An Opportunity

As typical first-time parents, whenever people would ask us whether we wanted a boy or a girl when I was pregnant, we would always respond with something like, “You know, it doesn’t really matter either way.  All we really want is for this baby to be healthy.”

Fast forward several months later and there we were in the NICU, staring down at our 29-week-old baby boy hooked up to machines and monitors that were literally keeping him alive.

I still remember the chaos that was storming inside of me as I walked up to his incubator for the first time.  As everything started to look like a rainy windshield, I vaguely realized there were doctors, nurses, and specialists going in and out of our room, murmuring strange things like, “absent left kidney…”, “a hole in his heart…”, “possible tethered spinal cord…”, “surgery first thing tomorrow morning…”

As the shock began to wear off and the reality of our son’s prognosis began to set in, I dared myself to ask the question that had been nagging at my weary soul – “God…why?”

Google only proved to exponentially multiply the fear, worry, and dismay.  As words like, birth defect…” ,”exact cause unknown…”, “1 in 5,000…”, “1 in 400,000…” floated across the screen, it only caused the question to echo louder and louder in the recesses of my soul – “God…WHY?  Why our son?”

I was (and sometimes still am) stuck between a rock and a hard place.  I know that He is the Good Father, the Almighty God, the Great Physician, the Giver of Life.  I know that He fearfully and wonderfully made my son.  I know that He works miracles, heals the sick, and raises the dead to life.  I know that He loves His children and desires to give them the very best.

And sometimes the gravity of this Truth in the face of the impossible leaves me awestruck.  It compels me to rise up from the despair and declare that once again, my son will be fully healed.

But sometimes the disparity of this Truth in the face of the impossible leaves me conflicted.  I’ve asked this so many times I’ve lost count – God, You don’t do birth defects.  That’s not in Your nature.  That’s not what you do as the Almighty Father God.  So why does Josiah have this ‘birth defect?’  How does this make sense?”

I wish I could say that I’ve heard an answer.  That I’ve heard His audible voice or seen the presence of an angel.

But then I wonder…if Josiah’s birth hadn’t happened this way, if he hadn’t had any of these medical conditions…would I have prayed as fervently as I have in the last several months?  Would I have been stretched to believe in the impossible, not because I’m some superwoman of faith, but because there IS NO OTHER OPTION but for my son to be healed?

Would I have witnessed miracle after miracle, seeing him grow from a 2 lb. 6 oz. tiny baby only just a bit bigger than a dollar bill to the almost 15 pound happy chunker that he is today?  Would I have experienced the awe in hearing the incredible news that the two holes in his heart have closed up with no intervention only five months after his early birth?  And I’m only just getting started!

Now don’t get me wrong…I’m human and I’m a mom.  If I had to choose between my son having medical conditions or my son being a healthy, normal boy, I would choose the latter in a heartbeat.

But here in the tension of what is and what truly is, we’ve been given an opportunity.

An opportunity to testify that God is alive and at work through the prayers of His people.  An opportunity to actually witness creative miracles come to pass.  An opportunity for our faith to be strengthened in the refiner’s fire.  An opportunity to find treasures in the heart of the Almighty Father.

I still don’t know the answer to  “God…why?”  And maybe we will never fully know the answer.  But I do know this.  We’ve been given a precious opportunity.  One that maybe only 1 in 400,000 families gets to experience.  And I trust that on the other side of this, we will taste of His goodness in ways that we cannot yet fathom.

 

Reflecting on Immanuel

The last couple of days, it’s been harder to answer the question, “How are you really doing?”  The truth is, I’m okay, I really am.  And I know one day, this will all be part of the story.

But at the same time, I’m wrestling.  I’m struggling to contain the whirlwind of emotions and I’m not sure what to do when I find an unexpected leak here and there.

When we started calling and texting all of our family to tell them that Josiah had come early, my aunt shared with me something I didn’t know I needed to hear until I had heard it…and it’s been echoing in the recesses of my soul ever since…

It’s okay to cry.  It’s okay to ask God, “Why??”  It’s okay to face the wave of emotions that will continue to come.  Your tears and your questions are not coming out of a place of unbelief.  You need to ask.  You need to wrestle.  You need to process.  Because when you do all of that before the God who is full of grace and mercy, you will begin to hear His voice.  

I have declared the truth and I will continue to declare it all the days of my life – the promise of God is that He will heal Josiah.  And something immeasurably glorious is going to come out of all of this.

But some days it’s still hard.

The day before Christmas Eve, the NICU organized a toy shoppe event at the hospital where parents could come and receive toys and gifts for their child.  We browsed through the vast selection of donated items, imagining the day when Josiah will one day play with mega blocks and toy trucks.

We got back to his room to find the monitors beeping and Josiah crying in his incubator.

My heart broke.

How many other times has our little boy been crying in his incubator because his diaper is wet or his tummy is hungry and there is no mommy or daddy to meet his basic needs?

On Christmas day, we were making the hour long drive after church to the NICU when I started to replay that scene in my head again, asking myself that same question once more.

God…why?  I asked.  He’s alone right now in his incubator.  What if he’s hungry?  What if he knows that mommy and daddy aren’t there?  How is it okay that my child is 34 weeks gestation, should have been in my womb for 6 more weeks, yet he already knows what it is like to be lonely?

And that’s when I heard Him.  It was a whisper, but it was clear.

I AM with him, child.

The tears started to flow.

Immanuel.  God with us.  It was the word that I had chosen for my One Word for 2016.  It was the word that I had claimed for this year, not fully realizing just how perfectly it would come to pass.

This journey has only just begun.  Our first steps into parenthood have brought us into uncharted territory.  I know there will be more days that break my heart, but also more moments that will take my breath away and cause me to wonder how I ever could have lived any other way.  There is a whole future unfolding before us that we are only beginning to grasp.

But this I know.  Immanuel.  He is with us.  Today, tomorrow, and the next.  He will never leave us.  Through our treasured days and our dark nights of the soul, we are never alone.

Living According to the Implanted Word // The Book of James {Part Three}

There is something very powerful about the concept of being born-again.  Regenerated.  A new creation.  The old has gone, the new has come.

For a sinner like you and me, this is glorious news.  It’s hope at it’s finest.  It’s an invitation for redemption and relationship.

James 1:21 tells us that we must “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”

The implanted word?

Just a few verses earlier, in verse 18, James reveals how God, “of His own will…brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first-fruits of His creatures.”

The implanted word is the word of truth…Scripture…the Living Word…Jesus Christ (John 1:1-3).  By Him and through the Word, God makes us new…brings us into the newness of life as one of His own children.

That very word is implanted within us, a seed of the spirit of God sown deep within us, growing and bursting forth into a new life. Read more…

Writing a Little Bit of Love Story Everyday

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It’s been a while.

It sounds like an excuse that we’ve all heard too many times, but yes, here I am saying it on behalf of our famiLee…it has been a really busy few months.

It was all to be expected.  We knew that when my husband moved into pursuing his M.Div. full-time and serving as a young adult pastor at a local church, things would change.  Routines would change, workloads would change, time spent together would change…

But sometimes you know something with your head, and you think you’re prepared for it with your heart…but you’re not.

Some time in March one of my dear college friends visited us here in Kansas City and gifted me this sweet devotional by Shauna Niequist.  A few days later, I opened up to March 29th, read the title at the top of the page – Love Story – and felt like Shauna was talking about me and my current state of heart…

Confession: when I’m stressed, the to-do list becomes king…but marriage isn’t about a well-executed to-do list…along the way, I’m learning that being connected in a deep way is so much more valuable than being well-organized, efficient, buttoned-up, and tidy.  I default to tidy when what my husband wants and needs more than anything is laughing, listening, and playing, being with instead of being efficient.  

Marriage isn’t a business, co-owned and managed.  It’s a love story.  The most important things we can give our marriage are time and romance, kissing and laughing.  Laundry can wait, but a love story needs to be written a little bit every day.

A love story needs to be written a little bit every day. Read more…

Count It All Joy // The Book of James {Part Two}

So, I’m going to be honest.

I really didn’t want to write this post.

You know when you read something in the Bible and it’s just too much to handle?  It’s just too much to face the reality that you don’t want to live by the truth of these words…that the Word of God really is a double-edge sword piercing through the joints and marrow and soul and heart of a person.  It’s irritating to know the truth and not live by it.

So you kind of just skim over those parts.  Push the dust-bunnies into the corners of the room (oh, you don’t do stuff like that??).  It’s like how I’ve always covered my eyes on any of the Jesus-being-crucified movie scenes from when I was a child (and yes, I still do it to this day).  I know it’s the truth, but it’s just too painful sometimes to come face to face with the gory, offensiveness of it all. Read more…

From Unbelieving Half-Brother to Bond-Servant // The Book of James {Part One}

I grew up in the church but didn’t really give my life to Jesus until the summer of 2007.  I was getting along just fine as a “Christian” – going to church, leading worship, and reading the Bible (anyone else do Awana?).  But I also got along just fine living the way I wanted.  As long as my “Christian world” didn’t intrude into my life and plans and what I thought was best, then all was well.

Until that fateful summer before my freshman year of college when the Lord in His great mercy revealed to me – Dear one…but you don’t really know me…

As I read Matthew 7:21-23, it was like I was reading the Word for the very first time…

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’   And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

I knew if I had died in that moment, I would have been one of those that would have said, “But God, did I not say I was a Christian?  Did I not lead worship at church?  Did I not…”  And yet the truth would have been revealed – but I did not know God…thus, I did not do His will in my life.

Everything changed after that day. Read more…

Silence

When my parents visited us in Kansas City this past November, one of the things they kept saying over and over again was that they felt like they had come to a quiet cabin in the woods.  Everything was so peaceful and still.  Now, mind you, our house is like any other home in the suburban sprawl across America; we just happen to have real, green grass and three giant trees in our yard instead of the usual cacti and rocks my parents are used to (a.k.a. Phoenix).

But there is some truth to their statement.  Ever since I’ve moved to the Midwest, I’ve felt like my soul has done some unwinding.  It’s the first time in my young adult life that I’ve experienced something of a Sabbath lifestyle.  Sure, there is still the daily routine, working, keeping up a home, meeting friends, etc.  But something about the pace is different.  Or perhaps I’ve given myself the permission to breathe.  Or maybe I’ve realized that I erroneously placed so much value on hyperventilating through my “ultra-stressful, ultra-productive” day as if that equated to my life having real meaning and purpose.

I recently heard a speaker and teacher share about his journey with the Lord and how early on in his Christian walk, God taught him the importance of starting or ending his day with silence.  He did not “empty his mind” in that hour; rather, he would focus his thoughts on an attribute of God (e.g. His faithfulness, His mercy, etc.) or gaze upon a painting of Jesus on the cross.  And as the traffic of his soul died down, he experienced some of the sweetest moments he has ever had with the Lord.

Around that same time, I came across this article on Relevant magazine written by Jayson D. Bradley.  It’s a provoking read, but some of his closing statements resounded with clarity in the dusty caverns of my soul…

“The silence we need is more than an absence of sound; it’s a break from constant stimulus and activity. It’s about allowing the tangled cords in our spirit and mind to unravel and be stilled. It’s about stopping the constant need to control our surroundings with our actions and words in a never-ending quest to drown out the unrest in our hearts. It’s about facing the dragon of emptiness, loneliness, frustration, anger, hurt and need head on—and doing the soul-wrenching work of letting Jesus deal with it.”

Yes.  All of that, yes.  So that’s when I decided I needed to learn how to be still and silent before His presence. Read more…