Thursday, September 25, 2014

Rock of Remembrance #7: A Story to Tell

Throughout the history of God's people, He has always left them with stories to tell.  The Red Sea splits open by an eastern wind and it's dry enough to cross, afterwards swallowing Pharaoh's army.  David bullseyes a loud mouth pagan, his ego being the only attribute of his that was larger than the target on his forehead.  Elijah trash talks the prophets of Baal and the Lord sends fire.  The only thing better than a single person escaping a lion's den is three of his friends escaping a furnace so hot it made Death Valley feel like a fridge.  

Or the second member of the Trinity, God in the flesh, conspiratorially invading the earth, living a perfect life, dying in the place of and for rebels and traitors so that the Father could turn them into sons and daughters, then rising again because death couldn't hold Him.  That's another great story.

Stories carry so much weight, communicate powerful truths, and impact memories because of their emotional content.  

And now we (for now) and the Minion (later) will have quite a story to tell.  Her journey from orphanage in China to the U.S. to our family to the hospital to her mother's arms to the PICU to other floors to the PICU again to other floors to rehab to the road to recovery is quite a testimony, a story that has touched many lives and caused many to think about how their lives are lived in light of eternity and ponder what's truly valuable and what really matters.

We don't want to relive the story.  Honestly, I still shudder at parts of it when I think about it.  But it's ours to tell and will be hers.

So a specific prayer request:  that we would be good stewards of this story.  I don't think it was meant to be contained to a family tree.  I think God wants it spread widely because of how awesome it makes Him look (and it does...and He is).  We need to be good stewards of it.

We're planning on sharing it in a few places, including a sermon series with our church family.  So for all the places that are planned and all the places that will come, you can pray that we tell it well.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Rock of Remembrance #6: Public Struggle, Public Joy

One of the great decisions we made in the process was to live this insanity out loud.  Frankly, we have such great friends that word would've spread without our knowing or willing, but we sent immediate texts and made a few immediate phone calls that guaranteed that this was going to be a public process.

I don't want to sound overly pastoral or be like the Clark Kent of the Kingdom or anything, but one of the reasons we went public and stayed public was because we believed Jesus was worth it.  Genuinely, we were willing to walk this in faith to the very end, whatever that end was, and do so in everyone's view because Jesus is worth it.  If it went well, we got to testify to Jesus' power and mercy.  If it didn't, we got to testify to Jesus' grace in grief and ability to sustain the brokenhearted.  We're so glad it went the way that it did.  But either way, Jesus is worth it.

This blog and the Queen's blog served as daily check-in points for people.  We wrote them for two reasons.  The first is fairly mundane but shows our mental incapacities:  we wrote because we wanted to remember what happened and what we were feeling.  Trauma has a way of burying those memories under mental soil, the soil that grows thoughts and feelings that are always ever-so-slightly tainted with what lies underneath.

The second reason we wrote is because people had been in the process with us to get Maggie.  And now they had the opportunity to stand with us and fight for her.  And man, we needed them.  The inclusion of people also includes Maggie herself.  Both the Queen and I believe that one day she will have the opportunity to tell her story, so working through this publicly means there's a record for her to draw from.

That public struggle had its drawbacks.  For us, it meant there were times when people showed up and we were in puddles or knots or shell shock or something else.  Those times meant that we had to engage people even though all we may have wanted to do was find a quiet place - getting attention isn't always all it's cracked up to be.  That's not a complaint on my part or my wife's.  We believe that God is big enough and kind enough to give us what we need during those times.  For those walking with us, living publicly meant that many of them hung on words that we typed, and they tied their lives to ours for all the good and all the ill those words might have borne witness to.  They rode the crazy train with us.

But man, the public struggle had its benefits.  We heard from people all over the country.


People prayed.  We got cards in the mail from prayer rooms in churches that we had never visited but someone who knew someone had put Maggie on the prayer list.  Gifts showed up for her and us that made us uncomfortable sometimes because of the generosity poured out.  The Queen and I are fairly independent people, so receiving is not a strong point for us.  We got the opportunity to grow in this area.  Facebook proved invaluable for communicating what was happening and receiving back comments and encouragements and scriptures and offers to help and many more things.

It was a public struggle.  But that brought public joy with the public victory.

People have rejoiced with us.  They have fawned over Maggie.  My BFF from college's parents went out of the way to come to our house because they had been praying and wanted to see her.  Emails and Facebook messages have numbered in the dozens.  Letters and cards have easily topped a hundred.  Phone calls and text messages have broken AT&T, I'm sure, because there have been way too many to count.

No struggle is easy.  And living it publicly provides the opportunity to be selfish and worship the idol of others' attention or make sure that Jesus is accurately represented throughout.  Because He's worth it.

I hope we did that well.

Here's SAG's parents, stopping by our house, going out of their way, because they cared and prayed...

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Rock of Remembrance #5: Ministry

I offer this particular rock not because I was great during the midst of our trial but because I look back and see God at work even when I didn't recognize it.  Some of that lack of recognition is the fog of war, so to speak.  Some might be good old fashioned human sinfulness, selfishness, or some other S word which is probably not fit for print.

Like Paul and Silas in the jail, singing hymns of praise to God about midnight, we found ourselves in unique conversations along the way.  People were watching.  And they engaged us as they watched.  Doors opened.  Opportunities knocked.

We came to love some of our nurses.  We were grateful for all of them, but we really connected with a few.

We came to just about make idols of our doctors because they were God's hands and brains in saving the life of our child.  A couple took particular interest in our family and not just our case.

We were there so long even the guy who directed traffic outside recognized us.  He appreciated the Sprite I took him one night when it was particularly hot outside.

And somehow along the way those conversations turned toward important things, eternal things, things that have a gravity about them.  There were multiple conversations about adoption.  They varied from the mundane "Yeah, my husband and I thought about adoption once" to the serious "Why in the world would you knowingly adopt this baby girl with this heart defect?"  There were conversations about parenting amid crisis.  There were a couple conversations about marriage and how hard it is when the pressure is on.

And there were conversations about church.  Lots of them.  Being a pastor provides a simple segue, but people genuinely wanted to know about our life and faith and our church.  So many had seen the community surround us that it really was its own apologetic for the Truth of God.

Our new nurse friend from PICU said on multiple occasions, "Y'all have the best friends."  What she meant, but didn't know she meant, was "Your church rocks."  I think it might have made a few people a little jealous.  And I think that kind of jealousy is actually kind of good.  It provokes the "I want that too" spark in the heart.   May the Spirit blow gently on that until it's a flame.

I look back on all of that to reflect on these two truths:

1.  When the hard times come, people are looking to match vocalizations of faith with actions that look, smell, feel, and taste like faith.  If that consistency isn't there, it's not the kind of witness that impacts lives.  It's not that you can't be honest.  It's not that you can't feel pain.  Those things actually increase the validity and authenticity of your witness.  Frankly, it doesn't even have to be our faith being measured.  At times, the onlookers were watching our church's faith, not ours.

2.  Being willing to engage in ministry when the world is crumbling around is actually a helpful exercise of the soul.  The Queen and I both were able to step outside our circumstance for a few moments to speak about big things, lasting things, things undefined and uncontained by 200 sq. ft. of tile, wires, tubes, and a single window overlooking a roof.  De-centering from the self and the circumstance helped.  Somehow it helped gain some perspective, the larger nature of God's plan and work.

I hope that's an encouragement to all of you out there who are in the midst of your own mountain climbing experience.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Good gracious, I have a 12-year old

Just a personal note to all who follow along:  my biggest, oldest, smart, funny, insightful, pensive, courageous, tough first-born is now 12.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Rock of Remembrance #4: Never Alone

In the horror movies, the one who always is about to get the axe (either literally or figuratively) finds himself or herself alone, and it's often dark.  You know the dialogue:

"Hello?  Hello?  Is anybody here?"  *feels around for light switch*

Cue dramatic music.

*Finds light switch*  Bad guy is right there.  Dramatic scream.  Screen goes black.

It's always in the dark.  And it's always alone.

Darkness and loneliness have a proclivity of cohabitation, shacking up like two hipsters who drink tea instead of coffee and watch indie flicks while wearing wool caps in August.  And much like those caricatures, the end is about the same:  loss, disillusionment, scars, and fear.

Oh the fear.

There were about three times in the inky fog of the past couple of months where I genuinely felt alone.  That has nothing to say about the Framily who was around us.  It's a spiritual issue.

The darkness crept in.  The dramatic music moaned.  The intonations of Alfred Hitchcock were probably in there too.

Man, it was a bad place emotionally, spiritually, relationally, and even physically.  You find yourself grasping for light switch in a dark room while you just know the bad guy is waiting there, breathing down your neck, ready to separate you and life.

It's a bad place.

Graciously, two things happened in those three times I felt the darkness.  One actually happened long before those episodes, but it's still grace.

The first thing that happened was a verse came back to mind.  Joshua 1.5 says, "No man will be able to stand against you all the days of your life.  As I was with Moses, so I will be with you.  I will never leave you or forsake you."  I remember memorizing that verse.  I remember drawing strength and courage (the very thing the Lord says to Joshua - be strong and courageous) when facing some other things in life.  But it came back to mind.  Just a pastoral hint here:  if you don't memorize Scripture, you don't have bullets in your gun.

The second gracious thing that happened was the Spirit spoke that over me and to me with authority.  That part I can't do or conjure.  The Spirit said, "I will never leave you or forsake you."  And He said it in such a way that gave me strength and courage to face whatever was happening.  I believed Him.  In my bones, I knew He would never leave us or forsake us.  No matter what came or hit the fan, He would be right there.

I was not alone.

And you're not either.  Ever.  Amen.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Rock of Remembrance #3: Framily

Sprint, not our wireless carrier of choice and therefore I have no stake in advertising for them, has a great little phrase of advertising these days.  They call it their Framily Plan.  It's a wireless plan for all family and friends to somehow divide the bill and share data and so forth.  Honestly, I don't know much about the situation, but I love the term.  Love.The.Term.

Framily is one of the things that I take with us out of the summer.  I take that there is family and there are friends and there are friends who are family.  Framily.

I'll only speak for myself, not the Queen.  But I can think of three men, in particular who are basically brothers.  They were just there.  All the time.  They showed up at planned times and unplanned times.  It's not that others didn't show up or love us or care.  They did.  But these three in particular were just...

Well, they were Framily.

Proverbs talks about a friend who sticks closer than a brother (18.24).  Most people apply that to Jesus.  Don't get me wrong, I'm glad Jesus sticks close.  But I apply it to these three men as well.

I have several pastor friends.  Many kept up with us and checked in on me multiple times a week.  I'm grateful for all of them.  One in particular just kept showing up.  In hand were Torchy's Tacos and Rudy's BBQ and Sonic Vanilla Dr. Peppers.  And laughter.  And worthwhile conversations.  And friendship.  And a sense of presence that didn't mind when things went sideways and he had to wait.

My Church Twin (so named because people mistake us for brothers) brought dinner umpteen times and just hung out.  I was grateful for the company.  He loved seeing Maggie progress and held her like I've seen him hold his little girl.  He even came and got me to run me to Target when I forgot socks one time.  I appreciated his practical, helpful friendship.  But it was more than that too.  Without divulging too much, I'll just say he's had some experience in kidville of the unpleasant variety.  So it wasn't just that he was there, he understood.  His was an experienced shoulder to carry the load with us.

The last guy was so above and beyond friendship that I can't even think of a nickname for him.  And if you know me, that's something.  He sat with Maggie often, giving the Queen and I a break every so often.  He took several shifts in the middle of the night that let my sleep extend to 6+ hours and let the Queen come to bed earlier and sleep longer.  Rumor has it from PICU nurses that he stood and prayed over Maggie several times and hour when he was alone with her.  They have some sort of special bond now - she even called him by name at church last night.  It wasn't just ministry to us.  It wasn't just ministry to her.  It was taking her (almost) as his own, her fight was his fight, our prayers were his prayers.  He groaned and celebrated along with us, but more than that - he groaned and celebrated apart from us too.  It was if she was (almost) his.

And again, I'm not highlighting these three to denigrate the other meal givers, lawn mowers, phone callers, text senders, prayer sayers, long huggers, money providers, or anyone else that jumped in.  All of them qualify as Framily too.  These three just stand out in my mind.

Here's the application for me.

We were loved so well.  The practical expressions of love were thoughtful and consistent.  The relational expressions of love were personal and heart-warming.  All of that love made me question whether I had loved that well.

And so Framily challenges us to love better - to be more thoughtful, more consistent, more relational, more helpful, more servant-oriented, more initiative-taking, and more prayerful.

We won't forget them.  Any of them.  And we want to do better to emulate them.  They loved us as they loved themselves.  God used that to see us through.  Amen.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Rock of Remembrance #2: Heart-Level Connection

Before truly beginning, I need to give credit where credit is due here.  As in most things in my life, my wife actually articulated this in a passing comment before I could put my finger on where I was being stirred.  Y'all just don't know how good I have it.

Let me begin with two simple but biblical truths that I want to tie together in a moment.

First, Jesus has a heart for the orphan.  You might more generally express this as a heart for the down and out and rejects of proper society, but specifically you see orphans and widows mentioned in the Scripture as those that God is serious about allying with, advocating for, and acting on behalf of.  There are serious warnings about messing with them.  And God proved He was serious by judging nations that did.

Consider briefly that we are spiritually adopted into God's family.  Outsiders who are now insiders because of His legal work (at the cross, where He dealt with the sin that separated us) that revealed His relational heart (that we would be brought into His family and He would be our Father).

I know Jesus loves everyone.  But there appears to be a special place in His heart for little defenseless ones.  The Advocate speaks up for those who cannot speak for themselves. I simply note that it appears to be a unique focus of His affection.

Second, the Spirit of Jesus lives in the heart of every true believer, in every follower of Christ.  This is not generically true of humanity, but a special expression of the relationship between Christ and His followers, between God the Father and His children.  This is part of what unites believers, that we are under the influence and sway of the same person, the Holy Spirit.

And now to tie them together.

One of the things we were blown away with was the number of people who followed Maggie's story. We quite literally heard from people all over the place.  Friends from days gone by.  High School acquaintances that followed us on Facebook.  People we hadn't talked to in years - sometimes people we haven't talked to ever!  They were all so very touched by what Maggie was going through and how she was doing.  Emails poured in.  Cards showed up in our mailbox from churches that prayed for her.  Multiple churches had prayer times for us during their services.  And on and on.

I think those two truths I mentioned earlier explain why.

I know we are loved.  And there are certainly people who wouldn't claim to be followers of Christ who were genuinely touched by the story or had a unique relationship with one of us.  My wife is reasonably well known in the adoption community.  I pastor a church.  In that sense we're mildly public figures.  Mildly.  But that doesn't explain the widespread grip of the Minion's saga on hearts in places we had never heard of and in people we still don't personally know.

But for those in whom the Spirit of Jesus dwells, the Spirit that the Bible calls the Spirit of Adoption (Romans 8.15), I think there's a unique and spiritual component to the connection.  The logic goes like this:
Jesus loves orphans in a unique way, AND
The Spirit of Jesus is in His followers, THEREFORE
The followers of Jesus will love orphans too, assuming they're given the exposure and chance to do so
And I think that's what we saw in these months that unfolded.  People who loved Jesus did tie themselves to Maggie's story uniquely, passionately, and generously.  There was some sort of Holy Spirit prompt in them that made their hearts either break or leap, but either way their hearts inclined toward a little girl from outside of Xi'an.

It was more than a fascination with her story.  It was more than a simple (though biblical) response to someone in crisis.  People prayed.  They gave.  They stuck with us.  They cried.  A few slogged through it all like it was their own kiddo.  Their hearts beat in rhythm with the Father's.

All of it came from a heart level.  Something doesn't reach that level without Spirit empowerment.  But that heart-level connection is exactly what He brought.

And here's the confession part:  I can be too busy doing "ministry" that I can't slow down enough for my life to connect with things happening around me on a heart-level.  A few less noises in my life and waking up a little earlier helps fight that off, but it's still a challenge.

I know it's probably just me, but just in case you know someone else who might struggle like I do:  take the challenge to live at a pace where your heart can beat in sync with God's.  It will most certainly result in good to you and others.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Rock of Remembrance #1: God is Faithful

I remember when I was a Baylor student and having access to a somewhat-mentor relationship with a minister whose name you'd probably recognize.  I remember some important conversations and some great sermons - he could preach lights out and still can.

Here's one of the big things I remember twenty years later.  He taught me about God's faithfulness from 1 Thessalonians 5.24.  Don't remember that one because you don't read the last few verses of the books of the NT?  Don't feel bad.  I didn't either...until 1 Thessalonians 5.24.

"He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it."  That's what 1 Thessalonians 5.24 says.

That shaped us and sustained us in our process with the Peanut.  It shaped us and sustained us in the process with the Minion too.

And boy, it was huge in the hospital.

We just kept clinging to God's faithfulness.  He had brought her home in record time.  He had placed her not only in a family, but in a hospital...and not just in a hospital, but in the best children's hospital in the southwest part of the U.S....and not just in the best hospital, but in the arms of her physical therapist mother when she had the stroke.  He brought her all that way.  All. That. Way.

So faithful.

I don't want to type this because it seems to betray all the victory of her story.  But the truth is that in some deep dark moment, some horrible place of blackness and sadness, I readied myself for her time on earth to come to an end, to be out of my physical arms and into pierced hands.

I'm quite literally sick at my stomach reading what I just wrote.  And there are probably tears.  Or it's raining on my forehead.  One of the two.

Where this ugliness intersects with beauty is in God's faithfulness.  He had called us to Maggie.  This we knew.  And He had called us to parent her.  This we knew too.  And He had called us to do all of this knowing about the anatomical time bomb.  Yep.  He knew it.  And had she said goodbye to earth for a joy unspeakable and full of glory, He would've known that too.

But even in the horror of the realities and the terror of the possibilities, I was convinced - knew in my very bones - that God is faithful.  If He had been faithful to see us to this point, He'd be faithful to see us through whatever the next step was.  Bank on it.

That prompts a single response in me:  my own faithfulness to Him.  I know that people turn their back on Him when things get hard or go awry.  I've seen it.  It just wasn't a temptation for me during those dark days, and I think that's because I was so connected at a heart-level to 1 Thessalonians 5.24.    How could I be unfaithful to the One who was so faithful to me?  To my family?

I'd like to think that had things gone differently, I'd still be writing the same truth about God's faithfulness.  I really believe I would.  Thankfully, I don't have to find out.  But I identify in a gut-level-yes kind of way to Daniel's friends in front of Nebuchadnezzar when they defied the king to stay faithful to God.  He can save us, or a little girl from China, but even if He doesn't...He's still faithful (see Daniel 3).

And I want to live that faithfully today...and tomorrow...and the day after that.  Amen.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Monday Morning, A Special Birthday, and an MRI

Well, it's Monday morning.  And as Monday mornings go, at least with the crew I run with, the Minion and I are back at the hospital - this time a planned trip! - for a follow-up MRI.  I note that immediately to ask for prayer that it comes back just like we like MRI's:


That equates to no new swelling, a decrease in the areas affected by her strokes, no complications from the sedation, and so forth.  You know, the basic run of the mill Heart-Baby-Being-Sedated-After-A-Stroke-While-On-Asprin-Regimen prayer request.

Thank you.

On a second note, I have been trying to sift through the fog that still exists in my brain and heart to find the rocks of remembrance of the whole saga.  I hope to begin that blog series tomorrow.

Finally, it's the Queen's birthday.  If you bump into her, please tell her how awesome she is, how much she's appreciated, and how the world is a better place because she's in it.  And yes, please wish her a Happy Birthday too.