Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Constant Reminders of Life (Day of Life 159)

Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
Psalm 63:3-4

Loved ones,

These days Tonya and I frequently find ourselves doing things we never wanted to do – namely, working on details of Anastasha’s funeral and burial. We are trying to get as much done as early as possible, so that we can spend our mental and spiritual energy on loving Jesus, loving one another (although we seem to fail miserably at this so often), loving the kids and loving Anastasha. But there are simply some practical things that need to be done, and are much better accomplished now instead of during the more difficult days ahead.

Twice in the past couple of weeks something happened that stopped us in our tracks.

The first time was when we had just left the headstone store (they call them “monuments”). We drove to the cemetery to try to find a plot and to look at some old headstones that we liked. We were fully engrossed in things like the shape, size, stone type of the headstones…err…monuments. And focused on the location of a burial plot – under a tree, far away from “gaudy” monuments, etc.

The second time occurred a few days later when Tonya and I were standing over our oldest son, watching him sand the wood that will be used to build our youngest daughter’s casket.

Both times, Anastasha chimed in.

She began vigorously kicking Tonya from within, as she has done so many times before, as a constant reminder of her LIFE. But to do it now, while we were picking her grave and building her casket, made it feel…well, wrong. Not that we SHOULDN’T BE doing it, like it was a wrongful act. But like we SHOULDN’T HAVE TO BE doing it.

Here we were, walking headfirst into our pain, telling “death” that we will not fear Him and that Christ will be victorious in us. And there she was, telling us, “I’m still here…fully alive.” For me, it was a great reminder for us to not focus so much on the death that is coming, but to embrace the life that we have right now. Especially since we don’t know how much longer we’ll have her.

We feel blessed in some ways that we know ahead of time what is probably coming (I say "probably" because we know that God can still show Himself to be mighty through healing her). We’ve seen several friends lose children unexpectedly. In a flash, they’re gone with no time to prepare. The shock and pain is indescribable. But the foreknowledge of Anastasha's likely death is also very difficult in other ways. Most days around our house are pretty “normal”. But deep down Tonya and I both know that hell is coming. I can’t really explain what this is like. I have no reference point for it. Tremendous joy today knowing that terrible pain is coming tomorrow. We don’t want to drown in the pain before it comes, but tasting the grief early is unavoidable, at times consuming the joy of today.

Incidentally, her casket is coming along well (Charis and our friend are making it to look like a cradle), and I think we know what we want her headstone to look like. And both of these things make me want to vomit.

Grace for each day, Father. That’s what You promise us.

Craig and Tonya

PS. A well known physician, author, and friend of mine, Dr. Walt Larimore, has been posting my emails on his blog. You can see the most recent ones here:

Good shot of Anastasha's arms, legs, and face (kinda curled up in a ball)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What is Life? (Day of Life 149)


This week Anastasha is 24 weeks old in Tonya’s womb. This is (roughly) considered the time when a baby’s lungs are at the minimum maturity for her life to be sustained outside the womb. Anytime before 22/23 weeks is considered incompatible with survival if an infant is born. In medicine, we call milestone this "viability".

It may seem arbitrary, but this is when many people, including many ethicists and physicians, consider an unborn child a "person". To kill a baby before this time, many argue, is morally acceptable because it could not otherwise survive. To do it after this point is morally objectionable because he or she could live. Does this seem subjective to you? It should because it is.

This is despite the fact that the baby’s heart has been beating for 4 months, she has fingernails and toenails, feels and withdraws from pain, can suck her thumb, hear noises, and even hiccup. Sound alive? Yeah, she does to me too.

A very important and related question is this - "When is an unborn child truly human or alive?" Or, another way, "What makes a child’s (or man’s) life have value?"

If not mature lungs, how about when the heart starts beating? Anastasha's heart has been beating since 25 days post conception. This is about the time most women realize they are pregnant. Is a beating heart what gives life?

If not the heart, how about brain activity? This higher level thinking is one thing that separates us from animals. Maybe this is what gives a child or man his/her worth. Anastasha doesn't have higher brain activity. So is she "dead" for all intents and purposes? If it is higher level thinking, then what about someone who is severely mentally retarded? Or someone in a coma? Or an eighty year old man in a nursing home with end stage Alzheimer’s disease. Are they alive? Do their lives have value?

What about the ability to love? This is obviously a progressive thing. Newborns certainly can't. And children learn this over time. And some people chose to never love.

What about the first breath? This is when children begin to have protection under the law and are considered citizens. Killing them in the womb is legal, even at term in many states, up to this point. But once the first breath is taken, they are considered a human being, and killing them is murder. So is inhaling oxygen for the first time what makes us human?

As you can see, there are many different answers that many people consider. And these principles don’t just apply to babies. They apply to the elderly, those in comas, and those who are severely mentally handicapped.

My point is that these are all arbitrary, man-made attempts at defining something endowed to us by our Creator – life. He made it, so He defines it. Not us. And what is His definition of when Anastasha’s, and every other child ever created, life began?

From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother's womb you have been my God. Psalm 22:10

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:13-14

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart. Jeremiah 1:5

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Psalm 51:5

When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Luke 1:41
(John the Baptist responding while in the womb to Jesus in Mary’s womb, shortly after Jesus was conceived)

I think there is only one consistent answer in this world with so many subjective, seemingly arbitrary alternatives. We are FULLY HUMAN and ALIVE, at the moment of conception when our Creator endows us with an eternal soul. I think this is really the only Biblical answer to the question.

I agree that a two week old, microscopic baby that is known only by the faint "positive" line on the pregnancy test doesn't "feel" as human or alive as a baby in our arms after birth, but I believe that he or she is. The difference is really only in our subjective experience of the child at that point. This experience changes radically over time, but our perception of how much we love the child DOES NOT CHANGE HIS OR HER INATE WORTH. Just as the fact that a child in one family is unloved by his/her parents doesn't make him or her any less valuable than one who is deeply loved by other parents.

So what changes from that time when a baby is conceived to when he or she is born? Our experience of loving him or her changes. Just as it changes from when they are a helpless infant to when they are an older child who can relate and reciprocate love. Over time our love naturally deepens and the character of that love changes. But does the value of person we love change? Is their worth greater because we love them more or differently? No, it isn’t. I believe that we wrongly interpret that deepening love as defining a greater worth on the life we are loving. But it is all subjective, based on our experiences or emotions. I believe this is NOT God the Father's perspective.

So are babies that are miscarried early in pregnancy of the same worth, in God’s eyes, as a life lived fully for Him for 80 or 90 years?


Is a mentally retarded child’s life of the same worth in God’s eyes as that of Albert Einstein?


Is a person in a vegetative state (like a coma) for months or years have the same worth to the Father as the President of the United States?


Does Anastasha, although she will probably never ride a bike, speak a word, hold our hand, think a thought, or love in this world have the same worth to God Almighty as my life or Tonya’s or any of our children’s lives?

Yes indeed.

Our value isn’t based on what we do, but rather who we are and by Whom we were created. Just like a painting by Picasso isn’t valued by what it does (nothing) or how beautiful it is (let's be honest), but is valued because of who the artist is. Our Artist, God Almighty, puts His signature in our souls. And because of that, we are each worth more than all the riches in the world.

Even Anastasha. Especially Anastasha.

So when many of you wonder why (few have asked us directly) we are carrying Anastasha to term rather than ending her life now, this is the reason. The truth is that her life is just as valuable as that of all of our other children, or my life or yours. She is right now FULLY HUMAN and ALIVE. She is created in the image of God Almighty. And she is our daughter. Will she live when she is born? Most probably not. But that does not, IN ANY WAY, change who she is right now. We feel no more like we have the right to kill her than we have the right to kill Charis or Ariana. I know that is a terrible mental image, but the repulsiveness of it is the same in our mind as aborting Anastasha.

Heavy duty stuff, I know. But we believe it to be God's perspective and, as such, to be true. We are challenged to love Anastasha deeply despite the fact that she will never love us back on this earth. And maybe many of you will be challenged to see ALL LIFE as created by God, for both His temporal and eternal purposes, and NOT ONE of those lives as being more valuable than another. And NOT ONE of those lives is a mistake.

Not ever.

Bless you all.

Craig and Tonya

Anastasha crossing her ankles like the lady that she is