There & Back Again: The Gift and Call of Suffering

So lately, I’ve been building my library, adding books to shelves in a quest to answer a timeless question:

Why do we suffer?

Yet, as I absorb Daniel Carrington and Philip Yancey, I’m curious if we should reconsider the inquiry as, ‘How should we suffer?’

For if suffering is a kingdom, a divine call, and the resilience guide to discovering God, then surely the way we endure merits discussion.

Perhaps you’re like me looking to mature through past and present challenges and hoping to think outward as opposed to inward. Either way, as we near the home stretch of 2022, these are the musings of yours truly…the emotional evolution of one still processing the passing of his youngest.

Sweet Jubilee…oh, how I miss you.

Granted, much has started to calibrate since my last post. The returns to certain norms are imminent. There have even been times I’ve wondered why I’m not more depressed than I am.

But at the core of it all, Lys and I feel like Merry, Pippin, Sam, and Frodo returning to the shire from Mordor. Remember what Frodo said when he returned to Bag End in ‘Return of the King‘?

How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on…when in your heart you begin to understand…there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend…some hurts that go too deep… that have taken hold.”

To me, this begs the question: What then can ‘untake’ that hold? How then should the heart resound, if not through soundless bites that in hardship can be the most beautiful expression of vulnerability?

Answers aside, the line resonates, a heart prick that has compelled me to relish the truth:

The author and perfector of my faith is the same author and perfector of my pain who from the beginning of time ordained it as a means for me to choose Him!

Like any day I’m alive, I’m taking hold of it as one made in His image. Like any hour I’m awake, I’m taking hold of it to press into His likeness. Just because my heart is healing, doesn’t mean I can’t partake in divine remedy, the sweetness of God’s Immanuel presence and the power of His strength piercing the darkness.

When I’m tempted to retreat, I remember the out I have to retreat into Jesus. And from there, I springboard into the dichotomy between the questions above…that the difference between “Why do we suffer” and “How should we suffer”, in purest form, is the asker of the latter knowing he is loved by God and is willing to trust in His purposes. That it is unfathomable love wrapped in mystery orchestrating the narrative of triumph and perspective rising from the depths.

Like Lys and I of late, you may feel like Frodo, called into adventures beyond your understanding, wishing the rings of adversity, be it disappointment or grief, hadn’t come to you. Yet, in those Moria moments, remember that’s when the Spirit finds and refreshes us as Gandalf did to Frodo:

So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Sure, the year of Jubilee may be over but as her name implies, the happy ever afters are only beginning. Accordingly, we celebrate our precious daughter Hebrews 12:1 style, knowing she’s not only part of a great cloud of witnesses but also co-inspiration stirring us to lay aside the weight of anguish clinging closely…

…her voice an echo to the Master urging us to run our race with endurance.

As for you, my friends, whatever your mission is, know to be overwhelmed is only human and often the evidence of doing something right. Why not then fuse some Hebrews 12:1-2 along with some Romans 8:28 and Galatians 6:9 into the questions you’re asking? Why not faint not…knowing God works all things, including our sufferings, for good and makes things new as words trustworthy and true (Revelation 21:5)? You don’t have to bear the weight of deciphering your circumstances. Rather, you can bear each other’s burdens delighting in the fact God has you going somewhere. Even if loss is incurred along the way, remember nothing can separate you from God’s love and the victory He has in store for you.

At the very least, take it from Jubilee. Her life was a gift but even more so her legacy. What keeps her Spirit alive is the same Spirit who in whispers:

  1. Reminds us He’s there because He’s been there and…
  2. Ignites us to see how discovering God through perseverance as the best way to journey through suffering.

In closing, I return to Yancey: “As we rely on God and trust His Spirit to mold us in His image, true hope takes shape within us, ‘a hope that does not disappoint.’ We can literally become better persons because of suffering. Pain, however meaningless it may seem at the time, can be transformed. Where is God when it hurts? He is in us—not in the things that hurt—helping to transform bad into good. We can safely say that God can bring good out of evil; we cannot say that God brings about the evil in hopes of producing good.

Selah.

Cover photo creds: mckellen.com

Miracle in the Making: The Jubilee Journey (Finale)

Jubilee’s goodbye letter as shared during 1:10:00-1:17:23 of today’s Celebration of Life live stream: https://youtu.be/xUD-NkRrzvk

Dear Jubilee,

For almost two weeks, I’ve been trying to find the words. There’s so much I want to say but don’t know how. So, I’ll start with the obvious.

I love you. Not more than you know, but as you now know.

Indeed, in this moment, I write to you within the ultimate paradox. Having fought with you for 13 months along with your mom and two of the world’s best NICU medical teams, I was desperate to see you experience fullness, not just of health but of life, love, and whatever joy you could possibly know within your fragile state. Now, look at you, all smitten and sassy, safe in the Father’s arms aware of that fullness in ways I can’t possibly understand. The world’s greatest former micro preemie fighter…at peace with her Creator. His breath is in your lungs as you pour out your praise.

No question, you challenged and changed many hearts from the ones entrusted to your care to ones who barely knew you. From your primaries to prayer partners across the globe, you reminded us how special each day truly is, and how much the present is a gift you can never take for granted. Packed within a year of forced rest, you compelled us to take baby steps into unchartered belief, to ride the waves far out of our depth.

Yet, through it all, we fell in love with His might and light in your fight. Christ in you, Christ in us, we learned how to be content at the end of our rope. how to fall and press into Jesus at the same time, not to mention the technical terms, the bells, and whistles of a brave, new world.

Often, there was much to take in, much beyond our ability to process. And so, we prayed. Every day. Without ceasing…that the same Spirit behind your smile, that fueled your tenacity would be known across the hall, down the aisle, from the parking lot and front desk to each emergency, operating, and visitation room. Every day. A chance to stiff-arm the ‘why’ and embrace the strive-less rhythms of grace. Every day. An opportunity.to gaze into your eyes to find God looking back at us through them.

In a way, you inspired joy in persevering through chaos and crisis. You taught us how being still in weakness is, in fact, strength. And you reminded us how surrender must also rise with hope, how to embrace those mini-Gethsemane moments throughout each day: Not my will but yours be done.

To your mother and I, your sister and brothers, we marvel at the vessel God designed you to be, the way you took in unity, prayer, and love and churned out life upon life on the other side. Granted, your days were numbered less than what we would have hoped. Still, we know in this grand mystery, there is purpose, hope, and freedom within the appointed number of days God called to your earthly tenure.

And so, I stand here with a new appreciation of the question I must ask. For it is not, ‘Why did God let you die’, but rather ‘Why did God let you live?’

Past day 1 when you had no business surviving traumatic labor at 25 weeks. Past day 80, when both your lungs collapsed. Past days 290-340 during which you coded over 15 times.

Why did God let you live?

While your family and I will have many years to discern the answers, for now, I want you to know it is well in my soul God called you to reflect childlike faith, wonder, and helplessness for 393 precious days and it is well in my heart God anointed you to inspire NICU personnel and families towards the loving arms of Jesus, to help them consider what is it that kept you going, kept fighting, and kept defying the darkest of diagnoses.

As for ending this letter, having embarked on this joyful journey like no other, I ask one more question, one I’ll be sharing with many who know and will know your story. And that is, based on the legacy of your life, ‘How is it we must never be the same again?’ To quote your great grandmother whose husband you now know, “you were a diamond loaned to us from God’s ‘stash’, a pure, bright, beautiful solitaire to show us how beautiful heaven must be.” Of course, with your former limitations and restrictions on earth, a celestial, prismatic perspective may seem farfetched. But to me and your family and friends sitting in this room today, the metaphor hits home. Like a unified tribe, we’re all witnesses to how you reflected eternity through epic resilience. From a micro-preemie plagued by chronic lung disease and pulmonary hypertension to one born again into paradise, we celebrate not only your victory and triumph over sickness and death but relish the truth that for thousands of people, your face is now a thumbnail capturing the kind of Romans 5 endurance they want to run the rest of their life with.

Creds to the Master. Tell Him we’re forever grateful for the Year of Jubilee, for having the chance to love and support you as your immediate and extended family. True, there was a lot of pain amidst the patience and perseverance during your short life. But as C.S. Lewis once said, while God whispers to us in our pleasures and speaks in our consciences, He shouts in our pain. For it is pain that insists on being attended to as His megaphone to rouse a deaf world. So, as we say goodbye in this setting, as a community who loves you, we declare the voice you now have via the Almighty as one that will heal the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, and announce favor and grace to those who mourn. The joy of the Lord as your strength, help prepare the way for the risen Lord.

After all, the season’s changing and God is rebuilding everything. So, we will listen with humble hearts, with gladness and gratitude, to the people shouting, ‘This is Jubilee’.

With sincerest affection and adoration,

Dad

Cover photo by Cameron J. Fry

Miracle in the Making: The Jubilee Journey (Part 9)

One week into August…and we’re starting to hit those milestone anniversaries. Crazy how we’re already at the one-year mark from when the Juby Journey started, at least as we know it.

For those following our page updates, Juby has been oscillating on her paralytic the past 48 hours netting in a positive direction. Honestly, given the dire position she was in a few weeks ago, I’ll take baby step progress any way we can get it. Yet, while the arrow is a mild point up at the moment, I can’t help but feel I’m riding a similar line spiritually speaking.

In a sense, I feel so hollow, so numb…it’s like I’m threading the needle between supernatural protection and self-preservation. On one hand, it’s not hard for me to routinely release Juby into God’s hands and anchor surrender in yielded trust; on the other, the depressive thoughts continue to mount, the slope ever more slippery as the need for thought captivation increases.

From the ‘God, am I somehow the hold up to Juby being fully healed’ to ‘I wish I could go back to student pastoring again…somewhere far away from here’…the thought captivity meter is basically in whack a mole’ mode. And I wish there was an off button.

Still, every hour is one at a time laced with opportunities to say ‘no’ to fear and ‘yes’ to higher alternatives. From upticking K-LOVE radio play to binge watching posthumous footage of Joy Dawson, there are many ways to punch Satan in the face these days.

But then there’s last Sunday when Lys had the opportunity to share the Word at The Gate Church in Franklin.

Listening to her speak, I couldn’t quench the goosebumps as she delivered a message similar to one I shared with LEGACYouth six years ago during an ‘Intentionality of Jesus’ series.

Past and present infused, there I was in Matthew 14:22-33, storybooked next to Jesus ahead of his second Sea of Galilee cameo.

Six chapters earlier (Matthew 8:23-27), Jesus had demonstrated His power over the water in the boat; now He was about to manifest His power, patience, and Immanuel presence on the water outside the boat. You talk about poetic symmetry in motion. Here was the Son of God who used His voice to quiet the waves, who proceeded to miraculously feed the 5,000, who had already previewed His identity to the disciples…yet hadn’t employed His move strategic maneuver. At least until v. 23 in which Jesus retreats to pray following a massive ministerial stretch and learning his cousin, John the Baptist, had been killed. Aware of the weather conditions, Jesus then calls notable audible in v. 25:

…He came to them.”

Now, for most reading this, these four words are perhaps anecdotal to the passage’s climax in v. 33 when the disciples acknowledge Jesus’ identity. But to his guy, these words hit close to home in a way I couldn’t possibly understand outside this current season.

‘Cause truth is: The disciples didn’t call out to Jesus to come to them; rather Jesus made the first move, calling out to them so they could call back and respond accordingly. Almost a complete reversal of Matthew 8, Jesus isn’t arbitrarily prayer-walking around waiting for something to happen. Conversely, He is resetting into the Father and planting himself, albeit in distance, to make His presence known. How many times have we sensed the faint fragrance of Christ and like Peter couldn’t resist the urge to confirm its realness?

Granted, we should respect Peter in this story for breaking physics through child-like faith alone. For he knew He couldn’t control the elements yet understood His calling in the moment…get out of the boat and draw near to Jesus…cyclone be darned. Through hell or high water, Peter knew what mattered most was where he was going and who he was going to; hence, why he had no problem doing what he deemed most sensible when he lost visual: He cried out to Jesus for a supernatural, warp-speed extension of the hand ever reaching into the chaos…

…met with the grasp of saving grace.

Oh, you of little faith. Why did you doubt?’ (v. 32).

Not a reprimand, mind you, but a reminder: I’m with you always and was there from the beginning. Don’t ever think my hand is too short to save.

Back in the NICU, I continue to marvel at this little life. As one who feels small often, I can resonate to a certain extent. But strangely, I couldn’t care less…because like Peter, if Jesus confesses His proximity and in response, I ask Him to ask me to believe the impossible…heck, yes, sign me up for that as long as I have breath. No matter how long Juby lives, I don’t want to ask Jesus to save her, to save me, to save my family…if I’m not willing to walk on water amidst the neighboring halls praying without ceasing. I don’t want to ask Jesus to help me if I’m not willing to press into the Father…if I don’t make vertical reliance a priority over a given moment or assignment.

After all, the Son of God is with me…and comes to me. May our faith, like Peter, understand what’s most important and progress correspondingly…

Selah.

Cover photo creds: ImageVine

Matinee Malcontent: A Stand Up to the Bully in Bellevue

Sooo…this past Saturday, I had the audacity. The unyielding nerve. The unmitigated gall…to take Caeden and Evy to the movies.

A good ol’ summer matinee of Paws of Fury featuring the insoluble protagonist duo of Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Cera.

Granted, a zone defense outing to the movies may seem overly ambitious, but given the circumstances, I must admit…we held up fairly well. Outside the dozen times I told the kiddos to half-mast their volume and the 2-3 times I asked if they’d rather leave the premises to hang out in the Suraccha Nebula (also known as the outside world), we had a fine time. Not to mention, I arguably sabermetric-ed 15 fantasy baseball teams to +5-10% playoff odds through strategic roster improvements.

For 90 minutes, life was cool…and I was freezing. Such is life in the very front of a movie theater…

…which if you have young, screeching padawans teetering on pterodactyls, this is exactly where you want to be in these situations. A manufactured refuge center where drool-drizzled popcorn bits and compromised cookie dough bites go to die.

But alas, what goes up, must come down…which in this case, came in the form of a disgruntled malcontent, a prickly, peppery grandpa who probably estranged his son into the military and…well…

Additionally…he had white hair to match his shorts…
…a pastel orange polo to contrast his pasty white exterior…

…and all the makings of Mr. Wilson if they ever reincarnated ‘Dennis the Menace’.

Except Mr. Wilson lived in a traditional, residential neighborhood whereas this guy likely soiled within a gated community surrounded by golf courses and swimming pools tailored to the 1%.

So as to why this crank would disgrace his demeanor by me during the rolling credits? Let’s just say he wasn’t exactly fond of my kiddos. Despite the fact we were 4-5 rows ahead of everyone else, apparently, they were still a bit rambunctious. And while I kinda, sorta get it…dude, it’s a midday weekend showing of a kids flick on one of the hottest days of the year! You think an outing with their dad is not a thrill to them, especially with all they’ve endured? I mean…I know you’re not entitled to context, but seriously! Give your freakin’ head a shake.

Ahem…at this point in the story, I probably should mention what he told me to my face.

You guys were a disruption to all of us. Next time, go to a different theatre. You shouldn’t be coming here if you’re going to be so rude. “

Says the iris-less, old coot…as if he owned the place or even worked as a staff member.

Stunned and nearly silenced, I could only muster a staccato apology.

I’m sorry, sir. We were not trying to hinder the experience for anyone.”

And like a bitter whiplash, the moment was over. Or so he thought. ‘Cause while I’m a humble processor on the front end, on the backend, I’m a wallflower willing to stand up to any bully. If you mess with me, if you’re makin’ like a farmer and givin’ me bull, what you start, I will finish. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a strength but it’s certainly not a weakness when executed properly. Do I have an inner hulk? Yes, yes, I do. And I’m not ashamed of it. Patience and godly thought filters applied, of course.

This in mind, I can now to proceed to tell you how the next 5 minutes went.

First, I grabbed Caeden’s hand. Then, I grabbed Evy’s hand. And then we left…in a gloriously brisk stride Fortified Fitness would be proud of. Caeden said he had to use the bathroom. I told him to hold it. Evy said let’s get a drink. I said it can wait.

With whites in my eyes, I find the kvetch perched on the curb with his wife and grand-daughters. The comeback was imminent.

In passing, I slowly pivot to flex my bow…

Sir, again, I apologize we interfered with your cinematic viewing pleasure. But I want you to know these kids are champs. They have a sister in the hospital with her life on the line. And I’m doing the very best I can. Next time, when we come back, and we will be back, I’ll be sure to obtain a roster of attendees and make sure you’re not on it. Thank you for being the exact opposite of a model citizen to my kids.”

Now, I’ll just go ahead and state the obvious: I may or may not have been a bit too harsh with my mic drop there, satisfying as it was. However, I just couldn’t nor wouldn’t I let this Donny Downer have the final word. Not today…or any other day. Perhaps there are better ways to plant seeds of reconsideration in the minds of curmudgeons. I’m sure better retorts are out there.

But this I know: Blessed is he who is slow to judge, who dies to offense quickly, and is willing to put the shoe on the other foot. You don’t have to be able to relate to my chaos. If anything, I’m open to hearing what’s worked for you in the past. All I ask is you be civil within your critiques, maybe add a sliver of empathy in there if you dare. Who knows! We may even become friends. Or maybe that’s too much to ask if being right is more important. Just know if you go sideways with your tongue, Christ in me, I will set the record straight.

After all, I got to teach my kids what’s not okay.

Selah.

Cover photo creds: cinematreasures.org

Miracle in the Making: The Jubilee Journey (Part 8)

So lately, I’ve been basking in the early Psalms…

…soaking in security metaphors relative to God’s sovereignty.

No question, this journey is wearing me out. Five days to one month to one year. Like the text on Evy’s new ‘Sleeping Beauty’ t-shirt, ‘I can’t even’…

From driving to work without a modicum of ‘I can’t do this today’ to imaging life a year from now, the writing on the wall is a tattoo on the heart: I can’t because I shouldn’t…but I can because He will just as He always has.

For Lys and I, we’ve been overwhelmed by basic math in recent days wondering why Juby has coded seven times in five weeks not to mention a pair of baggings the past five days alone. We wish we had the answers though we’re learning the freedom of anticipating them in our day-to-day interactions. After all, if our faith is to mature, there must be a catalyst, often a challenging one, compelling our perseverance to discover God in a fresh way.

Perhaps this is why we’re often confused and discouraged but also confident and encouraged at the same time. As for any NICU family leaning into God, not relinquishing their hope, there almost has to be an uncomfortable friction between the emotional and spiritual where in between, perpetual paradoxes are broken down.

For instance, when I hold Juby’s hand, I’m reminded as she clings to my finger, so too must my hope, my trust, my devotion also cling to Jesus. Just like Caeden, Evy, and Milo at her age, she squeezes whatever she can get her hands on and doesn’t let go until I pry it loose. Sometimes, I forget how desperate she must feel, wishing the lines running across her body were gone yet oblivious to the fact this isn’t how a first-year body was meant to function.

Obviously, I know where she’s at and what she’s enduring is short-term within the grand scheme. By God’s strength, she will eventually auto-correct through these setbacks be it six months or six years.

Still, I suppose if there’s a head scratch for me, it comes back to what must I do apart from believing God is who He says He is. As this adventure has taught me, God is glorified in our suffering as we hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering and boast of it firmly until the end (Hebrews 10:23; Hebrews 4:14). However, as I’m also finding, this doesn’t exactly simplify the pathway to touching His robe. In my case, while embracing stillness has been a perk to the load-bearing, I’ve also noted it can keep me idle when God is calling me to motion.

It’s like I’m content to contend…to put one foot in front of the other…but struggle to believe I can get to Jesus in my weakness. And so, on my dark days, I stay where I’m at anchoring in worship and His Word though ashamed I didn’t try harder to make that contact. On brighter days, I sense that slow motion surrender though in the wrestling still wonder, ‘Jesus, can you slow down a little? I know you’re up to something amazing but we just need more of you right now.’

Again, I don’t say this to draw empathy. Rather I say this because I’m desperate…not only to see Juby healed while operating free of fear to whatever intimacy is required…but also to know how the Father responds when any part of us, well, codes! Be it a physical code, a sin/stronghold code, a generational and/or word curse code. Who knows…for most of us, it’s probably a combination of things.

As always, time will eventually stir my pen to capture findings to my curiosities, among them why only one ‘how long’ reference in Psalms actually ties to sorrow.

For now, I bid this post and you, my friends, a fond adieu. This man needs rest and a charge to His best.

Tomorrow, we live to see another day. I will pre-rejoice and be glad in it.

Selah.