I sat in those uncomfortable yet familiar hospital seats last night. This chair was at the side of my wife’s bed.
The day began like any other. I was awake at 5 reading, drinking coffee, and greeting the dawn. I began getting ready to leave to pass out Christmas meals to families in need. Steph was hurting and its intensity was unusual for her. Long story short I stayed home & we walked through a scary painful morning. If I had left earlier or she started hurting later the outcome could have been much different. We got to the ER did tests, lots of waiting, planned a surgery, more waiting, moved to the baby floor (just as we were leaving and sneaking me upstairs…thanks Covid protocols… a friend brought food & I was given permission to leave and reenter the ER thanks Covid again), more waiting, went to pre op, and then I was escorted back to the baby floor to wait.
Despite random calls and carts going through the halls I have always found hospitals eeirly quiet at night. This time was no different. I sat on the uncomfortable yet familiar couch with my old friend hospital anxiety. I couldn’t rest. I couldn’t pay attention to YouTube videos. I scrolled through Facebook catching up and I enjoyed seeing pictures of baby Emma our friends Kristin and Travis new little baby! Then I started to listen to the coos and cries of all the cute little babies all around me. I really wanted to go room to room and hold them all. One day when I am an old man (so it is less creepy) I am going to see if you can volunteer at the hospital to hold babies. I could see through the slightly ajar door swaddled babies being wheeled from place to place.
My mind flashed to another swaddled baby from long ago. I had read the words of Psalm 23 earlier (which for me is a centering praying, it is like a filter I run life’s experiences through). Now I turned to Matthew and Luke reading the first few chapters. The coos and cries of that cute little baby swaddled. Strangers visiting perhaps holding this small bundle of life. Looking into his face, a face they had never seen, but was more familiar of a sight than their own reflection. Because in the baby’s face was Creator, Savior, the Father, Hope and Peace. Emmanuel God with us!
Then I fell asleep. The doctor woke me up and shared the surgery report, all went well. Each day light dawns reminding us that there are new mercies and hope is coming. But also each day night falls which heralds the promise that rest is coming, a forever peace. A peace personified by a warm cooing swaddled baby Jesus. Merry Christmas!
After a long long break I decided to jump on here and found the beginnings of this post. A lot has happened in my life including moving away from SE Texas. However, I am mindful and continue to pray for our neighbors as as they continue to rebuild and recover. Especially, now that the process was interrupted and restarted for many by Imelda. So here is the incomplete post and a few pictures from Hurricane Harvey. Along with lots of prayers.
I have an been infrequent writer (undisciplined) so a long pause over a year on my blog isn’t that odd. However, the year and few months that have gone by has been anything but ordinary. A few weeks ago as I read through my blog feed and watch a couple of how to videos I had an epiphany. I felt silenced. I have experienced actually being silenced it is a horrible feeling. I realized in my insecurity I had actually silenced myself. This is more than my digital footprint, but even trickles into my day to day.
Shortly, after my last post of July of 2017 we as family entered into one of the most difficult seasons. It is still difficult to talk about all that we under went during this season partly because of pain and partly because words fail to capture the experience. As we entered this season Hurricane Harvey struck and our community received around 50″ of rain in five days (A year average of rainfall). Almost 10,000 homes flooded in our little county you can drive to the four corners in about an hour. We spent a week as island unable to get out from our city in direction.
Our church, like our community came together, and people from all over the US responded. We clearly saw God at the work in the middle of this situation.
I sat in the back of a funeral for a sweet lady who I had only met several times during hospital visits. I observed the room full of people and watched the family in particular. Then it struck me I have lost count of how many funerals I have attended. The words of Psalm 23 are often referred to in moments like these. I know they have been a salve to my heart in my personal moments of loss. The words of this short Psalm though have become so much more than comforting words for my broken heart. The Psalmist’s refrains are like waves crashing on a shore over and over with such unrelenting forming power.
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One part I often I return to and ponder is the “darkest valley” or “shadow of death.” This phrase is what drives us to these words during funerals, but as fitting as that is I think there is a further truth. In my mind, these words have joined with Jesus’ words in John 9:4 “The night is coming.” In fact the night is now here and each of us could tell tales of the darkness we stumble through each day. More often our hearts feel more like Psalm 22 “My God, my God why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far away when, I groan for help?” The brokenness of life blinds us with darkness, the hunting ground of our enemy. How do we move through this darkness? Psalm 23 begin with a either or. In Daniel 3 three young men encounter a blinding darkness: worship the King or die. Truly this is the darkest moment of their lives. “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” The Psalmist’s wisdom: No matter if I am resting in green fields or stumbling through the darkest valleys I hold onto two promises. God you are with me and you are at work to bring about good for those who love him. Psalm 23 pushes to hope. No matter if we are in a green meadow or we stand in the darkest valley it is up to us to decide to hope. To lose hope is to lose trust. To hope is to lose control.
The first weeks of this year have been some of the hardest of my life for many reasons.
My tendency as is true for many people is to manage the hurt. Responding by fleeing, fighting, or freaking. Internally I have done all three. However, the dramatic conclusion I have found is I am utterly helpless.
At this dark intersection came a realization. As I watch my son try to make sense of a new family with new values and a new language I thought of the family of God. We as God’s adopted children have entered into a family with it’s own values and language.
The values and language of God’s family may seem strange at first. Values like letting go of ego, giving God say over all aspects of our life, and putting others first all seem opposite of the world surrounding us. And this new language, prayer, being still and in the presence of the Creator demands the silencing of the typical frentic chaos. Yet here in discovering this new language we find it is actually not new at all. It is our original language, our heart language, lost generations ago.
In these dark moments I have rediscovered this heart language in a fresh way. Prayer is a rest in the midst of motion. When everything is hard, dark, hurting, and I realize my helplessness prayer is the focused attention on the only one who has control, an opening of my heart to His presence with me.
So I have a confession I am not a trendy person. I would rather wearing hiking boots with gaiters, shorts, and a wicking T-shirt covered in dirt after a long hiking trip than pretty much anything else.
Last October I started growing my beard out because in grief I didn’t care. I never had more than a goatee. Then came November and a little boy half way across the world entered my life. I kept the beard going just to see what would happen.
Then something did happen. I was starting to trim my beard somewhere toward the end of January and it hit me. My beard had become a call to prayer and the record of anxious waiting. Each time I look in the mirror my beard calls me to pray for Jude. Each amount it grows shows how many days have passed and helps me lean into the promise of what is to come. I cannot wait till my son is home!
A year ago I said goodbye to my mom for the last time. The past 365 days have been a wild ride on the train of grief with all the ensuing emotions for all of us.
As hard as it has been there is one thing that has been unwavering. When my phone rings I know it is not going to be news of my mom’s health failing. The years of fearing test results are over. My mom never again has to endure unrelenting rounds of treatment. The unwavering thing is this: my mom is more alive today than she was in her 60 years of earthly life.
We followers of Christ are a resurrected people. We are alive in Jesus in a way we can only begin to grasp.
These sunny skies will be darkened by clouds again.Unseen and unknown brokenness lurks in the annals of future time. Bad news wages a valiant fight, but I am confident beyond any doubt it is the real loser.
Pain is real and scars ever present. But this life with Jesus is something more; something beyond just here and now. One of the things I have drawn from this day a year ago is I fear no bad news.
As this week starts off there isn’t any thing outwardly that seems different. Yet we signed a piece of paper on Saturday that means we are parents. As the ink dried tears flowed down my face. Hot tears of joy that came out of some deep within me. Over the past year we have filled out and signed so many pieces of paper and at first this one seemed like all the others. Yesterday I felt different this deep place within me knew I was a parent and today as I wake confirms that feeling is here to stay. We still have more waiting before we can bring our son home. This has been the name of the game for the past year. Last November we got a phone call that would change our lives. We had applied to be in Dillon International’s open options adoption program. This meant we didn’t have to limit ourselves to children from any particular place initially. Dillon’s director of the Chinese adoption program was the one on the phone. She told us about a six year old boy who they through prayer and studying our file thought would be a good match with a us. Due to his status in the adoption system we had a couple of weeks to decide to adopt him or not. We prayed and poured over everything given to us. We confidently said yes and we sent off our first form to the Chinese government. We were pre-approved to adopt this little boy who now is our son. Usually a family is not matched with a child until after they have completed many more steps. I know for me the fact I was doing all of this work for this child motivated me in an incredible. I am so thankful for that blessing. The rythym of paperwork and waiting continued throughout 2016. Now here in October we have reached this Milestone of our Letter seeking confirmation which means we have been approved to adopt this seven year old boy. We signed in agreement and from here we have sent off for all his travel documents some to the US immigration and some to the CCCWA the branch of the Chinese government that handles the adoption. These will meet up in Guangzhou at the US Consulate who will give us an appointment to appear and our travel date builds off of this. Yea we have a son!!
Recently I have been struck by ordinary time. I know technically on the church calendar ordinary time is twice a year season that we are currently not in. However, last year I went to at least four weddings, and over ten funerals. I buried my last living grandparent and my mother. And on heels of that our adoption agency matched us with a little boy from China. I’m going to be a father!! All our church responsibilities and pleasures fit in the midst of that. Perhaps it was the six week of my mom’s final cancer fight, where life happened too me, I began to see everything from a different perspective. The extremes of what is “normal” life expanded. And God was in middle of it all working. “I will figure_________ out when things settle down.” As I realize more and more the content of ordinary time I am aware how much this internal speech is an enemy. As we prepared for DNow this year I printed Luke 10:38-42 the story of Jesus visit to Martha and Mary. Jesus says to Martha “There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it.” To linger with Jesus in the ordinary times not rushing ahead to a fictional serene meadow that is just ahead.
Today I begin my fifth day sitting in the MSICU waiting room at Harris hospital. This is not the first time I have sat here. I first sat in these chairs in college waiting on a friend’s surgery and then a few years later for a close family friend. My family’s turn came 6 years ago. My dad developed a strange infection and he spent 3 weeks in the icu most of it on a ventilator. After over a month at a rehab hospital he made a full recovery. Four years ago my mom began a battle with ovarian cancer. She had surgeries and chemo. She has fought hard. Now here we sit again in these chairs. Life suspended. Life’s fragility on full display. These truly are the most uncomfortable chairs in the world.
Yet in the midst of the discomfort and waiting. These chair become sacred ground. A thin space where the distance between heaven and earth dissolve. Prayers are no longer given in words. Words are too difficult to utter and quickly grow stale. Instead prayer comes through tears and nervous glances between family members. God’s presence is felt in the lighthearted moments when a friend stirs laughter or a blanket of calmness unfolds in the most anxious of moments. I have found that it is in these long moments sitting in the most uncomfortable chairs when God is so close he is easy to miss. Closer than even one’s own thoughts and therefore silence becomes a sought after companion.
Last Thursday was cold and drizzly. I was enjoying a relaxing evening on the couch. When suddenly Durango jumped straight up from a dead sleep into full alert. He was inconsolable so I entertained his paranoia and opened the front door to look. My eyes scanned the darkness and nothing unusual stood out.
Durango’s bay erupted behind me now facing the back door. I closed the front door and spun around. As I let him out of the back door I saw what had caught his attention. A pitiful looking hound dog. It was malnourished and looked absolutely miserable. This stray had the sweetest temperament and I feared it would not make it through the night. I gave it a bowl of food and some fresh water.
Friday morning arrived and I decided that if that dog was still around I would try to see how it would like the backyard. That stray didn’t appear again until Saturday morning, but now it has been residing in our back yard almost a week.
In our youth ministry we have been discussing being Good News to our Neighborhood. As I prepared to speak about Boaz and how he cared for the needs of those in his community I couldn’t help, but think back to this dog. So many people I have talked to since last Thursday have told me stories of a time they took in a stray animal. And all of this triggered a question”When was the last time any of us took in a stray person?”
I am stretching the term stray here. I don’t just mean inviting someone who doesn’t have a home to live with you. There are stray people all around us. Individuals that have needs which are not being met and who have no power to be able to change that. There are those around us who are going without enough food, shelter, clothes all the time. Even more there are many around us who are not getting enough grace, compassion, patience, attention, and unconditional love. There are lots of lonely people. There are a lot of desperate people.
We are all a stray people wondering through this life searching for the ultimate rest. The rest we will find in God alone. And so for this reason we must keep our eyes alert and our hearts open to take in stray person after stray person. Not out of superiority, but because we too are stray. And together we strays can travel home.
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