Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas 2009

Greetings from the Hsu family! We hope all has been well with you this year. We’re grateful to still have jobs in this economy, so we can’t complain. This summer we managed to get away for a week in Wisconsin Dells, where we avoided all the waterparks and instead enjoyed the boat tours, mini-golfing, go-karting and a magic show.

Our main entertainment indulgence this year was seeing various musical shows. We saw a local production of Miss Saigon, the Broadway tour of Rent with two original cast members, the farewell tour of Topol as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, and a high school version of Les Miserables. We also went to the amusing 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, the romantic The Light in the Piazza, and the Tony Award-winning best musicals Spring Awakening and Jersey Boys. We took the kids to a stage version of Disney’s Aladdin, and Josiah saw Seussical the Musical on a school field trip. We also caught a musical revue of 100 Years of Broadway. (Not surprisingly, we also like the new musical TV show Glee.)

Elijah is doing well in preschool. He loves the art table and the computer. He inherited Josiah’s Leapster and enjoys his Dora and SpongeBob games. Extra speech therapy has been helping him communicate more clearly, and he participated in a reading recital through his literacy group. He can read Mo Willems’s Elephant and Piggie books aloud with little problem. After he turned four he moved up to the big kids’ class at church. And he also learned how to unbuckle the seat belt on his car seat. Sigh.

Josiah is in 2nd grade now and is having fun in the district’s gifted program. He started piano lessons on our new (used) baby grand, and he enjoys it well enough that he practices piano for fun without needing to be reminded. He also took a chess class and likes his new strategy game Pentago. Josiah volunteered at some Chicago 2016 Olympic bid events and handed out wristbands. He is enthralled with his Nintendo DS and various Teen Titans and Lego things.

Ellen was thrilled that Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog for women ran her article about Elijah, “The Day We Let Our Son Live.” It was the top-ranked post for the month. She also had a moderate amount of travel for InterVarsity Press, with managerial meetings and business trips to Germany, Dallas, Madison and Denver. She continues to plan and lead worship at our church, and she plays a lot of Scrabble on her iPod Touch. Ellen will be serving as IVP’s bookstore sales manager at Urbana 09.

Al was the commencement speaker at Crossroads College this spring, fifteen years after his own graduation. He also gave a devotional message to the board of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, planned and led a publishing seminar at IVP, taught a class at Willow Creek Community Church and wrote an article about filmmaker John Hughes for ChristianityTodayMovies.com. His PhD studies are going slowly but well, and he celebrated fifteen years of working at IVP. Al will be serving as IVP’s book info booth manager at Urbana 09.

And now for our annual reading list: We went on a science fiction kick this year and highly recommend Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow and Children of Men, in which Jesuits in outer space face cosmic theological questions of suffering and evil. We also read Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, Frank Herbert’s Dune, Piers Anthony’s Split Infinity and Eoin Colfer’s And Another Thing, the sixth book in Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. Other fiction Ellen liked included Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry, Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, Lynn Austin’s Though Waters Roar, Suzanne Collins’s Catching Fire, Jennifer Erin Valent’s Fireflies in December, Jodi Picoult’s Second Glance, Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Anne Tyler’s Back When We Were Grownups.

In nonfiction, Al thoroughly enjoyed Kevin Roose’s The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University, a fascinating inside account of a conservative evangelical subculture. The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment by A. J. Jacobs is on a smaller scale than his previous books but still great fun. In-N-Out Burger is an engaging history of the beloved burger chain. Dalton Conley’s Elsewhere, U.S.A. and Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers provided interesting cultural insights. And we commend our friend Caryn Rivadeniera’s Mama’s Got a Fake ID.

Josiah read through the entire Magic Tree House and A-Z Mysteries series and started working his way through The Chronicles of Narnia. He enjoyed Encyclopedia Brown, Teen Titans, Amelia Bedelia and Hardy Boys books, Foxtrot comics, Lego magazines and the Lego Star Wars Visual Dictionary.

Some IVP books that we’re pleased to have published this year include Soong-Chan Rah’s prophetic The Next Evangelicalism, Jim Belcher’s well-received Deep Church and James Bryan Smith’s The Good and Beautiful God. Adam McHugh’s Introverts in the Church was excerpted and featured as a cover article for Christian Century magazine. International AIDS activist Princess Kasune Zulu tells her extraordinary story in Warrior Princess. Societal and global justice issues are highlighted by Julie Clawson’s Everyday Justice, Mae Cannon’s Social Justice Handbook and John Perkins and Charles Marsh’s Welcoming Justice. A helpful guide to immigration policy reform is Welcoming the Stranger by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang, and Green Revolution by Congressional candidate Ben Lowe calls for a new generation of environmental stewardship.
N. T. Wright’s Justification got a lot of attention, and John Sailhamer’s The Meaning of the Atonement cracked Amazon’s top 100 in sales rank. And our bestselling book of the year was … Finding God in the Shack by Roger Olson.

Well, that’s more than enough for this year. May you experience the peace and presence of God this Christmas season, and blessings to you in 2010!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Open House

Last week was Joisah and Elijah's school's annual open house. I took photos of a lot of Josiah's work

Josiah's desk

Symmetrical Art (Josiah's is the one on top)

"My Fraction Creature"

"My Nice Bug" by Josiah Hsu

Goldfish bowl

"Where Am I?"

More symmetry

Elijah in his preschool class

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Day We Let Our Son Live

I gazed in wonder at the blurry form on the screen. “Hi, Baby,” I whispered. The image of our baby was much clearer on the level two ultrasound. The technician rolled the ultrasound wand over my growing abdomen, now slippery with gel, and I marveled as I watched our son squirm a bit and suck his thumb. A new life forming within me.

Hoping for the Best
Al was supposed to be with me at the doctor’s office, but was running late after discovering his car had a flat tire. I hoped he would arrive in time to see the clearer images of our son. Our OB/GYN referred us for a level two ultrasound after our noticing choroid plexus cysts on our baby’s brain during the standard 20-week ultrasound. I was anxious about what the maternal health specialist might find. We knew a couple whose ultrasound also showed choroids plexus cysts, but whose baby was perfectly fine when he was born. We had spent the past week praying for our baby and hoping for the best.

Al walked into the exam room as the technician was finishing up. She hadn’t said much while she worked and explained that the doctor would be in to take a look for himself and to explain what he found. Al and I chatted quietly while we waited. I was relieved that Al had made it before the doctor came in. Little did I know how much I would need him.

“Something is Very Wrong”
The doctor came in and began his exam. I was delighted at the chance to see more images of our baby. But my world was shaken when the doctor finally began explaining what he saw. “Something is very wrong with this baby.”

He continued to roll the wand over my tummy as he pointed to various spots on the screen and began listing all of the “abnormalities” he found. Larger than usual nuchal folds…clenched fists…possible club feet…something wrong with the liver…enlarged ventricles in the brain, no stomach (but maybe he just couldn’t see it yet because the baby was so small). My tears flowed as his list grew longer. My delight at the new life within me turned to icy fear and I clutched Al’s hand tightly.

The doctor suspected a chromosomal problem, possibly Trisomy 13 or 18, birth defects caused by an extra 13th or 18th chromosome. The doctor explained that both of these conditions are generally “incompatible with life.” We were told that if our baby was born alive, he was likely to die within a day. If we were lucky, he might survive for 6 to 12 months. We wondered if we should begin preparing for death instead of life.

Frightened and uncertain of our baby’s future, we agreed to an amniocentesis. We would not, we thought, consider aborting our child, but we wanted to know what to expect. And this situation wasn’t really covered in What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Al held my hand while the doctor extracted amniotic fluid from my womb using a long needle. The procedure was over quickly and the baby seemed to be okay, that is, if you didn’t count all of his “abnormalities.” The doctor explained that it would take around two weeks to receive the results and mentioned when we would need to make a decision regarding termination.

Thinking the unthinkable
Once we were home I went to our bedroom and wept. I left Al to explain what was wrong to his mom, who was watching our three-year old for us that day. I was worried she would blame me.
Later that evening, after we’d both had some time to process the news, Al and I talked. I felt lost. This scenario didn’t fit any of my plans and I had no idea how to respond. We talked about funerals, and, if the baby survived, what life would be like for us and for him.
“What should we do?” I asked. “I never thought I would even think this, but do you think it would be more compassionate to terminate the pregnancy?” I felt horrible even thinking about abortion, but given what the doctor told us I honestly wondered which was more the more loving thing to do; save him from the pain and difficulties he would likely experience if he survived or allow him to live.

After a moment of silence Al responded, “I think we should do no harm.” Relieved, I quietly agreed. From that moment on we began to prepare ourselves to welcome our son into this world, no matter what that looked like. The most important day in my life is the day we decided to let our son live.

The Diagnosis
We chose a name and began to refer to our son as Elijah instead of “the baby.” It helped us to remember that he was “real.” Even if he didn’t survive the pregnancy, he was alive now and we would enjoy him as long as we could.

A couple of weeks later, shortly before Christmas, the doctor called with the results of the amniocentesis. Elijah was diagnosed with Trisomy 21, more commonly known as Down syndrome, a condition caused by an extra 21st chromosome. We had done some research. We knew that a diagnosis of Down syndrome meant that Elijah would have difficulty learning. We knew that he would experience developmental delays, such as walking and talking later than typical children. We also knew that he was more likely to have a congenital heart defect and other medical problems.

The doctor asked if we had made a decision regarding termination. I was surprised. “What? Why would we terminate? It’s only Down syndrome!” I was actually relieved. Elijah would most likely survive. I had no idea at the time that close to 90% of people who receive a pre-natal diagnosis of Down syndrome decide to terminate their pregnancy.

A New Life
Although we were glad Elijah would most likely live, we still grieved our lost hopes for a “perfect” baby. I vacillated between mourning, “This is not what I planned for my life!” and making new plans. I spent many evenings crying (pregnancy hormones were bad enough, but a difficult diagnosis made things even worse!). We read whatever books we could find about Down syndrome. We contacted the National Association for Down syndrome (NADS) and were paired with a support family. I was put on partial bed rest and spent a lot of time at the maternal health specialist’s office for appointments and non-stress tests.

On April 8, 37 weeks into the pregnancy, I went to see the maternal health specialist for a standard appointment. I told him I was little worried because Elijah wasn’t moving very often. Since Elijah was technically full-term, the doctor decided we should deliver him via C-section. I was promptly taken to a hospital room where I called Al and told him that we were having a baby…today!

A few hours later Al held newborn Elijah Timothy Hsu up for me to see. He was small, just four pounds seven ounces, and looked like a little old man. I had a few moments to gaze at him before the nurses took him to the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). After several difficult weeks, Elijah was released from the hospital and we took him home.

A New Normal
Other than having Down syndrome, most of the other “abnormalities” the doctor listed were not present. Today Elijah is a happy and healthy three-year old. He loves preschool and is learning to read. He communicates using a combination of sign language and spoken words. He enjoys giving hugs, dancing and babbling in front of a mirror. His smile lights up a room and his laugh is contagious. He and his six-year old brother, Josiah, play and fight together like any siblings. He also gets into trouble, like any three-year old might. He often throws his food off the table when he’s finished eating, and once he colored on our white furniture with a purple marker.
What has surprised me most about Elijah is how he is more “normal” than he is different. He has developmental delays and it sometimes takes him longer to learn new skills, but for the most part he’s just a normal kid doing normal kid stuff. Elijah’s first year was sometimes difficult and overwhelming, but life with Elijah has settled into its own routine. Taking care of him is not all that different than taking care of our typical child. And loving Elijah comes just as naturally to me as loving Josiah.

I can’t imagine life without Elijah anymore. He brings us so much joy. I’m so glad he’s alive and that he’s a part of our family. And I look forward to the day when Elijah can tell me about the most important day of his life.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Merry Christmas 2008

Merry Christmas from the Hsu family! Blessings to you this Advent season. We’ve had a good year, and everyone has been healthy and happy. Elijah is three and a half now, and he transitioned out of his early intervention program and has begun preschool through our local school district. He is in a reading tutoring program and is reading words and sentences beyond his age level. He loves reciting letters, numbers and colors and singing songs like “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” He asks to go through his deck of word flash cards, and at bedtime he’ll sit by the bedroom door to read Blue’s Clues books by the light of the hallway. He also likes helping make pancakes and putting away laundry.

Josiah is now 7 and in first grade. He tells us, “I love learning stuff.” He’s in an advanced reading group and a gifted math class, and he enjoys all of it. He started riding his bike and has been learning to play a little tennis. Over the summer he took swimming lessons and enjoyed a day camp through the park district. Other highlights for him were playing Sonic Heroes and Lego Batman. He also finally watched the original Star Wars movie (twice – both the theatrical release and the special edition, and he counted all the differences).

We had a few local “staycations” this year, with day trips to the zoo, the arboretum, the children’s museum, the beach and so on. Josiah was excited to visit the new Legoland Adventure Center here in the Chicago suburbs. And for our 11th anniversary, we went to see the musical Wicked before it wrapped up its Chicago run. We love musicals, and this one was a delightful deconstruction and reconstruction of the Wizard of Oz narrative.

As the rights manager for InterVarsity Press, Ellen had some domestic trips to Miami and Orlando, and this fall her international travel took her to a rights conference in South Korea, Marketsquare Asia in Hong Kong (where she met up with a former IVP intern) and the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany. She was invited to join the board of her professional industry group, the International Rights Managers Association, and promptly helped the group rename itself as the Licensing and Subsidiary Rights Association. She also took two sign language classes to continue to progress in her signing skills and vocabulary.

In addition to his editorial acquisitions and development work for IVP, Al applied and was accepted into a PhD program in educational studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. (He scored in the 99th percentile on the MAT, so he used that test score to join the Triple Nine Society, which has a higher standard of admission than Mensa.) He took his first doctoral classes this fall, and things seem to be going well so far. Al also served as a columnist for Christianity Today magazine this year, and he continued to do some occasional speaking, including the Envision 08 conference at Princeton Theological Seminary and a chapel at Wheaton College. Al also signed up as a volunteer for the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid.

What have we been reading this year? Josiah’s big thing has been puzzle books, brain teasers and riddles. He would ask friends, “What’s purple and in China? The Grape Wall of China!” and “Did you hear about the man whose whole left side of the body was cut off? Now he’s all right.” He particularly enjoyed the Picture Puzzle series of “can you spot the differences” books, and he also read through lots of Calvin & Hobbes and Garfield books.

In the realm of fiction, Al and Ellen read through Stephenie Meyer’s stand-alone sci-fi novel The Host and her Twilight series (the last book, Breaking Dawn, seems to draw some intriguing parallels between vampirism and resurrection life). Ellen read through T. Davis & Isabella Bunn’s Heirs of Acadia series and Karen Kingsbury’s Baxter family series, and she enjoyed Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos and Linda Nichols’s books In Search of Eden and If I Gained the World. Al liked Sebastian Faulks’s new James Bond novel Devil May Care, which picks up where the original Ian Fleming novels left off. And Jorge Cham’s books of the comic strip series Piled High and Deeper (also known as PHD comics) provide a hilarious portrayal of grad student life.

In non-fiction we both appreciated Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture, an inspirational and moving account of a dying man’s life of purpose and meaning. The Big Sort by Bill Bishop explores how people tend to self-organize themselves into like-minded communities. The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine is an accessible and explanatory tour of neurobiology. The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8 Lee is a fascinating cultural history of Chinese food in America. Tim Keller’s The Reason for God is a sophisticated and intelligent presentation of the Christian faith for our day. (And Al was thrilled to find the out-of-print and amusing The Unrelieved Paradox: Studies in the Theology of Franz Bibfeldt, and even friended the elusive obscure genius and enigmatic figure on Facebook.)

Top of our list of IVP books this year is Andy Crouch’s Culture Making, which received a starred review in Publishers Weekly and was also named one of the best religion books of 2008. It’s a stunning, paradigm-shifting book of how Christians need to move beyond merely critiquing, condemning, copying or consuming culture and instead create and cultivate culture. Also receiving a starred review was Living Gently in a Violent World by Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier, which looks at the profound lessons of the L’Arche communities’ experience of disability and friendship. James Choung’s True Story is a fresh narrative retelling of the gospel that goes beyond escape-ticket-to-heaven and provides a holistic, missional vision for both individual redemption and global transformation. Jesus Made in America by Stephen Nichols examines how Jesus has been imagined and reinterpreted throughout American history. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth Bailey unpacks historical and cultural dynamics of New Testament passages. Finding Calcutta recounts what Mary Poplin learned from her time visiting Mother Teresa. I Once Was Lost by Don Everts and Doug Schaupp shares how their skeptical postmodern friends came to faith in Jesus. And Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers by Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove brings together prayer and social activism.

That’s it for this year! May the Lord bless you and grant you his peace.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Elijah Pray!

I was getting ready to eat a nice breakfast of pancakes with Elijah (our favorite!) when Elijah looked at me and said, "Elijah pray!"

So I said a simple prayer leaving time for Elijah to repeat each word after me. "Dear...God...Thank you...for...pancakes...Amen!" Elijah repeated each word, emphasizing the amen. I smiled, happy with Elijah's spiritual development, and picked up my fork.

"Mommy pray!"

I looked up and Elijah was signing that he wanted me to pray now. So I said a slightly longer prayer and got ready to eat.

"Elijah pray!" I looked up and Elijah had his hands folded ready for yet another prayer. We said three or more prayers together before I finally said, "All done prayers, Elijah. My pancakes are getting cold!"

This has become a common theme at mealtime. Elijah is quick to remind us to pray and eager to repeat the words (and complete prayers) as often as we allow him. This morning I was eating my pancakes (I told you its our favorite breakfast) when I heard Elijah babbling. I glanced up and he had his hands folded, clearly chatting away with God. I couldn't understand many of his words, but I have no doubt that God understood exactly what Elijah was saying to him.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Along with Christmas music and snow, December has brought me a sense of lightheartedness and joy. The past few months have been full. After traveling to Asia in September I went to Frankfurt, Germany in October. While I was in Germany my assistant (who was in the office, not in Germany) went into premature labor. They were able to stop the contractions and she eventually had a beautiful and healthy baby, but the early labor also meant an early departure from work leaving me to train the new assistant. Things are going well, but I was feeling pretty stressed and pressed for time for most of October and November.

This is my absolute favorite photo of Elijah right now. It captures a sense of his joyful nature better than usual. And it expresses a sense of how I am feeling these days.

I love Advent and Christmas. Our Christmas tree is up, I've been playing Christmas music since Thanksgiving and most of our gifts are purchased and wrapped. We attended a couple of Christmas parties this weekend, both of which were a lot of fun.

Michael Card sang at IVP's Christmas party this weekend. I was talking with Michael a bit and wondering if he even remembered who I was when he said, "I think of you every day." Huh? I must have looked bewildered because he explained that he keeps translations of his books behind his coffee-maker. Since I handle translation rights for IVP and helped facilitate the translations, he thinks of me each morning when he gets a cup of coffee. I'm a bit of an affirmation junkie, so that made me feel pretty good. I really enjoyed the concert, particularly a new song he played for us called "Freedom," which has been a recurring theme in my Advent ponderings this year.

I have also been enjoying Sara Groves' Christmas CD, O Holy Night. Al and I especially like the song "Toy Packaging." If you haven't heard this yet, you really need to find a copy and listen to it, especially if you are a parent! The whole CD is really nice, but this song is a lot of fun.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Going Home

After eight days of travel, I am ready to go home. I'm glad I came to Asia. I've had good meetings, visited some interesting places and enjoyed conversations with industry colleagues and friends. I took a few photos and bought a few gifts. I've also endured long hours, awkward conversations and food that is not familiar. With the exception of the past few evenings, I have been "on" for seven days straight. I'm ready for a little time off. And I am soooo ready to be with my family again. I'm going home.

Symphony of Lights and the view from Victoria's Peak

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Reporting from Asia

I am travelling in Asia for work this week. I spent three days in Seoul, Korea and am now in Hong Kong for another few days. I have been honored by the graciousness and generosity of various people who have hosted me and others in my group for office visits and dinners. I was able to visit the the offices of four publishers in Korea in addition to meeting with 25 publishers in a convention setting. I participated in two traditional "royal" Korean feasts where we were served course after course of the finest Korean food. And I went to an Outback Steakhouse and the martial arts comedy "Jump!" with a group of friends and publishing industry colleagues.

Last night I visited a publisher here in Hong Kong and was treated to a wonderful buffet dinner. At 8:00 pm the city of Hong Kong lights up with a laser light show. Our table was in front of a large window displaying a panorama of the city and a splendid view of the light show. The light show is synchronized to music, which the restaurant played for us. Many of the buildings in central Hong Kong have large lights on the face of their buildings that light up and change color in coordination with the music. In addition, large spotlights appear to shoot from the tops of the tallest buildings. It was quite a spectacle. I forgot my camera, but the people I was with took some photos for me. I'll have to post them another time.

I've been with other people for the past four days, mostly as a guest where I needed to display certain decorum and sometimes squelch my own personal preferences so as not to seem rude. As much as I have enjoyed everything so far, today I am happy to have some quiet time to myself. One of my dinner hosts last night gave me an entire itinerary of interesting things to see and do in Hong Kong today. If I were more adventuresome and brave I would be out exploring the sites of the city. As it is, I'm an introvert and a bit timid so I am spending the day in my hotel room reading a book and catching up on some blog reading. I hope I'll have some time to explore on Monday or Tuesday evening (I'd really like to visit Victoria's Peak, especially), but today I need the rest.

I'll spend the next two days in meetings, building relationships with publishers and showing them our newest books. I'm looking forward to visiting with these people, but I'm looking forward to going home on Wednesday even more. Traveling can be fun, but "there's no place like home."

Friday, August 29, 2008

First Day of School

Josiah and Elijah started school this week. Here are some photos.

This is Elijah waiting for the bus. He refused to stand still for photos. His bus didn't show up and I forgot to bring the camera to school with me, so these are the only "first day" photos I have of Elijah.

If Josiah looks a little nervous, it's because he was.

Josiah was really happy to find out that his friend from our neighborhood is in his class this year.
This is Josiah meeting his teacher for the first time.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Fun in the Sun (and Sand)!

Last weekend we took the kids to the Indiana Dunes. The water was closed due to the risk of rip tides, but we still had a lot of fun.