Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Approaching the End of the Marathon (Day of Life 220)

A quick snippet from a conversation in our house the other day that took me by surprise:

Ariana (11 years old, who is helping potty train her soon to be 3 year old brother, Cale) - "Cale, don't go tee-tee on Elmo (on his big boy underwear). Do you know what happens if you go tee-tee on Elmo?"
Cale - "He tell Big Bird?" (which is funny since he's seen maybe 3 episodes of Sesame Street in his entire life)
Ariana - "Right. Then what happens?"
Cale - "Big Bird kill me!."

So our 3 year old is being potty trained in fear of being pecked to death by a 7 foot, yellow bird. What can I say, we get desperate after 6 months of trying.

We got back last week from our vacation to Alabama and Florida. Thank you so much for those who prayed for us. We had a wonderful, peaceful, and dare I say, relaxing time visiting with dear friends. The beach, as usual, was gorgeous and empty. We had ZERO issues with the pregnancy while we were gone. And I got to take my "baby" beach pictures like I have with all of our kids outside the womb (seen at bottom of email).

Coming back home has been difficult in some ways for us. Tonya is now 33 weeks pregnant. If Anastasha follows the same pattern as her other siblings, we anticipate that she'll be born in the next 3 to 4 weeks. The reality is setting in that the end of the pregnancy is upon us and we'll soon get to meet our little girl. As you'd probably expect, it is a completely different feeling than we've had at the end of all the other pregnancies. It has some of the excitement and anticipation of finally getting to hold and kiss the daughter we love. But primarily, there is heartache and deep sadness...and some fear. Not fear in what will come per se, but fear in how we will respond and stand up under the pain of watching and walking through our daughter's probable death. We have nothing in our life experience to compare that kind of pain to. I wish that we weren't afraid, but we are somewhat. We want to respond faithfully like Job, who in his moment of greatest pain, "fell to the ground in worship and said: 'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.'" (Job 1:21). Please pray with us that the Lord would turn our sorrow into joy and turn our "mourning into dancing" (Psalm 30:11). And also pray that Jesus' "perfect love" would "drive out fear" in us (1 John 4:18).

We are tired, both physically and even moreso emotionally. It feels like we've been running a marathon, at times at a sprinter's pace. I've been told (will never personally experience) that the last few miles of a marathon are the hardest. When there seems to be nothing left in the tank, the runner makes the final push to the end. That's exactly how we feel. Except that it feels like the final few miles of this marathon are up a steep mountain. We know the summit of our pain and struggle is ahead of us. And we aren't anxious to run there, other than for the fact that we know that is when we can begin our descent. Please pray for our stamina, both physically and emotionally.

Let me end with something that happened on our vacation.

Our first day at Panama City Beach, the surf was VERY rough. Even for this East Coast guy, the waves were impressive. The kids couldn't wait and got in the water before the adults did. We gave our "non-swimmers" life jackets to wear, but did not to the other kids. Shortly after getting in the water, Corban, who is 5, drifted off a bit by himself away from the others. Tonya and I were talking on the shore when she noticed that he was out a bit too deep. I could see that he was panicking a bit, so I ran towards him. At this point he was about 40 yards away from me, and it took me probaly 15-20 seconds to run/swim to him By the time I reached him, he was bobbing up and down in water well above his head (about up to my chin). I grabbed hold of him and began to make my way back to the shore, only then realizing how strong the undertow was. I've been in the ocean hundreds of times in my life, and I don't ever remember being in an undertow this strong.

I started back with him and for about 30 seconds really thought I would not be able to get us both to shore. About that same time, Niyah and Amalyah drifted out to me since they were coming to see what was wrong with Corban. Then THEY got caught in the undertow. I managed to get enough footing to get the three of them out of there and back to shore. By the time it was over I was exhausted and emotionally shook up. The whole thing probably lasted a total of 3 or 4 minutes but it seemed like half an hour. It was a scary time for all of us. I really believe that if Tonya had noticed Corban even 30 seconds later than she did, I would not have been able to get him and he would have drowned.

That night I was praying and journaling and thanking the Father for His great mercy. For me it was a great tangible lesson that God is sovereign over life and death. He holds both in His Hands. He could have just as easily taken Corban from us that day, but He didn't. He could just as easily NOT take Anastasha from us in a few weeks, but He probably will. And in both situations He is perfectly just AND perfectly GOOD. He is a merciful, loving God who's way are above our ways. And we trust Him with everything we are.

Blessings to you all.

Craig and Tonya

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Our Good Father (Day of Life 200)

"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" Matthew 7:9-11

When Tonya was told by our obstetrician almost exactly 3 months ago that our child in the womb had a fatal deformity, her response through her tears was simply, "God is good." That simple phrase has been our heart cry during these last three months. It sounds simple, but it is...SO...DARN...TRUE. Our God is a good Daddy, even when He strikes, it is in love. We believe that with all our heart. We agree with the psalmist who wrote, "You are good, and what you do is good" (Psalm 119:68).

We've taught the kids that the God they love is a good Daddy. Jesus mentions that His "Abba" (Aramaic loving term for "Daddy") is a Father who gives good gifts to those who ask Him. That can be distorted to mean that He gives us whatever we want if we ask Him. Any good Dad knows that ISN'T being a good Dad, quite the opposite actually. But, like a good earthly Dad, our Heavenly Father loves to give good gifts to His children, for our good and His.

I wanted to share one very personal and profound example of God being a good Daddy to us on this journey.

In previous emails I've mentioned a book that I read, I Will Carry You, by Angie Smith. She is a well known lady who is married to the lead singer of the Christian group Selah. Her journey of carrying and losing her daughter, Audrey, had many similarities to our journey. Her book really ministered to me.

After reading the book, I really wanted to ask her a question about something she wrote. I have read hundreds of books in my life and have never tried to contact an author after reading one. I'm not a celebrity chaser and try not to idolize people (okay, Tim Tebow and Danny Weurffel not withstanding...:)).

In my efforts to contact her, I found an email address on her blog. She had over 7,000 Google friends and lots of readers. In reading her blog I noticed that she just had a newborn AND had recently moved. As soon as I sent the email, I got an automated reply back stating that she received ALOT of emails and wouldn't be able to respond. I thought, "Oh well, it was worth a try. I guess this wasn't meant to be." Case closed. No one other than Tonya knew that I tried to get a hold of her. I was slightly disappointed, but life goes on. This was on a Saturday night.

On Sunday, one of my best friends, Jon Betts, called. He is a pediatrician in Nashville and a dear brother in Christ from medical school. It was shortly after Anastasha's diagnosis, so he was calling to check on me. I told him I was doing well and mentioned Angie's book that I just finished. He replied, "You mean the lady I met this week?". I was confused, so he explained.

Angie brought her newest daughter, Charlotte, in to see Jon in his clinic. He is not their regular pediatrician, but their's wasn't available. Jon didn't know who she was, but at the end of the visit Angie mentioned something about Audrey and how they had lost her. The news of our diagnosis was fresh in Jon's mind because he replied, "Yeah, we have some friends going through something similar right now." At that point, Angie said she wondered if we knew who she was or knew about her journey. Jon asked her if she was the wife of the lead singer of Selah, to which she replied that she was. Then Jon pulled up on his computer the email I sent where I shared her daughter's song ("I Will Carry You") just days before. They were both in awe of God's sovereignty.

Jon never solicited, but Angie told him to please give us her personal email address, and that she'd love to be able to answer any questions we have or be a help to us on our journey. He gave the email address to me. I've since emailed her several times back and forth and she had indeed been a blessing to me and Tonya.

I shared this story to show the power and lovingkindness of our God. I know it may not seem like a "healing the blind man" miracle, but it was miraculous nevertheless. For the first time in my life I tried to contact an author with a question that my heart wanted an answer to. My attempts failed, and I gave up. DAYS BEFORE I was even doing this, the Lord sent this ONE SAME PERSON to the office of one of my best friends in the world to bring her in contact with me. Isn't that incredible? Jon admits that he almost didn't mention anything about Anastasha to her. In fact, he's not even sure why he did. If he hadn't, he would have never even known who Angie was. I believe the Holy Spirit orchestrated EVERY DETAIL of that encounter. I believe God did that just to bless us like any good Daddy, and to build our faith at a time we needed it.

Maybe some of you can explain the whole thing away as coincidence. If you can, you have greater faith than I do. I think it is easier in this situation to believe in a God who knows the desires of our hearts and every hair on our heads. And to trust in a Daddy who loves to "give good gifts" to His children.

Craig and Tonya

Taste and see that the LORD is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.
Psalm 34:8

A kiss from Anastasha's cute little lips