Saturday, May 21, 2011

Book launch and art show

Thanks to all of you who joined us yesterday (Thursday, May 19) for the Crux bookstore launch of Wendy's two books, Solovyov's Sophia as  a Nineteenth-Century Russian Appropriation of Dante's Beatrice  (2011), and The Feminine  Personification of Wisdom:  A Study of Homer's Penelope, Cappadocian Macrina, Boethius' Philosophia and  Dante's Beatrice  (2009), as well as the exhibit of Sharon’s artwork.

The two book covers

It was a wonderful occasion with friends, family, and a wider supportive community to cap the years of thought and writing which came to expression in these two books on feminine personification of wisdom. For those of you who could not join us at Crux Books, we want to give just a little indication of a lovely event.  

Melissa Kuipers and John Franklin

Books display

Doug Blomberg and Bob VanderVennen
As some of you may know, when we first planned this event in March, we hoped to do a combined event, to introduce Wendy's books, but also exhibit Sharon's work, particularly because she had done the illustrations for the book covers. She was in hospital at the time, but was able to work on a collage there, and she hoped to put together a new series, so that we would combine an art exhibit with the book launch. She was working on the theme of resurrection, of new life breaking through the bonds of earth and death.

The first major piece in Sharon's new series, Resurrection 2011: 
"At the crack of dawn"

Although she came home for much of April, her energy levels did not permit her to advance very far with that project. Just after Easter she went back to St. Michael's hospital with a major flare-up of her auto-immune condition (Wegener's granulomatosis). So an exhibit as she had hoped to give was out of the question. In fact, she emerged from ICU just a little more than a week before this event, and was in no shape even for any decision-making on what, if anything, to present for an exhibit of her work. At that point she turned to her good friend, the Toronto artist Sharon Tiessen, who took the time to review her recent work, and put together a small collection of pieces to help celebrate the occasion.

Jonah series

Two lilies and a  dragon tree plant

We appreciated the congenial atmosphere for discussion and socializing provided by Crux bookstore. The launch was held in Leonard Hall, a room which holds second-hand books and is also used for university lectures. Aside from snacks brought by friends, Crux had coffee, tea and cookies available, altogether making a great setting for the book discussion.

The room with several paintings

Wendy and Eleanor Irwin, a colleague at Scarborough College of the University of Toronto

John Franklin wore two hats this day, for he was both chair of the board of Christian Studies International, the organization with which we have served overseas these years, and executive director of Imago, a Christian organization that supports the arts. He began by introducing Imago as the context for his introduction of Sharon's work, and then briefly introduced CSI, as the context for Wendy's academic work, and more particularly the writing of the two books that were celebrated that day.

John Franklin with two posters
In her introduction to the books, Wendy spoke briefly on what motivated her to do this kind of writing, highlighting the experience of teaching in Russia, and encounters there with academic bureaucracy, as well as the experience of wonderfully warm friendships. She concluded by expressing the hope that her work might in some small way contribute to keeping alive the memory of Vladimir Solovyov as a scholar and writer with a broad vision for Russia on the world stage. 

Wendy with her two books

View of room and audience

Chaplain Brian Walsh and Marion Taylor of Wycliffe College

We want to thank all who came to help make this a day for celebration. And a special thanks goes to Sharon Tiessen, for without her preparation of the pieces, it would not have been possible to show Sharon’s work. She could not be there, but thanks to our David’s photography and video recording, Sharon has gotten a pretty good impression of how it went.   

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Easter, resurrection and grace

With Easter Christians celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. This year we have been given special reasons to celebrate that resurrection, for we have experienced it personally. Although it has been some while since we last entered a blog, we want to share this experience with all of you who have followed our adventures over the years.

Some of you may know that Sharon, our eldest, has been affected by an auto-immune disorder, Wegener's granulomatosis. She was first diagnosed with it in 1998. Before Christmas she developed a benign mass in her lungs; this led to pneumonia and a number of infections, which landed her in hospital three times already before Easter. 

Because she was coughing up blood again at Easter time, she went to the ER at St. Michael's Hospital for some more tests on Easter Monday (April 25). New evidence of activity in the right lung led the doctors to admit her. Early that evening she started shivering. She received medication and started to doze off. Before she did however, she told Adrian, who was with her at the time, "I don't want to die!" He assured her that she would not.

Early the next morning we received a phone call from the hospital that she had been taken to the ICU because of additional bleeding in her lungs. Wendy went down right away to talk to Sharon yet before they began sedating her, particularly to stop the coughing, which intensified bleeding. At that point the doctors also began an aggressive treatment of the Wegener's disease with steroids. Wendy saw her yet during the afternoon, and then went home for a rest. But a phone-call to the ICU late in the afternoon revealed that Sharon had lost quite a bit more blood, and her condition was critical. That evening we were both at her bedside. We were afraid that we would lose her. Wendy stayed the night in a room near the ICU.

For more than a week Sharon remained sedated, while the doctors tried to stop the bleeding and give her lungs a chance to stabilize; on several occasions she was given plasma exchange to rid her body of dangerous antibodies. She was also given a new drug, rituxomab, only recently approved for special cases like hers. She breathed with the help of a ventilator and breathing tube; it seemed there were more IV lines into her body than we could count. And all we could do was hold her hand, and pray. The doctors and nurses were helpful and kind, but they did not hide the danger of Sharon's condition; until last Saturday, when she was declared out of immediate danger. Even when she came out of sedation it took some time for reality to take hold; she has forgotten much of what happened those first days, but remembers Adrian holding her hand on Wednesday. She became more and more alert in succeeding days.

By that weekend (May 1) our youngest daughter, Pauline, who lives near Boston, had had enough of hearing of Sharon's condition from a distance, and decided to come down, to be near her sister. She was also considerable help for her parents, who were taking turns staying with Sharon. However, Adrian has been experiencing severe problems with sciatica over the past weeks, and sitting in a hospital chair didn't help. And Wendy experienced stress in the form of a nasty toothache. Besides, it was great for Sharon to share time with Pauline, now that she was more alert and aware of her situation.

On Monday, May 9, Sharon was well enough so that she could sit up. She received another plasma replacement treatment, and a third dose of rituxomab. And late last night she was finally transferred out of ICU, back to the respirology division, where she had already spent much of March. She will probably need a few weeks to recover, and regain her strength..

We are so thankful that we have received Sharon back from the dead, as it were. For her it certainly was a resurrection experience, all the more in that it followed immediately after Easter. During these two weeks we have experienced God's extravagant grace, also in the outpouring of prayer by many friends. While Sharon's recovery so far has been amazing, she will require months of further treatment. We ourselves are also improving, albeit slowly. And Pauline's presence for almost a week, accompanied by their youngest, James, was a special treat for everyone, especially for Sharon.

At this point we simply praise God from whom all blessings flow. What the future holds for Sharon, we don't know. But God has assured us of his love. Thank God with us.