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A February Family Update

Nick Challies Memorial Scholarship

Here in my home province of Ontario we have been under stay-at-home orders for the past month. It’s a relatively soft version of a stay-at-home mandate, and certainly doesn’t compare to an Italian equivalent from early in the pandemic or an Australian “emergency brake” equivalent today, but it’s still enough to keep us from venturing too far from home or from interacting much with others. Thankfully the orders are slowly being lifted in different regions and that includes ours as of Tuesday. That said, the restrictions will only get moderately lighter, at least initially. It has been quite a stretch!

We are often asked, “How are you?” or “How’s it going?” Those are very North American ways of greeting one another and the trouble is that when people say the words some mean simply “hello” while others mean, “tell me what’s going on in the depths of your heart and soul.” So we have a couple of answers—the more cursory version for those who mostly just meant to greet us and the more in-depth version for those who are asking something more. We are still looking for the right way to express that we think we are doing well enough under the circumstances, while also acknowledging that life won’t ever be as good as it once was. At least, even at our happiest moments to come, we will always know that someone is missing. We anticipate that our joys will always have at least an element of sorrow in them. That’s not to say that we don’t experience joy now and won’t in the future—we are neither miserable nor fatalistic. But it is to say that it’s in life’s best times that we expect to most feel Nick’s absence. Grief is tricky that way. Still, I think we are doing well in this long road that is grieving.

As for Nick, we still have not been told how he died. Because of the unexpected nature of his death, the state chose to carry out an autopsy. They’ve since told us only that the initial results turned up nothing of note and that the toxicology report showed nothing suspicious (which, for those who knew Nick, was not the least bit surprising). We were told the rest of the report would take two or three months and we continue to wait for it, with a doctor friend on standby to read and interpret it for us. Aileen and I visit his grave each Sunday afternoon and find it helpful to do so. We ordered his gravestone back in the early days and are still waiting for that, too. It was due to arrive a week ago but still isn’t there. It will be a relief, I think, when his grave is no longer unmarked. That said, we also anticipate it will be extremely difficult and feel so very final to see his name firmly and indelibly carved in stone. If a good bit of grief relates to closure, an autopsy result and gravestone will surely be helpful in tying up some loose ends.

Abby is doing well back down at Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky. She is taking courses like systematic theology, biblical counseling, and evangelism, and mostly enjoying them. I can’t get enough of hearing what she is learning and who she is learning it from. She even shares a class with Nick’s fiancée Ryn who is taking Hebrew, math, and some other courses. We had planned a trip to see them at the mid-point of the semester, but those plans have fallen apart as border restrictions have tightened and airlines have scaled back to the most barebones schedule. A year ago we could be at the border in an hour and cruise across with no more than a cursory question or two. Today America has closed the land border so we can only fly. Flying requires negative COVID tests (at about $230 each) before we can so much as board a flight. We would need to test again before we could board flights home and test once more upon arrival back in Canada. Beginning in a few days, Canada is adding a mandatory three-day in-hotel quarantine for $2,000 each. If we test positive during that three-day stay we would be moved to a government quarantine facility until 14 days have passed. Suffice it to say we are not eager to endure all that. So we are keeping an ear to the ground for other options and still hopeful we may be able to see Abby and Ryn at some point in the near future. (I recently learned that it’s perfectly legal to have someone fly you across the border in a helicopter while the helicopter owner has someone else transport your vehicle across on the back of a flatbed truck. Nature always finds a way…)

Despite the stay-at-home orders, schools opened a week ago, so Michaela is at least back in class, albeit on a reduced schedule. Her school year has been broken into “quadmesters” where she takes two courses at a time for one quarter of the school year. Right now she’s studying geography and math. Aileen has been keeping busy enough with her duties related to the preschool program at church (currently taught via video), keeping up the house, and counseling the girls. Churches (and, in our case, buildings that churches rent) are restricted to gatherings of no more than 10 people, so our services have been by video for the past couple of months. We are hopeful that as the stay-at-home orders lift we will be able to once again gain greater access to either the building we rent or to another one.

As for me, I press on with various writing projects. I’m in the very late stages of one project and the very early stages of a couple more, but the main focus, as always, is on the blog. I remain an elder at my church, of course, so dedicate a fair bit of time to that responsibility as well. I am at the point of wondering if I will have as much as a single conference in 2021 (after having only two in 2020). With so much of my conference speaking happening in the US and those borders now so tightly closed, it is hard to imagine it happening. It’s still amazing to me that fully a year into the pandemic, such restrictions are getting tighter rather than looser, and with no end in sight!

Once again I want to thank all those who have prayed for us and otherwise expressed care. We never get tired of hearing “We are thinking about you” and/or “We are praying for you.” The Lord has been so very kind to us and has so often expressed that kindness through his people. After reading this little update Aileen said, “Please tell everyone how much it means when they pray for us.” So there you have it—please do keep praying for us.

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