we knew that his study abroad options were good. We did not know that he would choose to study in Florence, but were happy when he did so. He left in September and has less than 3 weeks remaining in this program.  It has been a joy to hear about it from him each week when we talk though “face time.”

He is taking Italian language classes daily, as well as business classes. He has traveled to London, Ireland, Scotland, the Ligurian Coast, Venice, Switzerland, Austria, Prague, Spain and Germany. He is maintaining good grades, and making wonderful friendships.

David has seen “Skyfall” at midnight in England during its premiere weekend, and heard classical music performed by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. He has visited the National Gallery as well as pubs, distilleries and breweries. He has been to hear his first opera (Turandot) and taken his first ride in a helicopter – and he has jumped out of that helicopter, with a professional skydiving guide, next to the Eiger, in Switzerland. (This was a shock to us. We are thankful that he survived, and the photographs are stunning.)

DMG Skydive 1

David in the helicopter on the way up. The sun is setting behind the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau.

DMG skydive 4

Jumping out of a perfectly good helicopter around 13,000 feet.

DMG skydive 7

Safely on the ground in Grindelwald.

Gregg, David and I had been to this gorgeous area in the summer of 2009. We went hiking in the hills and took the train around the valleys and over the mountain passes. It is a magical place.

We never dreamed that our son would jump out of a helicopter and free fall, then drift down using a parachute, over those same beautiful hills in winter a few years later.

David is living abundantly after the catastrophe of the death of his sister and best friend. He is balancing culture, education and fun in ways that are astounding to us. Gregg and I could not be more grateful or proud of this young man who is our only surviving child – our son, our first born, our joy.

Thanks be to God for our children, here and healthy, as well as those in heaven. Thanks be to God for the survival and flourishing growth of those who are with us. Amen.

Abundance, Not Perfection

The past week has been filled with joy, good news and answered prayer.

That’s a reason to stop and give thanks – to just STOP, right there, and give thanks to Love for these blessings.

My book reading at Eagle Harbor Book Company resulted in raised awareness and support for childhood cancer research. I have specific, personal evidence of that, and it is a rich blessing to me to know that the message which I feel called to share is being heard.

And – HEY! I must say – they sold out of “Because of Katie,” and had to order more. It out-sold J.K. Rowling’s new book – can I hear a “woot-woot!” just for that fact?

Karen and Dr. Michael Jensen discussing childhood cancer research at Eagle Harbor Book Co. (photo credit: http://www.eagleharborbooks.com)

After that, I spent days writing and working on other projects. On Friday, it was time for the third annual Ben Towne Foundation BENefit. Gregg and I have been fortunate to have attended this event every year, and to have seen this dream grow BIG. We love Carin, Jeff and Ryan Towne, and wish we had known Ben. We met the Townes because Ben was treated in the same place by the same staff who treated Katie, at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Fortunately, one of those people thought we should meet – and we did. The resulting friendship is indeed a gift from our children.

Gregg dislikes re-entering the world of pediatric cancer, and this is the only benefit which I can persuade him to attend nowadays. He goes gladly because he wholeheartedly supports what the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research is doing, as well as the family and the Foundation that brought that center into being. I can’t think of ANYone who could persuade Gregg to be in a video other than the Townes.

benefit 2011 Feature Video from ben towne foundation on Vimeo.

It would be difficult to describe the relief – the weeping, grateful relief – which I felt on Friday evening when I heard  Dr. Jensen announce from the stage that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration has just approved clinical trials for the new T-cell therapy he has designed. That application, submitted by the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research, is what I have been dreaming of for at least five years: therapy which does no harm, only good – and rapidly. Therapy which can help adults, as well as children. Therapy which can be applied to a variety of different cancers, without causing secondary cancer. It is therapy that I wish had been available in time to save my own daughter’s life, and the lives of our friends’ children.

In the midst of these blessings is the knowledge that none of it changes the outcome for us…Katie is dead, as is Ben, Hannah, Jenny, Henry, Jessica and Hayden, and so many others…they are not with their parents, where we feel they belong. They should be here, growing up, being loved and nurtured by their families. But they are not. They are somewhere else. In my belief, they are in the next phase of life, going forward, yet awaiting our arrival and reunion. I believe we will see one another again. I believe that Katie’s life work is large, full, and that she did it with beauty, dignity, courage and completeness, as far as her part goes. I only wish it had been a longer life, without the suffering brought on by cancer.

I will never feel that it was worth what has happened since – no matter how much good, no matter the progress and the lives yet to be saved – I will never feel that my daughter’s life should have ended at 12 and a half years. That will never, ever be “okay” with me. If someone wants to tell me that God had a plan and that Katie’s death was part of it, so that I would become more faithful, less selfish, an advocate for cancer research, or do any number of “good works,” I will want to punch that person on the nose. Period. So please, do not try to tell me that it was a “good” thing that this happened. It wasn’t, and it never will be.

Having written that, it is fascinating that in the class I’m taking right now – RIGHT NOW – the focus is on prayers that are not answered the way we wish they were. The lesson I’m studying (Beth Moore’s “Believing God”) is dealing with specific prayers for healing that are answered with recovery, and those that are answered without it – even prayers that are followed by death, rather than healing. I’m so glad that someone is willing to face the facts and discuss them! The worst thing is to brush off questions which don’t presently have answers. Wrestle if you wish, but do not deny or ignore!

Life can be filled with goodness, yet still be imperfect, and that is what my life is like. I have to work continually to accept what has been denied, and to embrace, with love and gratitude, what has been given.

A cure for cancer is closer – hope is rising – progress is in the works. My daughter, who should be applying to colleges this fall, does not live here on earth with her family; I can’t see her until I die. These are facts of my life. It is a life is filled with abundant blessings – and it contains horrific wounds. It is not perfect – it is human. And it is a gift.